Kid #33 and #34 – kicking, pushing, punching and lies

The thirty-third kid I hated was a pathological liar and the thirty-fourth kid I hated was also a pathological liar.

The thirty-third child had perfected his pathological lying by being sociopathic. He once so emphatically denied having stolen another student’s Lego bricks, despite me having seem him steal them, that I chastised the other student until she cried, to see if he’d be overcome by guilt. He stood there watching the whole thing. No guilt. Just good ole’ fashioned sociopathy. No empathy in the eyes. Just empty behind the eyes. (NB – I explained to the girl later the psychological mind games I’d attempted, and she seemed ok with everything.)

The thirty-fourth child left his finger prints everywhere. Yet, he would still gormlessly claim innocence. He literally left his finger prints everywhere, on one occasion placing his finger-paint smothered hands on all variety of surfaces. One of those surfaces was his face. He had the body of a nine-year-old and the mind of a three-year-old (I can’t back this up medically. I just based it on observations). I stared at him as he stood there covered head-to-toe in paint. I was in such disbelief I sent him holus-bolus to the ‘inclusion’ room (a room ironically for students excluded from normal class). He was their problem now.

Both students were in the same class, and while the infantile artist continued acting like a baby, the sociopath evolved more and more into a bully. Almost without fail, when I would return to the playground at the end of breaktimes and lunchtimes to collect the class, I would be set upon by both children claiming that the other had started a fight with them. If I was lucky, they would be mid-slap, mid-punch or mid-kick – it was easier to identify the perpetrator that way. Then it was a case of indignant high-moral ground from the former or grumbly baby-sulks from the latter. Either way, both would deny culpability, despite how the cookie had crumbled on that occasion. Sometimes it would defy logic and science, like the time the bully-one wrote the phrase “I am dumb” in the baby-one’s journal and claimed the baby-one had written it themselves. Now even if you were in the presence of the dumbest dummy out of the dum-dums, you’d be hard pressed to find a dumb-brain dumb enough to acknowledge their dumbness. The situation didn’t make sense.

What did make sense, was both were classic cases of the apple not falling far from the decaying apple tree.

The parents of the sociopathic bully had a chip on their collective shoulder. They blew their money on Masaratis, designer children’s clothes from Harrods and Waitrose sandwiches. Unsurprisingly, they had run short on money to provide their children with a quality education and had defaulted to sending them to an undersubscribed central London government primary school. It is my opinion that schools in central London which are undersubscribed, are bad schools. There are many schools busting at the seems and over-subscribed, there is little other reason for being ten or more children short per class than the fact a school is a little bit rubbish.

My favourite line from these over-cashed under-sensed parents came from the father who once said, “I run a business with more than thirty people, so I know what it would be like to run a classroom”. Sure, I thought. Let’s just do swapsies for a day and see what happens then. If I run your business into the ground, you can stop telling me how to do my job.

The parent of the baby-child was his mother. Much of the dialogue I had was with uncles and a grandmother, as the mother spoke little English and appeared to be off with the fairies. By all accounts, the rest of the extended family were quite switched on. Many of the cousins attended the school and were lovely children who were reasonably intelligent. Something was a bit awry here. It was a sad case I’m sure. The child was being failed and allowed to maintain this persona of ‘baby’ of the family, and seemingly ‘baby’ of the school. The uncles would insist the older cousins were helping with the child’s homework, but nothing was sticking, bar a few tame expletives (e.g. ‘poobum’).

On and on the bickering, lies and fighting went between these two buffoons. The parents of the sociopath would continually make complaints and maintain their son’s innocence in every matter. The Golden Child Syndrome they were suffering from brought them much stress, misconstruing every word that was said by adult and child alike to their son. The mother appeared to genuinely believe he could do no wrong. The father would intimidate staff and children by standing over them – probably where his young ‘prodigy’ learnt his bully tactics from.

The situation became untenable when the parents began asking for spoilt-britches to be moved into the safety of the other class. In a classic case of complying by path-of-least-resistance, the management allowed the child to be moved away from baby-face. The parents had one with the sociopath of their loins being taught the valuable lesson to “run away and hide from your problems as a means of dealing with them”.

And that was that. I didn’t see him again. If I were to see him, I doubt I’d ask which designer his latest jacket was from. Nor would I ask the other child, whether his finger-painting techniques had made him a world-renowned modern artist. They’d probably just lie about it anyway.

Delusions of Potential Grandeur

We’re often affirming children’s aspirations rightly or wrongly. The danger being that if all children’s dreams were realised, the world would be littered with popstars, football players and fire fighters – perhaps also ballet dancers.

We are told we can achieve anything, if we put our mind to it. We are told nothing of nepotism, hard luck or trauma. Inversely, perhaps these are the things we are supposed to put our mind to overcoming.

I have a distinct memory of sitting at the poolside as a young teenager, the steaming chlorinated water incubating in my nostrils. An eight-year-old member of the swim club was banging on and on about how his mother had told him he would be the ‘next Ian Thorpe’. This bumpkin only trained half of the week – hardly Olympic standard. How we laughed and laughed at his naïve optimism. Hopefully our cynical adolescent sneering didn’t damage him too much. Hopefully he pulled a (Taylor) Swifty and hashtagged ‘haters gonna hate, hate, hate, hate, hate’ before shaking it off all the way to a gold medallion at the State swimming championships. But let’s be honest, he wasn’t going to be an Olympic swimmer.

Then there have been the various chumps I’ve taught who play soccer/football. They run around on the bitumen surfaced playgrounds of inner London, unwittingly wearing down the studs on their football boots designed for grass surfaces. They spend their evenings glued to the controller of their console getting a computer-rendered Ronaldo to score virtual goals, and somehow under the misunderstanding that these fine-motor skills they’ve developed with their chubby digits will migrate down their spine into their feet. None of them spend time on a real (i.e. grass) pitch, nor are they part of any football club, even within school. Some of my students have, honest to God, thought they would be headhunted from the playground by talent scout passing by the school gate on their way to the supermarket. Most recently one of the dafter students in class, would blather on at length about his guaranteed position in the Premier League. He was aged 11. My teaching assistant at the time saw fit to revel in ridiculing his lack of ability at every turn. Highly unprofessional, I’m sure. But the child’s delusions of grandeur (and his father’s for that matter – a gentleman who saw fit to fuel his son’s narcissism) were unlikely to lead to him pulling a Swifty to hashtag ‘players gonna play, play, play, play, play’ and shake it off into a real life FIFA tournament.

