The sixteenth kid I hated told me London had kebab shops, just before I moved to the UK.
I told him there were kebab shops in Perth, Western Australia. Perhaps he’d never been to the Australian ones because the best were only available past his bedtime.
To be honest, I didn’t really hate this kid at all. He was just a massive handful. If anything, I feared him. Feared how he might lead to my undoing as a qualified professional.
He was the ringleader of his 16 year old counterparts and their horseplay. I was left to babysit them under the guise of teaching them remedial English. The content of the coursework needed heavy dressing up to provide any engagement. Mostly it was a battle of wits between myself and the wannabe gangsters with their varied attempts to twist situations to their advantage.
One such win on their part involved the screening of a film about football fan violence in a West Ham football firm. The kid, in my class, had recently moved to Australia from Manchester. He had a thick accent and would regale his comrades with stories about the rough streets where he’d grown up – hence his referencing of kebab shops I suspect. In reality he probably grew up in a respectable suburb where his mother wouldn’t have allowed him out the house after 4pm. Lucky for him the rest of the cohort had not been further than the nearest Shopping Centre since birth; and their only experiences of gang culture would have been standing dopily in large groups inside Big W during Thursday late night shopping. So the rest of the class hung on his every word.
When he proclaimed the movies I was asking the class to study as ‘boring’, he raised the suggestion of Green Street Hooligans. This was a clear attempt to fool the other students into thinking he’d been part of a violent football firm himself, despite this anarchic culture having being at its height in the 1970s and 80s, well before his birth; and for that matter mine. Nevertheless I found a copy of the film in the bargain bin at the local DVD store and showed it to the students. They thoroughly enjoyed it and then bam I gave them a series of tasks and tests relating to the film. Seemingly unexhausted from the analysis I forced them into, they requested to watch Green Street Hooligans 2 and Green Street Hooligans 3. I refused on the grounds that Elijah Wood did not appear in the sequels. Even if he had, I had frankly seen enough of Frodo Baggins falling in with the wrong crowd to put me off any non-hobbit related outings by Mr Wood.
As if this student’s penchant for screen violence wasn’t bad enough – he also wanted us to watch Gran Torino, a film full of racial violence and Clint Eastwood – the student also insisted on pestering young staff members about their marital status. The less he was told, the more speculative the pestering became. On one occasion a young female staff member entered the classroom, at which point the kid I hated claimed I was blushing. This was awkward for the other staff member also. I told the child to stop projecting his infantile mating rituals onto his teachers. He did not take my advice.
About a month later he began concocting an elaborate conspiracy about myself and another male teacher being in a relationship (conspiracies had become all the rage again. It was around the time of the tenth anniversary of 9/11 so the media was whipping up a new frenzy of conspiracies at the time). Accusations of homosexuality were water off a ducks back to me, in comparison to the persecution I’d been subjected to as Harry Potter’s long lost brother. My colleague, however, was getting the interrogating questions and relentless earbashing worse than me. A curious fact, considering he didn’t even teach this imbecile of a person. So after weeks of wearing down our heterosexual standing with aspersions of doubt cast upon it, my colleague finally snapped, stating publicly that both he and I were dating separate female people and were most definitely not gay.
This of course opened a whole new line of questioning in regards to the nature of our dating partners. So the oppression never really ended.
This student was going too far. He was getting more and more obnoxious. He’d convinced me to show the class films that psychopaths may watch during their leisure time. All of a sudden I was thinking it normal to include episodes of Australian true-crime series Underbelly or the Will Ferrell and Mark Walberg buddy cop comedy film The Other Guys in my teaching of the English Curriculum. In addition, he now knew various sordid details of the fabricated events in my non-existent romantic relationship. Knowledge was power, and his file on me was getting bigger.
To aggravate matters further, the back wall of the classroom adjoined the room my head of department taught classes in. The student drew great pleasure from rocking his chair back to slam into the wall and disturb the other class. Luckily his reputation preceded him and the head of department was on him like a rash to stop it. His persistence with the chair banging charade, encouraged his flock of buffoon disciples to follow suit, eventually forcing me to move the entire set of desks two metres forward from the back wall. At this point, I was then forced up against the whiteboard with barely enough room to rotate my body and press the playback button on whatever crime thriller we were about to watch next.
