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.

Training Teachers to Kill – Film Review

People argue the teacher is having to adapt and become counsellor, surrogate parent, nutritionist, advisor, baby-sitter and so forth. Now add to the mix security officer – or at least that’s the way Ohio county sheriff (and loyal Trump supporter) Richard K Jones would have it in Channel 4’s documentary Teachers Training To Kill.

In the wake of a shooting in one of the local schools, Sheriff Jones decides it would be best to provide gun training for teachers and arm a number of staff members in each of the schools. Thankfully, by the end of the documentary there is only one school which takes up the scheme of arming teaching staff with guns. Regrettably, that’s one school too many.

In the process many schools run training sessions for their staff at local shooting ranges and simulate school shootings to prepare teachers.

For the majority of the profession, teachers have sat through dull training sessions at work finding out about the latest curriculum developments. Team building sessions have perhaps been spent doing trust exercises or coming up with school values made from acronym-ising the school name. But running a shooting session at the gun club seems an extreme step for jazzing up a professional development session. Surely, they could have just got a glitter cannon for the guest speaker or put the budget towards a few extra curried-egg sandwiches.

There are many concerning aspects to this situation and gun use in general. I will just touch upon one aspect in this very complex issue.

I want to focus on the thought process of staff who agree to carrying guns around the school. I find it hard enough to swallow being given an extra yard duty shift, let alone if I were asked to start wearing a gun under my jacket.

Has the brainwashing of the state become so strong that people wouldn’t even question the conflicting ethics of protecting children, by carrying a gun to massacre other children?

The staff who were filmed taking part in the staff training days, appeared to be treating the whole thing with the same light-heartedness most of us take to a work social at the bowls club.

They were being trained to be killers and seemed ok with that. How does one go from being an idealist who wants to teach youngsters Pythagoras’ theorem to a vigilante who is prepared to shoot down the very same students?

It’s just not in the job description. I would have become a security guard, armed soldier or police officer if I thought I wanted a career that may require me to shoot someone dead. I just don’t have it in me. I get squeamish doing rat dissections.

It’s rare that I find myself floored by someone’s logic. Usually I can do the old, “Well, I suppose if I was in their situation, I’d maybe do (insert x, y and z)”.

But to think that I might spend my working day photocopying, sharpening pencils and marking books, yet every once in a while, I may need to shoot down a child point blank, I would not be able to do that. I don’t know who these people are who think that they can. And I doubt that they will be able to.

The main thing I took away, from watching this documentary, was that I am thankful I do not work in a part of the world where this happens.

Night School – Film Review

Tiffany Haddish’s character is a high school teacher earning an extra buck running the night school classes for grown-ups trying to pass their leaving exams. Kevin Hart, one of her adult students, storms in on her at one point, when she is in the middle of giving additional help to a struggling young student.

It is not an uncommon situation to find the giving teacher providing additional support, homework or counsel to a young child. Sure, teachers can clock on and clock off when the bell tolls, but many don’t. They are thinking about their young proteges most of the time.

That’s not to say Haddish is playing a self-sacrificing  character like Hilary Swank in Freedom Boys. She’s not that type of teacher. In fact, despite the broader slapstick elements of Night School, Haddish embodies a more balanced approach with a matter-of-fact approach to education. She’s not overly invested. If she sees a problem, she fixes it. When Hart’s character thinks she’s emotionally invested, she cuts him down a few pegs and tells him to get over himself.

She sees teaching as a job, and she does a good job. She goes beyond the call of duty, where there is a need, but she doesn’t let it tangle up with her personal life.

If we could all take a piece of pedagogical style from this film, we’d have injected a well needed counter-weight to the molly-coddling sentiment of some of the currently fashionable teaching trends, without of course losing our humanity.

Kid #32 – Guitar Virtuoso

The thirty-second kid I hated thought he could play the guitar.

Thought he was a real-life juvenile Jimi Hendrix, a snotty-nosed Slava Grigoryan, a tiny Tommy Emmanuel.

‘Thought’ was the operative word. ‘Play’ was a lofty dream of what he wanted to do with the guitar. ‘Owned’ was a more apt description of his relationship with the guitar.

The thirty-third kid owned a guitar.

He owned it in the sense that a person experiencing a midlife crisis owns a guitar, because they listened to too many Santana songs so thought they’d give it a good old-fashioned go themselves. They watch a few YouTube videos, pay half their live-savings towards private lessons and, when they get to the advanced stages of Deep Purple’s insidious Smoke on the Water guitar riff (the Chopsticks of the guitar), give up to instead frame the instrument for hanging in the pool room, while pursuing a macramé course.