Every child in their mirror clutching their hairbrush and belting their lungs out, under the  misapprehension a record deal will befall them because Simon Cowell will overhear them humming the theme tune to Home and Away in the gluten-free aisle of Woolworths.

Every child, gazing into their webcam, providing inane commentary of their walkthrough of Fortnite, screen-capturing every moment of combat blow-by-blow in the lofty hope their YouTube channel will be met by a landslide of views and likes that amount to billions of dollars in cryptocurrency.

Every child rehearsing their Oscar acceptance speech in the mirror, because Olivia Colman told them “any girl who’s practising her speech on the telly, you never know!”

Celebrities, magazines, musicians, stage-parents, motivational posters; they are all responsible for the hyperbole that leads children to believe they can achieve anything. So, what would happen if we spread a message of mediocrity alongside satisfaction?

I belatedly went to watch puppet musical Avenue Q, at the Wimbledon Theatre, and was struck by the truth talking of the song ‘For Now’, containing the lyrics: “You’re going to have to make some compromises for now. But only for now…”

While Avenue Q’s sentiment is the antithesis to the life-affirming messages of Sesame Street, could a song like ‘For Now’ set more realistic expectations? Would we be more satisfied or merely complacent? What is the difference between ambition and delusion?

Ultimately the question dangles above many of us like the sword of Damocles ready to slice our childhood into adult size chunks: When do we give up on our childhood dreams?

Perhaps it would be best to never give up. It is certainly a bad plan to stagnate. Bilbo Baggins taught us that when he thought, “Go back?… No not at all! Go sideways? Impossible! Go forward? Only thing to do! On we go!”

It’s easy to preach tenacity to children to obtain what they want – to instil self-belief. Sometimes we need to remind ourselves to do the same. To push through to the next level. Keep the goal in sight.

I sometimes find myself in a loop of listening to Diana Ross telling Big Bird to believe in himself. Perhaps the messages of Sesame Street are more apt for us to follow than the easy cynicism of the jaded characters in Avenue Q. Perhaps we must return to our childhood for advice on our living our adulthood. Diana Ross singing Believe in Yourself is certainly more powerful than any self-talk cassette tape: “What seems right to them, quite often might be wrong for you. So make sure you try to climb before you get too scared you’ll fall.”

Or perhaps it’s a balance of expectations.

No answers here.

How to talk to boys (about haircuts and girls)

“You’re going to have all the girls at school chasing after you tomorrow.”

This was the problematic remark made by a mother about her son’s haircut, when I was waiting for my own hairs to be cut earlier this week.

It is one of many tropes uttered without thought as to the wider implications of the relationship we have between the sexes and that which we have with ourselves.

In one foul swoop the mother has reduced her son’s interaction with women to that of a satin bowerbird collecting blue bottle tops for his nest. She sets up for him some sort of Georgie-Porgie, pudding and pie scenario where he’ll have a sex-crazed flock of girls swooning after his lusciously lopped locks. There’s a solid notion that he is somehow a reverse Samson whose newly cut hair will provide prowess to attract women.

Let’s start with the mother’s own relationship with men and how this statement may reflect her outlook on the male species. She obviously likes a well-manicured crop of hair on male heads, as she happily sat providing commentary for the duration of both her sons’ haircuts, and then her husband’s. Is it too much of an extrapolation to assume that the main thing attracting her to her own husband was his haircut? Probably (and hopefully) not. Yet she made the above throw-away remark, which would insinuate that this was the main thing – not his personality or intellect. It puts her in a position of appearing superficial if we are to assume haircuts are the main attraction she has to men.

Secondly, let’s think about the boy. It doesn’t do positive things for his self esteem to be told that he’s defining feature of attraction is the follicles on his noggin. There’s much dialogue surrounding the default position of complimenting young girls on their appearance, when adults can’t think of any other ways of engaging. To flip an old adage on its newly shaven head, ‘even if you only have nice things to say, you should on some occasions still say nothing at all’.

Phrases such as “what a pretty set of shoes”, or “what a lovely bow”, or “what a sweet smile you have” are no longer welcome, as they put primary value on appearance. Similarly, boys should be built to value their positive traits and abilities. The boy has made no contribution to the growing of his hair, nor the cutting of his hair. So why make him value it as a strong feature. That’s not to take away from the need to have pride in appearance and professionalism that a neat hairdo brings. But this should be for the purpose of his own pride of self and not for the enticement of the female species.

Finally, and most damagingly, the mother’s remark devalues women. The boy will be left with the impression that one of the main interests of girls is hair. She didn’t say “some girls”. She didn’t say “maybe a girl”. She didn’t say “a few girls”. She said “all” the girls. That’s right. All of the female students at the school will be chasing after him tomorrow. (Without considering the fact that it would be vastly intimidating to be chased by a lynch mob of people enamoured by the way your hair was sculpted) it is not a sensible notion, to give an impressionable young man, that women are so vacuous as to only be concerned with a man’s appearance from the eyebrow’s up.

An innocuous comment can hold clues to a deeper set of values. And in this case I think some reflection is needed – not to mention that perhaps Harry Haircut may want “all” the boys at school to notice his haircut. His mother didn’t think of that either.

Kid #31 – The Tea Party

The thirty-first child I hated, regurgitated a half-eaten biscuit into the hand of a London mayor.

Before you scour the dark web for articles about Sadiq or Boris receiving a handful of chewed cookie crumbs, it wasn’t the mayor of London. It was just a mayor of a borough in London. A borough that won’t be specified for fear of drawing too much attention to this post.

