Kid #11 – The perfect fallback for your average deliquent

The eleventh kid I hated wasn’t even in my class. He probably had what the professionals might call oppositional defiant disorder.

The most delightful element of his less than complex personality was his belief that if he disengaged hard enough, he’d be returned to New Zealand and work on his uncle’s sheep farm. If he showed the same application he was currently showing, to the sheep, he’d be lucky to find the sheep in the first place – let alone all the dredging, mustering, tailing, shearing, slaughtering etc.

He struggled a lot with simple tasks like sitting in a chair or holding a pen. He spoke a lot. However, to my knowledge the sounds of human words differ greatly to that of sheep; so inter-species communication was going to be of little use if he returned to the south island. I’m pretty sure being a sheep whisperer is not a thing; with the exception of Babe. But Babe was a fictional porcine creature, so that doesn’t count.

During my off-lessons the young lad would often come by the office and knock on the door. Usually when I was right in the middle of an exciting reading session of Two Weeks With the Queen.

“Excuse me sir,” he’d say.

“Why are you here again?” I’d splutter, sending flecks of instant coffee from lips – (I have written this last sentence for affect, not because I drink coffee).

“I was sent out of class again”.

“By who?” I’d enquire.

“I don’t know”.

“What do you mean, you don’t know? You’ve been in Year Nine for five months now! Go sit outside the office where I can see you”.

The last piece of rant didn’t happen out loud. The reality was I’d usually sit him down and try to complete some activity with him. He’d spend twenty minutes taking a lid off a pen and talking about his uncle, then it was onto the next class.

Not long after this mutual disinterest in each other had strengthened, I was asked to run a separate group with some of the “naughty boys”. There were only three boys, but one of course was the aspiring Farmer Brown.

We were set up in one of the side rooms of the school library. The natural daylight had been minimised by narrow windows, furnishings were minimalistic and I only allowed each student their reading book in the room. You must however remember the student struggled with chairs. So as per all the other classrooms in the school, this learning space also had chairs. It’s amazing how many times a person can fall awkwardly from a stable four legged seat when they don’t want to read page 54 of Tomorrow When The War Began. Perhaps it was the lack of woolly farm animals in John Marsden’s post-apocalyptic world that led to this. But again I would argue that, at the very least, straddling a stationery stool would be solid practise for rounding up sheep on a high speed bike. Yet this of course assumes the child had moved past his previous misconception that he may be able to adopt a comprehensible sheep dialect; and would merely negotiate the sheep into their appropriate holding pens. It was inevitable, one day, he’d be confronted with the proposition of doing some actual work while riding a bike to round up sheep and in an act of work-avoidance slide from the seat onto the burning hot exhaust pipe before falling under the wheel, where he’d be left with tyre marks across his chest.

It was at times when he avoided simple tasks, such as sitting, that Marsden’s dystopia – we were reading about – appeared an attractive alternative to the dystopia of the reading session taking place. The rest of the group weren’t much better than him. What with reading the book upside down, not knowing words and staring out the windows – that looked onto the underside of the tin verandah – it was any wonder we managed to physically open the cover, from the pages, in the first place.

The problem for these types of students is they are not learning how to develop a work ethic. They’ve developed a romanticised view of life on the land (or down a mineshaft, or inn a trade, or whatever the case may be) being easier than working a desk job where they may need to sit in a chair or write something.

Now I’ve watched a lot of McLeod’s Daughters – every episode in fact bar episode fifteen of the fourth series, which I forgot to set the VCR to record – and Claire McLeod and the subsequent daughters spent a fair percentage of their time sitting behind old Jack McLeod’s writing desk, completing paperwork and finding hidden chests containing old trousseaus and manacles. None of these tasks could have been completed without a solid understanding of mathematics and writing, nor without a committed work ethic.

Perhaps this young man could have learnt some sage lessons from the women of Drover’s Run and would have realised his own dreams of inheriting his uncle’s agricultural empire. Alas, Mcleod’s Daughters completed its eight year run in 2008 – two years before the boy entered my life. By this time I’d recorded over the tapes with episodes of Grey’s Anatomy.