It wasn’t just myself he caused grief for. He also clearly didn’t realise how annoying he was. Even after he had been told in no uncertain terms. He’d begun an apprenticeship two days a week at a local cabinet makers. Each week, when he returned to the classroom, he’d blather on about how he’d spent most of the time relaxing in the corner and passing his boss the wrong tools. He was learning little or nothing about work ethic from this apprenticeship. It also turned out that when he was at the worksite he blathered even more than in the classroom. I know this, because he proudly announced to us one day how his boss had become so agitated by the incessant babbling, he had grabbed the student and pushed him to the floor and given him a stern talking to. I remember thinking at the time, how nice it would be if we could do the same thing to our students every once in a while; albeit I don’t have the upper body strength. Nevertheless, the student learnt nothing from the dressing down. His quest in life was not to make cabinets but to make headaches for the grownups that surrounded him.
Despite the nonsense, there were times when the young lad was certainly an entertaining fellow. If you weren’t in a position of authority, I’m sure he’d have made a loyal friend.
When I finally left the school, I did not tell any of the students until the final week. This was due in most part to my fear of the delinquent class this child belonged to. If they knew I was about to leave, they would have gone from doing stuff all to doing whatever comes below that. So it was to my surprise that upon hearing of my departure on the final day of term, the student exclaimed that I should have told him earlier so he could have organised a proper farewell. In true cavalier style he jumped from his chair and rushed down to the English office to request some card. There was none. He returned with an A3 piece of paper which was neatly folded in half and passed around the room in front of me for the worst kept secret signing of a card I’ve witnessed. But it is always the sentiment. Even if that sentiment comes from a place of avoiding more essay writing. The kind words of well wishing, demands for Facebook friend requests, and usual misspellings of my name are still kept in that prided card now sitting on my bookshelf (or in the trash. I can’t remember exactly). There may even have been mention in the card of a recommended kebab shop
So if I ever meet this child again on a high street somewhere, at 2am in the morning, with a craving for E coli in a wrap, I know I’ll chip in a couple of pounds so he can get extra topping on his shredded lamb and salad snack; because sometimes there are kids I tolerated.
The fifteenth kid I hated had a misspelt name.
Names can be spelt whichever which way people prefer, one would suppose. But you know the sort of names that everyone spells one way and then some chump parent decides to reinvent the wheel and add an extra vowel, replace an ‘i’ with a ‘y’ or spell the entire thing backwards. This child had one of those names. He won’t be named here, but it was similar to when ‘Geoffrey’ is spelt ‘Jeffrey’; or ‘Ashley’ is spelt ‘Ashleigh’; or ‘Sam’ is spelt ‘Psam’; or ‘Polly’ is spelt ‘Potato’.
Long story short, his name had been incorrectly constructed. If it had been spelt correctly it would have been close in meaning to ‘doing the right thing for the greater good’. Unfortunately this was not reflected in the child’s personality.
At first glance, he was a very charming child. All smiles and “how are you sir?”, “what can I do to help sir?” etc. He participated in class discussions and completed most of his work efficiently. Perhaps he was too smart for the other students or had some attention deficit. Either way, the pleasantries soon started to change in tone. They didn’t disappear. But there appeared to be a cunning flicker behind the fire in his eyes.
He was a Year Eight student, which at the time meant it was his first year at high school. He was exuding a particular over-confidence which was perhaps to intimidate his peers. While his contemporaries looked like deer in the headlights, he began to strut around as though he was Riff from West Side Story. He was the ‘the Fonz’ of Year 8. The boys steered clear of him and the girls swooned.
And then there was all the weird stuff where I assume he was trying to find his true self. For example he painted his finger nails and wore eyeliner. Also the more the girls swooned, the more camp he became, which did not seem to deter them in the slightest. Additionally, this was all happening around the time Hug a Ginger Day, National Kick a Ranga Day and Say Sorry to a Ranga Day was becoming a big thing (it is still a big thing, right?). So life was confusing. So confusing he dyed his hair jet black.
But chameleon tendencies were merely a mask for his thinly veiled contempt for the system. As he became more and more preoccupied with his vanity, he became less and less occupied with the task at hand. The quality of his work began to slip. His attitude towards anyone who wasn’t a female 13-year-old, became loathsome. It was all eye-rolling, slouched shoulders and foot dragging.