When we first received our invitation to afternoon tea, I was not even aware of the delinquent child who was to create this storm in…well…a tea cup. He was from the other Year 6 class and although we would have a number of showdowns later that year when he was placed in my Maths class, it was this late luncheon that would be the first and lasting impression of this baked goods guzzler.

We arrived promptly at the council chambers building, with our sixty students in toe. The initial ominous sign that this afternoon tea wouldn’t end well was the elevator which would fit no more than ten children at a time.

After several trips up and down to the umpteenth floor of the building, we were then ushered down a long corridor by a man who appeared to act like the mayor’s butler. However, he was probably just an overpaid civil servant employed to serve ratepayer-funded juice and nibbles to overfed pre-teens.

Unfortunately for the butler, he had a more theatrical manner than our eleven-year old students could handle. They mistook his enthusiasm as a signal to have a free-for-all. So when he pushed the two doors to the dining room open in the fashion Lumiere from Beauty and the Beast presented dinner to Belle, the children stampeded him as they clambered over each other attempting to sit by their best mate.

Underwhelmingly there were no dancing candelabras, spinning plates or champagne towers. In fact, there weren’t even any teapots, which was probably best as these juveniles needed no caffeine. There were however some large platters of digestives, cheese biscuits and apple segments. Also, each child had been presented with a polystyrene cup filled with orange juice. A handful of children struggled with the concept of waiting for the mayor’s arrival and began knocking back their beverage.

Finally, the mayor arrived. She was a kindly old lady, who probably was hoping the students to have stepped off a steam train in a lovely Edwardian children’s novel. Nay, she was soon to realise they were more reminiscent of something scraped off the floor out the back of a Victorian slum.

In an unsuspecting dodder, she asked her butler to take half the children to the artefact room. I accompanied this group. It was here the students were able to be unappreciative of a variety of items with historical significance. Least of all, the butler allowed each of them to hold a sword. He later complained to the mayor about the children’s behaviour with the sword – a complaint, which I felt was somewhat ironic considering he’d witnessed them struggling with disposable drinkware, let alone a large carving implement.

Upon our return to the dining room, the students were re-seated and commenced their afternoon tea, while her worship the mayor pottered around forcing small talk upon illiterate mutes entrusted to our care.

It was at this moment that I witnessed the child who is the ire of this blog entry.

There sat Fatty-boombalatty stuffing his face at the end of the round table in the far corner (I’m aware that ‘end of the round table’ is a contradiction in terms, but so is a fatty-boombalatty stuffing their face). Immersed in his own solo biscuit version of ‘fluffy bunnies’, he managed to negotiate a fourth digestive into the undigested contents of his face hole. Possibly from three parts horror, five parts embarrassment and two parts fear of recreating Mr Creosote’s ‘it’s only wafer thin’ moment, I bellowed across the room for this miscreant to “Stop!”.

Unfortunately, the child took this in its most literal sense and stopped at the point where his masticating bottom jaw was at a sixty-degree angle to the top of his mouth and the half-eaten biscuits proceeded to tumble out in a mushy sludge onto the well-intentioned yet mistakenly-chosen white table cloth.

As is the case when shocking displays of poor manners are witnessed by a large group of people, a momentary gasp of silence descended upon the room.

Snapping out of her dodder, the mayor said to the boy, “here give me that”. If she thought he was going to use a napkin to collect up the chewed remnants of afternoon tea, she clearly hadn’t been paying attention to the preceding defiance of basic table etiquette. The boy collected up the brown sludge and placed it directly in the mayor’s un-gloved hand.

“Get out now,” I yelled. “Go clean your hands and apologise!” (at the child, not the mayor).

I pointed to where I thought the bathroom was. The boy sheepishly slunk across the room. It turned out I’d directed him into the kitchen, where the McVities in question had been prepared. The council ‘chef’ ushered him back out.

“I’ll take him,” sighed the mayor, presumably assuming this fell under her duty as host (her butler was engaged showing the other group the sword). She passed the reconstituted biscuit sludge towards me. I quickly scrambled about and collected it in a serviette, not falling for the trap she’d fallen into.

Slumping into a nearby chair, I pondered whether any of this could have been dealt with better. Biting into a stale cracker I decided Wallace was wrong when he once said, “No crackers, Gromit. We’ve forgotten the crackers”. Wallace should have left the crackers in the pantry, as should have I.

Kid #28 – The case of the stolen lippy

The twenty-eighth kid I hated held a grudge.

It was a very long grudge and gives proof to the adage that children have elephants’ memory – or so say I.  Well, at the least, they remember when they’ve been wronged, despite an inability to remember more academic tasks like how to spell; or how to add numbers.

The grudge this child held was due to the fact I’d confiscated her cherry coloured (and presumably flavoured) lip gloss. The girl wasn’t one of my student’s. I merely caught her smearing the stuff across her face as I descended the stairs to perform my weekly yard duty. I’d normally turn a blind eye to neutral lip gloss, as the crisp dry winters of England usually crack as many lips as a clumsy kitchenhand cracks saucers. But this ten-year-old trickster had no use for cherry colour or cherry flavour, unless of course she was about to seduce one of her peers or had low blood sugar, respectively – albeit in the case of low blood sugar it wouldn’t be medically recommended to eat a tub of emollients.

So it was, that I confiscated the afore mentioned cherry lip gloss and told her she could pick it up in the afternoon.

I had every intention of returning it. The problem was two weeks passed before the girl finally came to claim her lip gloss. As I opened the drawer, I had put it in two weeks before, I found nothing more than the usual collection of half chewed pens and confiscated gum. No lip gloss. It had been taken by an equally troublesome child; another mystery for another day.

“I’m terribly sorry,” I said, “but your lip gloss is no longer here.”

“Where have you put it?” she demanded.

“I put it in this drawer.”

“Well you owe me a new one,” she said.

She stormed off.

I felt a little bad that the lip gloss had been stolen, although I was hardly to know there was a high theft rate of beauty products from the stationary drawer. Probably some pre-teen, with a penchant for broken pencils, pilfered the possessions of the drawer and thought they had hit the jackpot.

Thinking nothing more of it I continued my day-to-day duties as an educator of young minds until one day our paths crossed again in the playground.