Somehow things may have been different if he’d just taken a leaf out of Kid #4’s book and “calmed his farm”. Had this been done to his metaphorical farm, the actual farm he longed to work on may have been his.

That’s not to say he didn’t make it back to New Zealand. He may be there now with his tar pot in hand, waiting in demand.

But if I did meet him after a hard day on the boards of the shearing shed, I doubt I’d buy him a cold one down the pub.

Kid #8 – Walk of Shame

The eighth kid I hated was a boy who hated the world. He had good reason. His parents were divorced; he had been left with his father and step-mother, who was nicer to him than his biological mother; he was quite unbearable to look at and had a ratty acne-ridden sort of appearance; and his grubby white shirt, with the usual blue school crest on it, would often be bright pink because some nitwit at home had run it through the washing machine with bleach – It was a real Cinderella story.

It was easy to be sympathetic to his situation, because he was clearly so useless. His father and step-mother would come in asking for advice on what to do with him because he was so lacking in intellect and causing them grief at home also. So it’s probably fair to say I didn’t hate him.

But the one thing he often did that got under my skin was making personal snide remarks (often in cahoots with kid #2) about myself or other staff members.

Now of course this is not beyond the realm of what children do. We have all been inclined in our youth to hone in on the physical, personal and professional lives of our teachers.

There was a teacher at my primary school whose longer surname had been abbreviated to “Mr Hazy” (despite him being a teacher with perfect clarity of thought). It was such a concreted part of our vernacular that students would go home referring to him by this less than complimentary name, thus causing our parents to adopt the same name for him. On a Year Five overnight farm stay, my father, who was joining us on the trip, entered the classroom first thing that morning and announced, “Is Mr Hazy here yet? Has anyone seen Mr Hazy?”.

Luckily most 10 year olds are reasonably self-absorbed so I don’t know that anyone noticed.

Another teacher in high school was doing relief teaching for our Japanese teacher who was on prolonged absence. He suffered from being a newly graduated teacher who could easily have passed himself off for a Year 10 student. (When I first graduated at the age of 23, the same fate awaited me, with an older staff member suggesting I grow a beard to help the ageing process). Unlike our usual Japanese teacher, it was unclear whether he had even been to Japan, and the lessons were usually somewhat of a shambles. But despite his limited foreign language skills and youthful appearance, it was his perambulation that drew the eye of our pubescent jeering.

The man would walk with such urgency that the top part of his body always seemed to proceed his feet and legs, making it look as though he could topple over at any moment. If he’d been anywhere near the BBC studio lot during the early 1970’s they’d have fast-tracked him to the Ministry of Silly Walks. Such was the man’s gait that even when he was stationery he’d appear somewhat prostrated.

And of course there were plenty of others…

The teacher we thought looked like an ape; the one someone hit with a basketball, making her nose bleed; the one who walked into a lamppost; the one who looked like a bikie; and the one who we spied smoking cigarettes on school camp, which we thought was as criminal as if he’d shot an opiate into his veins in front of a school assembly.

So it is only fair that those of us with lofty dreams, of altruistically educating the masses, have our own physicality and nuances subjected to the scrutinising ire of the teenage market.

My moment of scrutiny finally came under the watchful eye of the eighth hated child and his stooges as I walked across the semi-deserted playground, as once my own Japanese teacher had. When I began to cross the quadrangle towards the science block, a strange thing happened to my usually standard walking pattern. I felt my legs locking around the knees, my spine tightened and my anal sphincter began to spasm.

Then the abuse came, “He walks like he’s constipated.”

That is all I remember. But it is imprinted on my brain because of how vile his voice was when he said it. Also the smugness with which he imparted it to his friends. But most of all the accuracy.

I wasn’t constipated, nor was I suffering from diarrhoea. But due to the eternal pressure of being a graduate teacher and the relentless buffoonery of the human beings I had been directed to teach, I was definitely developing a psychosomatic case of irritable bowel syndrome.