When I confronted him on his manners, that’s when things would escalate. He’d get his usual warnings. Then it would be a move to an isolated desk at the front of the room. Sometimes the desk was moved into the hallway. He’d usually be asked to move the chair, which would result in a lot of banging and clanging, while he made sure the chair ricocheted off every hard piece of furniture in his path.
It was the real, “I don’t care what you do to me, because everybody hates me,” attitude.
I suppose he was, what someone from the mid-noughties may have called, an ‘Emo’ (emotional human being). I don’t know what name these characters go by currently.
Placing a agitated bald eagle in a cardboard box would have been easier than trying to get this child to work. I tried all sorts; complimenting him on his dubious appearance; scolding him about his attitude; commending him on his insightful arguments; giving him the death whisper when he spoke out of turn. Nothing was working.
Most other staff had trouble with him, too. He had trouble with himself. The world was against him. There was a chip on his shoulder threatening to tear through the cheap fabric of the tight-fitting T-shirts he presumably wore on weekends. If he wasn’t looking into a mirror, he was looking out of one wondering why everyone surrounding him enjoyed life and didn’t reflect the melancholy vibes back to him. Basically it was your usual run-of-the-mill teen angst, but with skinny jeans and a misshapen haircut.
His moaning defiant self-awareness haunted my dreams. He was the child who was getting under my skin. Maybe it was because I had seen his full potential in the first instance, and was upset about his decline in attitude. More likely it was the constant distraction and disruption he was causing to the classroom as his fashion sense became more outrageous and his attention seeking quips about everything from politics to narrative plot structure became the entire focus of the class. I wondered whether things would have been different had his parents given him a sensible name like ‘John’.
I was losing control. All because of one puny post-punk.
The inevitable outcome is a bit blurry. I think eventually I went for the old fashioned trick of turning some of the other students against him, so he’d pull into line. There was still a select bunch he would listen to.
It was early days for my teaching though. I’m getting better at spotting these characters; the ones who begin high school looking like they’re out of a Pumpkin Patch catalogue, then three months later look as though they’ve been kicked out of a Lady Gaga concert, with an attitude to match Justin Bieber’s pet monkey.
If I had my time again I’d probably be more compassionate to the child’s self-pity and provide better boundaries. But if we met again, I doubt I’d swap Fall Out Boy albums with him.
The twelfth kid I hated fashioned a piece of sheet metal into the shape of a penis and testicles; then placed it on my desk.
I’ve not taught metal work, because my background is in English teaching. However, the odd time when I’ve covered a manual arts class, I’ve been left to complete worksheets with the children, as I myself am presumably uninsured or unqualified to supervise such activities. This said, it would seem the child in question had been permitted enough time to operate heavy machinery unaided, and create this metallic piece of genitalia; or perhaps he had been aided and had managed to convince his metal-work teacher, he had created a silhouette of a banana and plums. The latter seems less likely.
And so it was that with ten minutes remaining of a lesson, I went to place my Macbeth play script on my desk and looked down to find the sausage and meatballs in question. Not being very good at disguising surprise, the students could tell straight away that I had clocked it. The giggling started straight away. What was I to do? The tin trouser snake was quite large. Too large to use as a bookmark. Even if I used a World Book encyclopaedia, the end of the junk would be sticking out making the book look like a shrunken pair of speedos on an Australia Prime Minister.
I did the only sensible thing left to any teacher in this situation. I raised the offending item above my head and asked the class who had placed it on my desk. No response. But then the usual threat of, “We will all be here in your own time until somebody owns up,” seemed to do the trick. Fingers began pointing across the room to a small blonde boy who had an inferiority complex.
This same child had been seen on occasion sitting diligently next to his mother in church on Sundays, carrying shopping to the family car and being a general pillar of the community. But his behaviour in school was the complete opposite and usually consisted of what can only be described as some sort of voluntary Tourette’s syndrome. At any given moment in class when the attention from his peers waned, out would come the expletives. These were closely followed by a knowing smirk, making quite clear this was not a medical condition.
While his mother may have been unaware of the double life he led, he of course realised that I was more than aware; so aware in fact that he confessed to his crime right away.