“That’s him,” exclaimed the girl to her friends. “he’s the one who stole my lip gloss”.

‘Stole?’ I thought to myself. We’re my lips particularly red and shiny? Did I look that well-presented, that I could have stolen her infantile lip enhancer? Had I been spotted picking cherries too frequently from the schoolyard cherry tree?

Presumably it was the latter. Either way this was to become an ongoing pattern.

On an intermittent basis the student would spot me in the playground and the same accusations would surface.

Months later, I was considering relenting to the harassment by replacing the lip gloss. Instead, another teacher friend had fortuitously made lip gloss with her Year 11 students at another school, during a chemistry lesson. She had some spare containers of lip gloss remaining from the lesson, so I happily took one and placed it in my top coat pocket to give to the belligerent child when our next encounter took place.

Of course, all things being even, when the girl next spotted me in the playground she had finally forgotten about the lip gloss; as did I until I next took my coat to the drycleaner and realised the entire contents of the container had melted into the fabric of my coat pocket.

So although the whole saga was probably of bigger concern to myself than to the student, if we met again in a school stairwell, I doubt I’d offer any of my own cherry flavoured lipsmacker.

 

Kid #25 – The Know-It-All

The twenty-fifth kid I hated was a know-it-all who heaved a big sigh, whenever someone didn’t know the answer to something.

For example a question, regarding seemingly simple mathematical equations, would be answered incorrectly by a student. Child number twenty-five would then respond with a deep sigh followed by a phrase such as: “It’s soooo obvious”; or “Everyone knows the answer is three”; or “That’s easy!”.

To which I would usually reply: “If it’s so obvious, why don’t I send you to university”; or “Clearly not everyone knew the answer otherwise idiot Joe over here would have responded correctly”; or “Go jump in a creek, you purulent child”.

Sure these were petulant reactions to a petulant child, but he was infuriating.

He would lean back on his chair causing his eyes to roll backwards in his head. We gave him the benefit of the doubt about the eye-rolling – he claimed it was a nervous tick. More likely it was induced by a case of misplaced arrogance from his overfed lower middle-class ego that had been fuelled by the sycophants who fuelled him further with Haribos so he’d not beat them up.

If it weren’t for his intimidating physique, booming sigh and pseudo-psychosomatic eye rolling, he’d have been just another mediocre nerd who had spent a few extra hours reading some pages of an Encyclopaedia to one-up his mates.

We’ve all had to withstand such buffoonery either as children, parents or teachers. The child who memorised some large, yet ultimately useless, calculation to impress; or the fool who attended a summer school learning Latin and then enjoyed espousing the importance of prefixes derived from ancient languages; or the young hoodlum who spent every other evening swim training, so thinks they’re the next Leisel Jones, because their mother said so.

Child number twenty-five was that kind of kid. The dark reality was his show-boating was an attempt to distract from the clear eating disorder he had. He was at least three times larger than the second most obese student in the class. His mother was not obese.

She would come to parent meetings lamenting how the child never listened to her, when her husband was working away. She complained her son seemed agitated and unfocussed. In lieu of a medical degree, it was still reasonably clear that most of these things could be traced back to his high daily intake of sugar (and this was before faux dieticians Sarah Wilson and Davina McCall were publishing sugar-free books).

This is not to solely blame the child’s poor attitude on his diet. That would be unfair. He was most likely a horrible person by nature. But his mother’s constant feeding did not help. She was a sympathetic feeder, giving him what he wanted, when he wanted it. Hell, if I lived with him on a permanent basis I’d probably done the same – not just giving him slices of cake, but force feeding him the entire triple-layered chocolate sponge, Boris Bogtrotter style.

There was one particular meeting where the mother really felt at the end of her tether. I was also at mine. But as I said to the class teaching assistant, “How do you tell a mother her child is fat, and that it’s her fault?”

The answer to that question is probably to be more direct. Instead, in my ever diplomatic style, I beat around the bush. I raised with her our concern that her son had been turning up to school with energy drinks in his bag. Politely I suggested the guarana and caffeine could be a root cause for his lack of focus and any hyperactivity. She said she hadn’t given the drinks to him. He must have stolen them.

Either way, that didn’t explain the Nutella sandwiches, bags of sweets or chocolate coated sultanas he’d often bring to school. The idea he’d stolen them is as bizarrely ignorant as saying a child watched porn without their parents knowing, or cranked up thousand dollar bills on in-app purchases, or got drunk off your vintage wine cellar while you were out picking daisies. Parents should throw the television out the window, disconnect the Wi-Fi and pour the alcohol down the drain respectively. Remove temptation.

Likewise if your offspring have a sweet tooth, then incinerate all sugar-based products within a one hundred metre radius of your home. Leave them to gnaw on what they hope to be a sugar-cane chair, only to find it’s made from bamboo. They’ll be eating salad sandwiches soon enough.

If I had my time again, I’d probably be more direct with the parent, or have done some better health education in class to steer the child in the right direction. If only I’d had access to That Sugar Film, back then, things may have been different.

I’m sure the young man is growing up to be a more tolerant and intelligent person who will hopefully come to his own conclusions about his diet. Our destiny is in our diet.

But if I ever met him again, I doubt I’d suggest popping down to the local ice creamery for a catch up.

The twenty-fifth kid I hated was a know-it-all who heaved a big sigh, whenever someone didn’t know the answer to something.

For example a question, regarding seemingly simple mathematical equations, would be answered incorrectly by a student. Child number twenty-five would then respond with a deep sigh followed by a phrase such as: “It’s soooo obvious”; or “Everyone knows the answer is three”; or “That’s easy!”.

To which I would usually reply: “If it’s so obvious, why don’t I send you to university”; or “Clearly not everyone knew the answer otherwise idiot Joe over here would have responded correctly”; or “Go jump in a creek, you purulent child”.

Sure these were petulant reactions to a petulant child, but he was infuriating.