The difficulty with this child was the YouTube videos he had watched were of Piano Cat, he had only paid £2 to be taught in a group of twenty children and, most problematically, he hadn’t given up. He just kept coming back. Every time we had guitar club, there he would be flapping his sticky flapjack-crumb-covered fingers on the fret board, massacring the chords to Michael Row the Boat Ashore.

Now, to put the ‘guitar club’ into perspective, the British education system has in the past many years hatched a half-cocked hairbrained scheme to have extra-curricular clubs outside of school hours. Clubs are usually hosted by staff working overtime, who are being compensated with time in lieu, a fistful of coins or a pat on the back. Meanwhile, the school can smugly show off to parents, top up the petty cash tin and earn a little tick in a box from the inspectors.

The reality for parents is their child will be baby sat for a cheaper rate than the normal after-school childcare services or the cost of a nanny.

In the case of this child, it was probably just to keep him out of the house for an extra hour. He was extremely hyperactive and the additional time away from home was most likely sweet relief for his folks. His parents were always very adamant that he held a deep passion for guitar, but then he also attended Lego club, cooking club, football club and origami club. Maybe he was an all-rounder.

“He just loves guitar club,” his mother would gush.

“He waits all week for guitar club.”

“He’s always practising at home.”

“He wants to be able to play like his uncle.”

Not to cast aspersions, but the way this student treated his guitar left one to think his uncle was some type of Antonia Banderas character toting a guitar-case loaded with weaponry. The child was prone to tantrums and aggressions. In contrast to my own upbringing where I was told to wash my hands before handling musical instruments, this child would have used the six-stringed song-maker as a dinner plate, given the opportunity.

We’d barely get through the first chord of Twinkle Twinkle and he’d be setting upon one of the children a few years younger. One lesson, we barely got to the end of the SpongeBob SquarePants Theme song, because of the disruption he caused. He’d be giving funny looks to the kids, speaking over the top of others and running in and out of the room. He was a complete nuisance and when you’ve got a room full of novice guitarists under the age of ten, the last thing you need is any distraction. Then when he’d finally settle, we’d still be waylaid by a plectrum falling into another child’s guitar or a string falling out of tune on the bright pink guitar one girl had purchased from Poundland – this is what she claimed, despite my scepticism that you’d even manufacture one tuning peg for less than five pounds. A group setting was not the place for guitar lessons, and it was not the place for this menace.

The school itself was not doing itself any favours. The headteacher at the time appeared confused as to the concept of reward and consequence. On one occasion after throwing a temper tantrum in class, we wandered past the headteacher’s office to see this belligerent pest eating ice-cream. On another occasion, after throwing a shoe at a student, we walked past to find said child being asked his opinion on the proposed plans for a proposed new half-million-dollar playground. It was at that point I figured we could forgo the weekly £2 club fee by getting rid of him altogether – the school was clearly saving money on consultancy fees so wouldn’t miss a couple of pounds.

I politely suggested to the mother that guitar wasn’t for this child. She seemed surprised. She mentioned something about how he was practicing a lot with uncle. I wondered quietly to myself whether she’d confused the guitar with the guns, because they both started with the letter ‘G’. Either way it seemed he was going nowhere. So instead he remained. My sanity did not. Neither did several of the other children who became fed up and left.

It seemed a case of ‘he who plays discordantly the loudest shall be heard’. And upon reflection, the purpose of much rock ‘n’ roll music is to manically release stress by banging membranophones, shouting into a microphone and slapping your hand across some nylon strings. It was probably good relief for this child to have an outlet.

I found my relief on the bus home listening to James Taylor.

Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween – Film Review

The scariest part of this film was spit balls.

“People respect us around here,” states Sam (Caleel Harris) as a saliva drenched portion of paper smacks into his face.

The projectile has been shot by the head jock and his cronies, who are now sniggering to themselves while referring affectionately to Sam and his offsider Sonny (Jeremy Ray Taylor) as the ‘Junk Bros’.

“Spit Wads! What are you, nine?” retorts Sam.

And he raises a pertinent question. What is an appropriate age to begin using these phlegmy missiles?

I’m sitting in the darkened cinema surrounded by eight, nine, ten and eleven-year-old students, who luckily do not have the ingenuity or skills to engineer a ben into a missile launcher. But nothing turns my stomach like spit balls – or ‘wads’ as the American appears to phrase it in Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween. Let’s be honest, they weren’t great as a child. I recall some of our classrooms having high ceilings, which allowed for a large target space above the whiteboards in each room. There was always some layer of encrusted paper framing the top of the board in an avant-garde papier-mache design.