In hindsight, what happened next is regrettable. But also apt.
The class was on edge as to what would happen next, wondering how this act of defiance would be swiftly remedied. When there’s expectation of serious consequence; for what is mostly tomfoolery that overstepped the mark; it’s sometimes best to bring things down a notch, while still maintaining the upper hand.
I asked the boy to walk to the front of the room and handed him his cold hard manhood (metal manhood, that he had made in manual arts – let’s be clear on that). He then asked how long he had to stand at the front of the room showing his steel plated privates.
Now, less because I needed to teach him a lesson, but more because the lesson on Shakespeare’s Macbeth had run five minutes short that day, I responded by telling him to stay there until the bell rang for break.
It was a very long and awkward five minutes that ensued, but an important point was made; even if I did have to thwart his odd attempt to place the metal cut-out near his forehead – because of course that would be going too far.
When the bell rang, the class were dismissed, hopefully taking their shame with them, but not taking the metal penis with them.
The inevitable outcome for the hand carved gonads is long forgotten. Most likely they were handed back to the metal work teacher so a year seven or eight student could re-sculpt them into a candle holder for their aunty.
It’s conceivable that everyone, including myself, learnt something about anatomy, Elizabethan theatre and humiliation that day. Being marginally more experienced than I was back then, I would probably avoid the public shaming part and privately shame him in front of his mother. Hopefully he’s matured since then and is now a sensible construction worker using his metal work skills for good. This said, if we ever met while I was building a new home, I doubt I’d get him to do any welding for fear of a phallic flue being fixed to my fireplace,
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.
The ninth kid I hated confused her father for a food delivery van. An easy mistake for any teenager whose mood would swing as easily as an arachnid hanging from a thread below an exhaust fan.
One minute she’d be the virtuous student, completing all her work, saying ‘please’ and ‘thank you’, contributing to class discussions, helping to carry things and so forth. At other times you’d be lucky to get within ten metres of her without being hit by a spray of contumelious expletives. When she decided not to work, she would pout and erase her memory of anything academic. Often, her petulance would become so consuming, she’d be one step from regressing into a thumb-sucking ball of disgrace.
All of this changing between good and bad, was complimented by an ongoing truancy. The amount of sick days she was taking would put Ferris Bueller to shame. And where you may think it would be hard to hate someone who isn’t there, her absence made it all the more worse. The fear was ever present that at any moment she may return, revitalised from roaming the suburban streets of Perth with her goons for the past week. She would always arrive back with a stronger displeasure of the system, a bigger chip on her shoulder and, most importantly, armed with her mobile phone.
The phone would be my undoing.
Mobile phones are my kryptonite professionally and personally. During my second year of university I insisted on using the landline phones in the student newsroom for assignments. It was only after a solid three months playing phone-tag with the subjects of my soft news articles, I succumbed to the power of the portable handset. It was the early 2000’s. Flip phones were at their height of popularity. So, taking my ever pragmatic approach to phones, I unofficially adopted my parent’s Nokia 3210 as my own. (That little metallic red phone would serve me monochromatically for a further five years until it flew from my pocket onto the garden pathway as I jumped to retrieve one of my thongs from a roof gutter – but that’s another tale).
My point is, when it comes to phones, I hate mobile telephones second only to the soon-to-be-adult people who brandish them brazenly in classrooms around the globe. There have been stories of: teachers collecting phones in a bucket as students enter the room; the installing of devices that disable any network coverage within school premises; or, as one lecturer led me to believe, a school in South Africa collecting all the students phone numbers, forcing them to wear their phones on a lanyard, and then using an SMS notification system to text students homework and other general business, thus rendering the phones as fun as an Advanced Calculus textbook.
Unfortunately most teachers are not privy to such technological tricks – like buckets. Most dialogue with students is as follows:
Teacher – “Please put your phone away.”
Student – “But I’m messaging my mother.”
Teacher – “Please put the phone away.”
Student – “I’m doing it.”
Teacher – “Please put the phone away.”
Student – “I’m just finishing the message, otherwise my mother will worry.”
My naivety and own general incompetence with phones led me to believe until quite recently that this was the case. It was revealed to me by a parent, not many years apart from myself, that when teenagers say they are texting a parent, they are normally just messaging a friend in another classroom – or in a fit of lunacy, they are messaging a friend within the same classroom.