He would lean back on his chair causing his eyes to roll backwards in his head. We gave him the benefit of the doubt about the eye-rolling – he claimed it was a nervous tick. More likely it was induced by a case of misplaced arrogance from his overfed lower middle-class ego that had been fuelled by the sycophants who fuelled him further with Haribos so he’d not beat them up.

If it weren’t for his intimidating physique, booming sigh and pseudo-psychosomatic eye rolling, he’d have been just another mediocre nerd who had spent a few extra hours reading some pages of an Encyclopaedia to one-up his mates.

We’ve all had to withstand such buffoonery either as children, parents or teachers. The child who memorised some large, yet ultimately useless, calculation to impress; or the fool who attended a summer school learning Latin and then enjoyed espousing the importance of prefixes derived from ancient languages; or the young hoodlum who spent every other evening swim training, so thinks they’re the next Leisel Jones, because their mother said so.

Child number twenty-five was that kind of kid. The dark reality was his show-boating was an attempt to distract from the clear eating disorder he had. He was at least three times larger than the second most obese student in the class. His mother was not obese.

She would come to parent meetings lamenting how the child never listened to her, when her husband was working away. She complained her son seemed agitated and unfocussed. In lieu of a medical degree, it was still reasonably clear that most of these things could be traced back to his high daily intake of sugar (and this was before faux dieticians Sarah Wilson and Davina McCall were publishing sugar-free books).

This is not to solely blame the child’s poor attitude on his diet. That would be unfair. He was most likely a horrible person by nature. But his mother’s constant feeding did not help. She was a sympathetic feeder, giving him what he wanted, when he wanted it. Hell, if I lived with him on a permanent basis I’d probably done the same – not just giving him slices of cake, but force feeding him the entire triple-layered chocolate sponge, Boris Bogtrotter style.

There was one particular meeting where the mother really felt at the end of her tether. I was also at mine. But as I said to the class teaching assistant, “How do you tell a mother her child is fat, and that it’s her fault?”

The answer to that question is probably to be more direct. Instead, in my ever diplomatic style, I beat around the bush. I raised with her our concern that her son had been turning up to school with energy drinks in his bag. Politely I suggested the guarana and caffeine could be a root cause for his lack of focus and any hyperactivity. She said she hadn’t given the drinks to him. He must have stolen them.

Either way, that didn’t explain the Nutella sandwiches, bags of sweets or chocolate coated sultanas he’d often bring to school. The idea he’d stolen them is as bizarrely ignorant as saying a child watched porn without their parents knowing, or cranked up thousand dollar bills on in-app purchases, or got drunk off your vintage wine cellar while you were out picking daisies. Parents should throw the television out the window, disconnect the Wi-Fi and pour the alcohol down the drain respectively. Remove temptation.

Likewise if your offspring have a sweet tooth, then incinerate all sugar-based products within a one hundred metre radius of your home. Leave them to gnaw on what they hope to be a sugar-cane chair, only to find it’s made from bamboo. They’ll be eating salad sandwiches soon enough.

If I had my time again, I’d probably be more direct with the parent, or have done some better health education in class to steer the child in the right direction. If only I’d had access to That Sugar Film, back then, things may have been different.

I’m sure the young man is growing up to be a more tolerant and intelligent person who will hopefully come to his own conclusions about his diet. Our destiny is in our diet.

But if I ever met him again, I doubt I’d suggest popping down to the local ice creamery for a catch up.

Kid #24 – Hyperactivity

The twenty-fourth kid I hated had ADHD.

Having been brought up in a generation where ADHD was sniffed at as a cure-all for misbehaviour, I still have apprehensive cynicism when I first meet such children. Yet this child would be the child to blow numerous misconceptions I had about the condition out of the water.

To begin, he certainly had attention deficits. You would be working with him individually on a task, where he’d be acting engaged and enthused. But turn your head for a moment to give attention elsewhere, and he’d have caused mischief to another unsuspecting member of the room.

He was also hyperactive. He was always dancing (except for one occasion when he was supposed to be dancing, and then refused). The rest of the class were lined in regiment ready to commence the day and he’d be James Brown shoe shuffling, krumping or moonwalking his way up and down the line.

When he had finally been commanded to a stationary position his knee would be twitching in anticipation of his next jazz split.

But worst of all was when his ADHD manifested itself as anger. He could be triggered into full blown tantrums or attacks with very little provocation. This of course incited his peers to find various ways of chiding him into unbridled hysteria. As in adult life, psychological warfare is less frowned upon than hand-to-hand combat. So the kiddely-winks took the opportunity to create situations of paranoia which would eventual lead the child to an outburst of violence.

The fact he’d hit someone in the head was easily proven, but the jeering, teasing and subversive undermining of his character was always hard to pin point. So, inevitably he was the one who’d find himself standing in isolation outside the staff room during lunchtimes.

The general lack of acceptance led him, on a number of occasions, to create rather contrived stories. He was forever banging on about his mother’s promise to take him on a trip to Jamaica. He also claimed one of his Jamaican cousins had arranged a romantic liaison for him with a nice young girl via Skype.

On one occasion he brought to class a series of handwritten notes from the ‘girlfriend’, arising much suspicion considering it was supposed to be an online relationship. Also, most of the notes were only a couple of sentences, meaning it would have been a lengthy exchange of messages if they had indeed been posted back and forward between the UK and the Caribbean using the British postal system.

There was also a level of censorship required with this child. Most of his peers were still under the impression that babies came from cabbage patches, storks or Amazon’s home delivery service. But the ADHD kid spent a lot of time hanging around older cousins and had clearly been informed about the birds and bees, and a few species in-between.

It took me a while to pick the glint in his eye when he was heading down the path of one of his more inappropriate tales – tales that would be rated PG in comparison to his Skype dalliance. One such tale involved him wandering down a beach and spotting a group of people lain near the water. He told the story with such flare and embellishment, including details of seagulls, sandcastles and pelicans, I was caught unawares when he concluded with his punchline: “And then I saw that one of the girls wasn’t wearing a top and I could see her boobies!”

The conclusion was met with raucous laughter from the class, again fuelling his delicate ego and curing his low self-esteem.