As with all fads, there were long periods of time where nerd or vulnerable teacher would be free from onslaught in the creation of these paper-pulp pastiches. But when the trend was at large, you’d be living on a knife’s edge (probably the same edge of the knife used to dismantle the biro being used for the gun barrel).

Despite Sam implying it is a juvenile activity best suited for children in the single digit age bracket, students as old as seventeen have been known to assemble artillery from the art-supplies graveyard in pursuit of oppressing the weaker of the schoolyard species.

So, although this film features razor-toothed gummy bears, pick-axe-wielding garden gnomes, a jack-o-lantern-headed humanoid and the menacing ventriloquist doll Slappy, there is nothing that raises the hair on my back more than the inclusion of the loaded spit wad shooter. I’m glad to have avoided falling victim to its wrath.

I see you’ve played ‘Knifey Spooney’ before

Last week I found myself covering a nursery class and being asked to cut their lunch up. These children would have been between two to four years of age. There was a range of fine motor skills on show, with the more dextrous students neatly piercing the fork tines into their roast chicken and gently slicing through the cooked flesh with their oxymoronic safety knives. In the middle ground there were: those who held their implements like pens, those with the knife and fork interchanging between hands, and those using a spoon as a knife.

The remaining students – let’s call them the ‘Remedial Diners’ Club’ – were salivating into their plates knowing enough table etiquette to restrain from using fingers, but too dyspraxic to fasten a grip on their cutlery to succeed in the daily task of eating lunch.

So it was, I found myself circumnavigating the dining hall performing dissections on not only roast chicken, but also potatoes, beans and various other legumes. Furiously, I muttered to myself about the disservice parents had done by not educating their children before they left the family dinner table. But then I looked up to find other adults were also cutting food for these youngsters, further compounding the problem. Not that it is often the responsibility of educators to branch out beyond the usual topics of numeracy and literacy, into realms of topics such as ‘how to eat food’; but it struck me that teaching the children what to do would save time in the long run. These children were not being equipped for the coming years of independent food consumption. I could see that students in Year One and Two were also being given the silver service treatment of pre-cut food. I half expected to see a staff member mimic how a mother bird feeds its young, chewing the canteen lunch and regurgitating it into the mouth of one of these infants.

As I stood there guiding another student’s hands into the correct holding position, I began questioning myself. When had I started to use cutlery? It was in the blurred years between living memory and those early years which are mere fragments of sights, sounds and smells of my early existence. Was my subconscious obsession with correct cutlery use a mere relic of my own particular upbringing? Was correct handling of a fork not valued in all households?

I decided to check with another friend, who I knew would happily lament the misuse of cutlery in modern society. They too were raised to eat dinner in the late 1980s, when corncob skewers held your corn, prawns were eaten with a cocktail fork and every meal was presented in a CorningWare Wildflower baking dish or casserole (look it up – you’ll recognise the flower pattern when you see it).

They too could not particularly recall the exact moment they started using cutlery correctly, so assumed it was somewhere around the age of three or four. They also highlighted a special pushing implement I had not heard of. Apparently it is called a ‘baby food pusher’, appearing to date back to at least the 1920s thus confirming my friend’s suspicion that they had an ‘old-fashioned’ upbringing.

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The pusher (see above) is used in place of a knife to teach children to push the food onto the back of their fork. That’s right! The back of the fork! Check Debrett’s Handbook of Modern Manners and you’ll discover even peas must be collected on your fork with mash potato. No shovelling allowed:

If using a knife and fork together, always keep the tines of the fork pointing downwards and push the food on to the fork. It may be necessary to use mashed potato to make peas stick to the fork but it is incorrect to turn the fork over and scoop.

Now, based on my haphazard research, the consensus seemed to be that by kindergarten age, children should be able to use cutlery. I checked with my six month old nephew, who has recently graduated from milk to solids. When I asked him whether he’d begun using cutlery his answer was incomprehensible. So, I checked with his parents who told me he was still reliant on other humans creating spoon simulations of locomotives and aircrafts to guide the food into his mouth. They also quoted a parenting book as saying that it was all ‘spoons and hands up to 12 months of age’.

This at least narrowed the field of cutlery handling to somewhere within the toddler wasteland of one to three years old. I checked in with an old work buddy who has spent many years of their professional life teaching children younger than five. They also confirmed they had “absolutely” started using cutlery by primary age. So, I knew there would be no complimentary carving of food in their classroom.