Luckily I arrived at the science building and hid around the corner before letting one rip.

So although this child’s nastiness of this child was probably projections of his own insecurity; If we met again in a seedy night club (where for arguments sake I might be a toilet attendant), I doubt I’d pass him a hand towel.

Kid #7 – Psychopathic Tendencies

The seventh kid I hated stormed off at the end of the day and told me to “go fuck myself”. When we called her mother to raise our concern about the language, the mother responded by saying “You’re shitting me!”

I didn’t always hate this child. She was one of the ones on the brink of puberty who entered her first year of secondary as a somewhat academically challenged girl, sitting quietly and allowing the desert winds to swirl pleasantly through the vacant cavity beneath her cranium. She had a couple of friends, but went mostly unnoticed by the other students.

Under the surface her hormones were bubbling away ready to kick into overdrive. When it finally happened she became the most nasty, most disliked, most distrusted member of her cohort. She wasn’t a bully. She was just extremely frustrated.

It didn’t help that Kid #6 would continually remind her of her obesity problem. Nor did it help that other students would regularly take her special chocolate scented stationery. Nor did it help that the other little maggots in the room would use that stationery to write notes about her obesity problem and how this had led to the purchase (and near consumption) of the chocolate scented stationery with which they were writing.

She would get her own back by pushing and shoving the other students; calling them names; and avoiding school all together with heaven knows how many sick days.

It was one of these “sick day” that led to a single event which would change my whole perspective on the psychopathic tendencies of children.

The sick day fell on the same day there was a class essay. So when the young lass and a couple of her compatriots returned to the classroom the following day, they were asked to complete the essay. In an attempt to give them a fair go at completing it I placed the three of them in the adjoining classroom so it would be quieter and less distracting for them. There was a door joining the two classrooms and I hovered between the two classrooms making sure that both sets of students were on task; and for the most part trusting that the three who were completing the essay would get on with things.

The class finished, the students handed me their essays and everyone went home for the day as it was the last period.

The following morning the teacher who usually taught in the adjoining room was raging in the English office that all of her lollies had been taken from the top drawer of her desk. Further to that she had a few blades in her bottom drawer that had fallen out of pencil sharpeners. And these had been used to slash the interactive whiteboard. At first I didn’t realise what had happened. But then it dawned on me that it was this child (the one I hated) and I hadn’t realised because obviously the drawers were shut each time I returned to the room. But more importantly the board was always behind me as I entered the classroom, and when I exited the room I was too preoccupied making sure the students in the next room were on task to notice. Additionally the interactive whiteboard had never been used because no one in the school knew how to use it anyway. In hindsight I think there was probably more concern over the lollies and the girl’s ever-expanding waistline.

What surprised me the most was one of the deputy’s reaction that it was somehow my fault. That I shouldn’t have trusted the child to work independently on their work. I assumed that at the worst she might have eaten some crayons. But mostly I assumed that she’d be too busy writing the essay to have performed such an attention seeking stunt. More the fool me. I now don’t trust most students as far as I can throw them. And in her case I’d be lucky to lift her off the ground in the first place.

So although it was probably a cry for help that went somewhat un-addressed by the school counselling services, if we met again I doubt I’d offer her a piece of cake.

How to silence the noisy kids

“There’s no low level disruption. There’s just disruption.”

These were the wise words from a learned teacher who had been around the traps by the time I worked with her. It’s a point well taken for most teachers; or for that matter anyone who enjoys calmness and tranquillity.

Many a teacher has probably been on the verge of self-diagnosed tinnitus only to find it was the clicking of a pen. The banging of a chair leg causes a sweat to break on an educator’s forehead. The rattle of a pencil pot causes one to lose focus completely.

Some days a student will chat, and chat and chat. Constantly. They’ve been asked to stop numerous times and don’t. They’ve been handed punishments, discipline and dirty looks. Some teachers have even been driven to use sticky tape to bind their students mouths shut (although using a stapler would probably produce a more satisfactory result).