The adults around him must have been reasonably doubtful and untrusting of him; myself included – not undue to stories such as the one previously mentioned. He always needed to prove himself in cold hard fact. Perhaps it was a self-aware case of ‘the boy who cried wolf’.

One particular weekend, after a long absence by his father, the young lad spent a day with his father in Leicester Square visiting M & M World and the cinema. He returned to school the following Monday with his ticket stubs from Wreck-It Ralph (an apt choice of film, due to his own tendencies towards destruction). It was one of the saddest things I’ve seen. Normally telling people you’ve seen a movie and verifying a few plot points suffices in convincing them you have indeed viewed the film. Yet here was a child so desperate to prove the existence of a promise his father had delivered on, that he brought in a couple of torn ticket stubs.

Or perhaps he had stolen them from a bin outside Odeon.

He was an insecure sweet heart at the best of times and an infuriatingly stubborn child at others. It was his stubborn misbehaviour that led to him being banned from performing in the Easter play, being banned from making homemade bread with the class, and causing the football coach to have a meltdown and resign.

His inability to process thoughts, his relentless fidgeting and social ineptness are now my benchmark for ADHD. He convinced me there is a need to deal with such children in a different manner to those without the condition.

I even choked up a little bit on his last day, at the thought of him being left out in the ruthless world of high school where he’d probably be thrown to the dogs for his abrasiveness. A world where ADHD is a dirty word and you’re expected to do what you’re told when you’re told.

But if I ever met him again somewhere in the Caribbean, I doubt I’d shout him a Pina Colada.

Kid #22 – The naughtiest child ever

The twenty second-kid I hated was the worst child I’d ever taught.

Or at least that’s what I told him, or rather death-whispered it in his ear as I dismissed him.

It probably wasn’t even true. I’d taught worse (Kid number two, for instance was a lot worse).

Kid number 22 was a very naughty boy. I only taught him for one day, but his behaviour stood out as so delinquent there was little left to do than give him a piece of my mind. He was a product of his home, yet also the school he attended.

When I arrived in the morning to cover his Year Three class, I was told by the deputy, “Don’t worry too much about getting anything done. Just baby-sit them for the day and their normal teacher will be able to sort anything out tomorrow”.

This was an ominous sign. I felt an urge to excuse myself and return to bed, sacrificing that day’s pay. Instead, I went against my better judgement and began setting up the classroom.

As the morning bell rang the cacophonous stampede of size 7-12 leather Clarks could be heard galloping up the stairwell and spilling into the upstairs corridor. I braced myself against the door-jam of the classroom, ready to politely (but firmly) greet each child.

Then the whooping started.

“Yes, it’s a supply teacher!”; “Awesome, Mrs Smithsworthy isn’t in today!”; “We’re not going to do any work today!”

How did these kids even know what a ‘supply teacher’ is? Most kids under the age of 13 are too self-consumed to see past their left elbow. They’re caught up in their own little world. Sometimes, I’d be halfway through a day’s work, before certain kids would realise I wasn’t their normal teacher.

Perhaps the deputy had spoken with them in the playground and told them the same thing he told me.

And there was kid number 22. His face was permanently scarred with a mischievous slash psychopathic grin, ready to cause chaos; a delinquent at the age of seven. He had one of those haircuts where everything is shaved short except for the mullet fringe at the back. Not that a haircut is reason to judge what a personality will be like, but sometimes a personality is a reason to judge what a haircut will be like.

The child was full of expletives, immediately escalating himself to a morning break detention. The rest of the class wasn’t far behind, paying such little attention to the lesson that I had to drop Maths for the day to spend time going through the ‘Golden Rules’ chart on the pin-up board.

It was at this point I became more infuriated. It seemed the children had a comprehensive knowledge of what the classroom expectations were, but had consciously chosen to flaunt them. Normally, I find younger children have misunderstandings of appropriate behaviour, whereas teenagers know the limits and choose to exceed them.

This Year Three class were acting like teenagers. They knew I was a cover teacher so had chosen to throw the ‘Golden Rules’ out the window along with a couple of pencils and one boy’s exercise book.

I’d not seen such collective self-awareness in young children for a long time, if ever. We finished re-vising the rules and how to behave normally, before ascending to the third floor of the building for a music lesson. The music specialist took this lesson, so I returned to the sanctuary of the now peaceful classroom.

A senior staff member popped her head in to see how things were going. I lied and said it was fine, hoping to myself that the time continuum would collapse on itself and it’d suddenly become 3.30pm.

She also asked where the teaching assistant was. I said I had seen a lady in the room earlier in the day. But she hadn’t said much.

The teaching assistant who was supposed to have been with these naughty children had seemingly gone AWOL. She too must have been told by the deputy that the day would be a right off; and I imagine she retreated to the photocopying room to regain whatever sanity she had lost dealing with these kids over the preceding months.

The peace was short-lived as four boys returned to the room prematurely. The twenty-second kid had been incessantly banging his drum, after being told to stop by the music teacher. His goons had joined in the fun by laughing evil laughs and egging him on.

Now they were my problem again. I made them write lines, which due to their illiteracy became one single line i.e. one line between the four of them.

Lunch came and went. The afternoon was marred by the Maths lesson we hadn’t completed in the morning and the kid, I had come to hate, threw his toys out the pram when I asked him to count to ten with some number blocks. The blocks were tossed from the metaphoric pram to the corner of the room, while he was guided to the opposite corner to sit in ‘time-out’.

This of course was short lived, because the sugar from the Walkers cheese and onion chips he’d eaten at lunch had clearly kicked in and caused him to have another burst of adrenaline. He began literally bouncing off walls and running into things.

It is children like this that make a good case for bringing back the dunce hat. Then at least there’d be something to weigh the child down with, so they’d find it harder to leave ‘time-out’.

The day finally ended and I escorted the children to the playground for pickup. Though, it was more like they escorted themselves out, as we had all had more than enough by then.

The naughty child was now hitting another child or sibling.

Then suddenly he spotted his parents walking in with his kick scooter.

So before he ran off to them, I bent down and whispered in his ear, “You are the worst [dramatic pause] child I have ever taught. And if I teach here again, I hope you improve your behaviour young man”.