It had always seemed strange to me that parents would want direct contact with their child in the classroom, listening to the every whim and woe of their ungrateful offspring. Back in the day, you’d split your head open on a limestone paving stone and be lucky if a staff member had the foresight to send another student to the front office for the school secretary to flick through the lever arch of parent contacts and call home, only to have the phone ring out because your mother was down at Woolworths, and leave a message with your father’s secretary that he’d only receive in time for you to have bled out. They were the good old days, where a bit of miscommunication would go a long way.
Now students in the classroom have a hotline to home. In the case of the ninth kid I hated, she used this hotline as regular blackmail when she was having one of her hissy fits. A power play would unfold where she would act as though she’d get in her parents’ ears before the teacher would be able to give their version of events.
Now, while this would be the perfect situation to have known what I now know, about students bluffing who they were actually messaging, one incident stood out that made clear this girl really was messaging home when she said she was.
One lazy Thursday afternoon during English, ‘madam’ was kicking off as usual. It was still twenty minutes until lunch break, which probably explained part of the mood she was in. But then with one inconspicuous vibration of her pocket device, things really heated up. She pulled out the phone. She was asked politely to put it away. But she continued to read it.
“Sir, sir! My dad’s outside.”
“I can’t see him.”
“He’s in his car.”
“I’m sure if he needs to see you, he’ll do the old fashioned thing and let Ms Smith in the office know that he needs to see you.”
This placated her momentarily, until a few more messages were exchanged.
“He has my lunch sir.”
“It’s lunch time in twenty minutes, so you can have it then.”
“But its takeaway, and it’ll be cold by then.”
This was the point I looked out the window to see first hand the cause of this child’s social ineptitude.
Parked in the loading bay outside the school reception was a beaten up old car from the 80s with the driver’s door open and a man standing beside the car with holding two plastic carrier bags of steaming chicken and chips.
“Sir!” Her voice was becoming shrill. “If I don’t go now, my brother will take all the food and won’t give me anything.”
“I’m sure he’ll keep yours safe for you,” I responded, not entirely sure that her sixteen year old oaf of a sibling would be so generous.
Sure enough, I could now see her brother heading out to the car park, having no doubt given his own teacher some cock and bull story about going to the toilet. Unfortunately for the girl her honesty, and the classroom’s proximity to the car park, had not lent her the opportunity to bulldust me.
“I can see him getting both bags now,” she squealed.
“I can see him getting both the bags, now,” I muttered.
Turning back to the class, I demanded another two paragraphs from each student about the character development of Griff Price in the novel Two Weeks With The Queen; not before the remaining moments of Year Eight English were interrupted by screams of “There’ll be no chips left,” and “He’s going to eat all my chicken”.
When I finally dismissed the class, we entered the playground to find the older brother stuffing his face with the contents of both bags as the young girl had predicted. I approached him and requested he give the appropriate share of the food to his sister.
But in this confused new world of mobile telephonic machines, parental fast food delivery services and misogynistic older brothers; I couldn’t help but feel somewhat complicit in the dietary and emotional assault that had played out on this vulnerable young girl.
Perhaps if history repeated I’d confront the father directly, but if we met again in a major fast food burger chain I doubt I’d join them in a Japanese style ‘potato party’.
You’re trying to do the class roll call and all you want is a “present” or “here” and you get one of these chestnuts:
“tutti” (Punjabi for shit)
“ciao” (inappropriate in a teacher student situation in Italian as well as English)
“here” (delivered in a deep aggressive voice)
“here” (delivered in a moaning voice)
“[Insert student’s name]’s not here today” (delivered by a chorus of students)
“You’re saying it wrong”
“here” (delivered in a high pitched voice)
(long silence, followed by you assuming the student is absent and calling out the next name.) “Sir, Geraldine is here!” (You ask why she didn’t respond the first time and where she is now, because you can’t see her.) “She’s hiding under that pile of cushions while she finds her reading book”
“good afternoon” (when it’s 9am)
“good morning” (when it’s 1pm)
“good evening” (despite the fact you would have never qualified as a teacher if students were going to be present during this part of the day)