Still the student persists. It’s like a jackhammer of nonsensical whistling, muttering, asides, interruptions and nosiness that beats on the concrete shell of the adult’s delicate brain and slowly unravels years of teaching practice, careful lesson planning and sensible thought process, into a resolute hum of white noise, which leads to the supposed leader of the class questioning their very existence within this universe.

At this point it’s best to shut your eyes.

Don’t respond.

Don’t say a thing.

Take a deep breath in.

Give a deep breath out.

Take a deep breath in.

Give a deep breath out.

Open your eyes.

You are calm.

Ask everyone else to stop and join you in being calm.

Sit in silence for at least one and a half minutes.

Unless a student sets fire to a desk, do not talk.

Sit completely still and they will follow.

If after two minutes this hasn’t worked, then you’re screwed.

Kid #5 – The empty tissue box

The fifth kid I hated wanted to blow her nose when there were no tissues left in the classroom. The staff were under strict instruction to not allow any student to leave the classroom.

However teenagers aren’t particularly au fait with being told “no”. So when it came time for me to decline her request, for leave from the classroom to expel her mucus, things really kicked off.

It was the depth of winter and, even though this school was in the middle of the Australian desert, the weather really declined in the winter months. The winters there are as dreary as London just for shorter periods. The rain is relentless; the nights are colder than the usual coldness of the desert; and the red dust turns to red mud. Additionally the classrooms aren’t particularly built for the cold. The air conditioning is great in the summer, but during the winter you’re often driven to don a jacket to protect against the brunt of the impending cold. One teacher in the school was known for harnessing the elements to her advantage and freezing her students out. If misbehaviour became a problem, she’d knock all of the heaters to zero, pull on her coat and tell the students to get on with things if they wanted the heating back on. If they still acted out, they’d be outside the class cowering under the narrow awnings to avoid the rain.

The student I hated, did not quite drive me to playing the elements against her, but when she requested the tissue for her ongoing head cold I checked the bottom drawer of the desk to find no tissues and little sympathy for someone who should probably have spent the day at home. She then proceeded to kick up a stink that it was a violation of her human rights – young Homo sapiens are prone to melodrama. I stood my ground and did not budge. The girl was the sort of student who had caused me grief in the past due to her deluded expectations that she could run her relationship with staff on some sort of credit system. If she asked enough clever questions in class, did a mediocre job of classwork and shot you a pseudo-smile every once in a while, it was as though she’d earned the right to entertain us with a semi frequent temper tantrum. Politeness and hard work is not currency. You can’t cash it in for sociopathic behaviour at the end of each month.

The real kicker came in the afternoon when I made a pre-emptive phone call home to the girl’s mother so I could set the record straight on the tissue refusal – the student had a habit of constructing a web of lies to side her mother against the school (including the time she convinced her mother she had nothing to do with circulating a note about her red-haired friend’s “ginger minge”).

Thinking in my naivety that the mother would take my side, if I got in first with my version of events, I was irritated to find that in the time it had taken me to move from the classroom to the telephone in the office, the daughter had already divulged her version of the injustices enforced against her wishes to acquire a snot-relieving portion of paper. Furthermore when I insisted that it was school policy students could not leave the classroom, even for a tissue, the mother burst into tears claiming (as her daughter had previously) that it was a violation of human rights and threatened to report me to the principal. I would have offered her a tissue but this was of course a phone call, and would have contravened the rules leading to this original confrontation.

Was it my own fear of getting in trouble from management that had led me to hold my students hostage without access to personal care products? Should students without access to paper handkerchiefs simply be expected to wipe their nose on their sleeves? Would it have been impolite to have offered the student the three-day-old used tissue I had in my own pocket?

I’m sure this singular event did not cause long term damage for this student and she has probably turned out to be quite the respectable (albeit melodramatic) individual fighting for the rights of other tissue-seeking individuals; but if we were to meet in a dust storm, I doubt I’d say “bless you”.