I never did teach there again thank goodness, and the kid simply rode off into the distance, running over a little girl’s toe in the process.

Maybe the boy had a condition. Maybe I was harsh to whisper in his ear just to satisfy myself I’d gained some juvenile revenge. Really, someone within the school should have started addressing the breadth of misbehaviour. There was no need for that much naughtiness.

For me it was another day another dollar. And I never returned.

Perhaps things are better there now and the boy has been diagnosed with some form of deficit disorder.

But if I ever met him again, I doubt I’d join him on the halfpipe with my scooter.

Kid #21 – You can guide a kid to textbooks, but you can’t make them think

The twenty-first kid I hated had a real ‘make me!’ attitude.

By ‘make me!’, I am referring to the following sorts of interactions:

Teacher/Parent/Adult/Authority figure: Please, can you tuck your shirt in?

Kid: Make me!

Or

Teacher/Parent/Adult/Authority figure: Please, can you sit down?

Kid: Make me!

And so on and so forth.

For argument’s sake, let’s say kid number 21 was called ‘Tarquin’. He had become so notorious around the school for his defiance that students and staff alike would say, “Have you met Tarquin yet?”, “Is Tarquin in your class?” or “Such and such student couldn’t be worse than Tarquin”.

Who was this child? And did I really want to meet him?

I was covering classes in this school for a number of months. The school was situated in an area of London prone to a certain amount of gang warfare. The gangs were usually made up of vulnerable teenagers and misguided young adults involving themselves in forcing young female members to be involved in various sexual acts, general theft and a bit of knife crime.

My gut feeling was the majority of students in the school were not part of such gangs, but some of those who weren’t continuing beyond Year 10 were probably on the cusp of joining such groups. The school was very active in bringing to the attention of students, the pitfalls of gang culture. Ex-gang members were often brought in as guest speakers; extra-curricular clubs and activities were organised as distractions; and the issue of knife crime was debated as a topic in English classes, using the institutionalised racism of the Stephen Lawrence case as a backdrop (albeit some of the children seemed more interested in the knife side of ‘knife crime’ and less concerned about the crime).

One film studies class was even making a mockumentary about the 2011 London riots, documenting a gang who had resorted to raiding stationery shops for highlighters.

With such a demographic and a number of already lippy students, I was prepared for the worst upon meeting the twenty first kid. Would he be part of such a gang? Is that why he was so well-known?

Apprehensive at every turn, when covering year nine classes, I expected the child to storm in at any moment. Then one day covering a woodwork class it happened…

In stormed ‘Tarquin’. He did not fit the gangster mould at all. I was expecting a much more vicious and streetwise child from a struggling background. Instead he appeared to be a well-spoken middle-class lad born into a good home. So initially I relaxed.

However, he had turned up five minutes late to class and seemed rather unapologetic. I should have been more cautious.

When asked to sit down in a seat, he declared that he was fine and continued to wander around the room. He began picking up tools; saws, chisels and other sharp construction implements, which I had been explicitly instructed to make sure students did not handle. The students were only supposed to work on their written booklet explaining how they were going to construct their wooden pencil box for next lesson.

The rest of the year nines seemed to be enjoying the show. Here was their class-clown ready to spoil the day. He was no Krusty, but if it meant they didn’t need to complete their written element of work, they’d settle for his second rate cousin.

The child continued to ignore me completely, despite every polite attempt to get his attention and encourage him to sit in a chair. There is nothing ruder or more defiant than being ignored completely by a student. Yet there is also an element of knowing with such a child. They’ve realised the limitations of the adults to ‘make’ them do things. Beyond my words I had nothing. I could call a senior staff member in, and soon enough I did, but he treated them the same way. It would have been easier if he’d smashed a window or something, because then we’d have been able to call the police who may have been able to force him to do something. Something like sitting in a cell, instead of the chair I’d originally asked him to rest upon.

But even force with not lead to learning.

And there-in lay the dilemma when later in the lesson he was asked to do his work and responded with, “make me!”.

There is in fact no way to make someone learn. They can only be cajoled, encouraged, persuaded and threatened with consequence, to complete a task.

Instead this child was happy to enjoy his minute status as a celebrity. He wandered the room greeting all his pals, as though he was some sort of politician working a room. He sat at his table like a chairman of an important board meeting, leading discussions in everything but the topic at hand. When the lesson finally ended he swanned (or perhaps even minced) out of the room with an air of contempt towards those he had just spent time with; he obviously had more important places to be.

It’s hard to know with some of these children whether the bravado comes from a place of insecurity or, as stated early, the knowledge that rules can be pushed to their limit (or even ignored) to get what you want.

The problem with this character was he’d only realised half the picture. He knew there were limited short term consequences to his blatant disregard for authority. He was reaping the rewards of his popularity within the safety net of his school environment. But left out to float in the ocean of the real world, he’d be swallowed up by the shark that is society and torn limb from limb like an malnourished walrus – I feel this is an apt metaphor considering his body type.

Luckily I only taught that class until the end of the week and moved to another part of the school, where again the name Tarquin became merely a quasi-outlaw rumoured about in the corridors. A god among pupils and fool among teachers. His destiny was tied up in failure due the size of his ego and belt strap.

So although the child may have suffered from some social autism, if we met again I doubt I’d invite him in for coffee. He’d have to ‘make me!’.

Kid #20 – How a papercut can escalate

The twentieth kid I hated made me bleed.

It was only a paper cut, but it really hurt. Plus fast-moving sheets of A4 copier paper is about as high-stakes as my classrooms get. The worst part was my ego was crushed, because I yelped in pain as it happened, thus dissolving the stern facade I was trying to project to the class. Worse still, the child decided my agony was hysterical and proceeded to mercilessly laugh his way across the room to his stool, continuing to smirk and snigger for a further five minutes.

I’d witnessed nastiness from children before. Yet in terms of callousness this was up there. I’d been innocently standing at the entrance to the room, sent there by a job agency to work a day of supply teaching. I was handing out the worksheets as the students came in, courteously greeting them and guiding them to their chairs. The hyena, who snatched the Science revision from my hand tearing the skin inside my index finger, was just the beginning of a very bad day. It was a day worse than a Daniel Powter song.

It was an all-boys school in some western suburb of London – one that I’ve blotted from my mind, due to the trauma. The rest of the lads lumbered into the room, each snatching their own copy of the revision notes, luckily not severing any more of my fingers. I tried to resume my stern approach as I read out the register. The class was so preoccupied with their self-absorption they refused to engage with the process and I resorted to having someone, who looked half decent, to go through the register with me. This turned out to be a useless proposition, as the student happily marked all 30 names on the register as ‘present’ despite the absence of at least ten of them from the room.

Luckily each student had a notebook with their name on it. There were a bunch of unclaimed notebooks, so I assumed these belonged to the missing students and marked them absent accordingly.

On with the lesson. I’d been left a note by the teacher informing me to show a short documentary and then spend the remaining hour and a half of the lesson letting students revise for an exam. An hour and a half was going to be a very long time for these chumps. It’s a long time for the best of us to spend in one spot. I took a deep breath and began the watch.

The screening of the documentary lasted less than three minutes due to cries of “switch it off!”, “this is boring!” and “who’s David Attenborough?”. I switched it off and set the monkeys to work on their revision.

At first they mostly got about talking to each other and avoiding any form of work. They were calm though, so I gave them the benefit of the doubt. However, twenty minutes into the sit-in, the same child who’d injured my finger began to get fidgety. He was sitting at the back of the room and I could see him begin to rock from side to side.

“Please sit still.”

“I can’t sir, it’s the stool.”

“Well let me have a look,” I said and walked towards him.

“Oh no no. It’s fine. It’s fine.”

I backed off, knowing full well that naughty boys wobble stools and not the other way round.  Every couple of minutes there’d be another creak from the back of the room.

“Please stop,” I asked again politely.

After a solid ten minutes of this stool wobbling an almighty crash came from the back of the room. Giggling and more hysteria erupted from the boys. I collected the planks of wood from what remained of the stool and placed them on the teacher’s desk.

All of a sudden the students’ tone changed. They quizzed me on what I’d do with the pieces of the stool.

“I haven’t decided yet,” was my response.

Uncertainty is sometimes the best weapon for keeping kids on their toes. If they don’t know what you’re capable of, they won’t realise how little you are actually capable of. Mostly I intended to sit quietly pondering who had the hair-brained idea of installing cheap pine furniture in a school classroom instead of sturdy welded-iron framed bottom rests.

The serenity of the student’s fear was soon disrupted again.

“It’s hot in here, sir,” gasped a melodramatic pupil. “Can I please open the window?”

Before I could decide whether or not this was a sensible decision, the paper-cutting stool-breaking offender leapt from his new seat and lurched towards the back door of the classroom.

“I’ll open the door!” he shouted.

Now, why architects and builders construct Science classrooms with two doors is beyond me. It’s probably something to do with being able to escape when something explodes. Instead it tends to act as an escape for when a student’s mind implodes from their own stupidity. They may as well replace the ‘exit’ signs above the doors with the word ‘freedom’.

Thus a game of ‘cat and mouse’ began with students at one end of the room trying to distract me while their comrades escaped from whichever alternate exit was furthest from me. After less than five minutes of this nonsense, I sent for the classroom keys and locked the back door. Fortunately, the kid I hated was outside at this point, so I was given a fifteen minute break as he slowly navigated his way around the perimeter of the school yard before entering back through the main door of the classroom.

In regards to the fire safety, well it was too bad if anything ignited. Although since it was not a practical science lesson the odds of this occurring were low. The most likely thing to set fire to anything was the data projector, but I’d turned that off when the documentary proved to be a failed teaching technique.

Settling back into my chair to keep watch I hear an anti-Semitic comment thrown across the room. This is countered by an Islamophobic remark from the opposite side of the class. All of a sudden my classroom has become the Gaza strip. Here was a bunch of teenagers mimicking the violence, they’d seen on the news, both in Palestine and in their own city. Judging by the character of the pupils, some of them may well have had older siblings or relatives involved in some sort of gang culture. I did not want to know. I’m a patient person, but this sort of crazed anger and extreme hatred is what was causing the real-world wars. I’m not employed as a government diplomat. I’m employed as a teacher and at a stretch a vicarious student counsellor. I decided to bring in the big guns and sent for the deputy head teacher.

The deputy came into the room. “Stop fooling around for your teacher. We pay good money for these teachers to come in and teach when your normal teachers are away. For every teacher that comes we pay …” and then he mentioned a figure for a daily rate, which was twice what I was being paid. So either he was lying to shock the children into submission, or I was getting a raw deal from my job agent skimming a large commission off the top. Not only did I want to get home, but according to this deputy I was being ripped off as well. I never bothered following up the salary issue. I didn’t care to know.

“You can all have half an hour detention after school,” he said.

Then he turned to me. “Will you be ok to supervise that?” he asked.

Great, I thought. I’m being short changed already and now I need to spend an extra 30 minutes keeping an eye on these nuisances.

Finally the lesson came to an end, and was then followed by two more equally traumatic sessions with a year seven and then a year eight class. Plus of course the bonus detention at the end of it all. A horrible day bookended by horrible people.

As I left the school that afternoon, and was getting my timesheet signed, the deputy principal signing my form asked how my day had been. I responded honestly.

“They were a bit of a handful,” I said. “Not much work was done and they weren’t very polite”.

“I know,” he said. “It would be great if you could come back again though. They don’t really get a consistent set of teachers here. A lot of the relief/supply staff don’t come back.”

I wonder why, I thought to myself.

“Well, I’ll have a think about it,” I said.

As soon as I was outside the school I rang the teaching agency, who’d deployed me there, and said I’d rather not attend work at that school again. They sounded unsurprised and said that would be fine. It was the only time I ever refused to go back to a school.

And if I ever was to again meet the child who damaged my finger joint, I doubt I’d resist the temptation to sever the dermis of his inner hand with a nice sharp-edged piece of cardboard.