But then I checked in with an Indian friend who claimed they used their hands until they were five years old. Then they clarified it was probably three years old and offered to take me to dinner to prove it. I took them up on their offer, where we ate our curry using cutlery. Perhaps British values of cutlery-use have pressured conformity on those who have other plate-to-mouth methods. My Indian friend also pointed out how odd they found it when they first went to school and saw a girl using knife and fork to eat some roti.

Perhaps the children who were struggling with their cutlery in the dinner hall were not incompetent after all. Perhaps they were just unfamiliar and should be left to eat food the way they were used to at home; mopping up their pasta sauce with a chapatti, eating roast beef with chopsticks and peeling a banana with a runcible spoon.

Cutlery etiquette is all very confusing and leaves you in a hey diddle diddle. No wonder the dish forked off with the spoon.

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.

Mary Poppins Returns – Film Review

It’s striking how Mary Poppins exists solely for the purpose of child-minding yet has no children of her own. In fact I find an immense pathos in her character. It was there in the first film and it is present in Mary Poppins Returns. There is a longing for more in her eyes.

Where school teachers, babysitters, au pairs and nanny’s metaphorically swoop in to educate and care for children, Mary Poppins does it literally, first with an umbrella and then more recently off the back of a kite. Then as quickly as she arrives, she disappears again. She only appears in sequences where she is dispensing advice, medicinal spoons of sugar or reprimands. She doesn’t appear to eat, consuming little more than the odd cup of tea. She doesn’t appear to leisurely read any books. She may not even sleep, as she’s too busy singing everyone else to sleep and we never see her retiring to her own bedroom. She plays directly into the preconception many children have of their daytime educators and carers that they live either in the broom cupboard or simply materialise at the times they are needed. A student of mine was once dumbfounded to have bumped into me at the local cinema, then asked why I wasn’t at school.

This is where I find the pathos. She seems to live solely for the children. She doesn’t appear to have her own family. She is the sad epitome of the teacher who is so invested in their students that it has been at the cost of all other facets of their life. Even when the opportunity of finding a companion presents in chimney sweep Bert, she is too preoccupied by her duty to be “practically perfect in every way”. By the time she flies in on the kite in Mary Poppins Returns Bert has presumably put down his brush and been hauled up in a depression-era nursing home. Mary, on the other hand, hasn’t aged a day. Any attempt by her to befriend Bert would be weird, though equally it would seem inappropriate for her to begin flirting with young lamp lighter Jack.

No. It seems Mary is destined to be an old maid. Far from being the banner waving champion of the suffragette movement as Mrs Banks was or the flyer distributing voice of the labour party as Jane Banks is, Mary Poppins is so preoccupied with perfection it verges on being a diagnosable case of obsessive-compulsive disorder. She is so flustered by things being out of place that it’s hard to imagine she’d cope with the imperfection of most human relationships.

So, I find myself wondering how much I am like her. I found myself in a great moment of empathy near the films end when she is handed a balloon by Angela Lansbury and declares “it’s time” then floats away. I know that feeling too well from leaving classes of children behind me. She knows her job is done but still appears saddened to return the children to their circumstances for better or worse. Those children are not hers. She has invested in them as though they were her own, but they are not hers. And where Mary Poppins gets to return to her lonely single bed apartment in the sky, many teachers and nannies probably return to their single bed apartment on the wrong side of town too exhausted from picking up the pieces of other people’s messes to tidy up their own mess. When Mary pauses a short moment before re-ascending, I couldn’t help but think this was a gut-wrenching moment for her. I couldn’t help but think the Banks’ life was a life she wished she had.

Is she forever destined to pick up the pieces of people’s own mismanaged attempts at child rearing? Will she be perpetually running her gloved finger along the infinitely dusty mantel of childhood emotional neglect? Shall she be shackled eternally to her talking parrot umbrella as sole confident and companion?

For all the singing and dancing, Mary Poppins epitomises the lonely path professional child minders must often tread, with one foot in the adult world and one in childhood. As Emily Blunt sings, we are perhaps left looking for ‘The Place Where the Lost Things Go’ in a vain attempt to recapture our own childhood while forgetting to live our adult life.

Kid #29 – Mommie Dearest

The twenty-ninth kid I hated had a name that sounded like an alcoholic beverage spelt backwards.

She was the real ‘Regina George’ of the playground. Nine years old and a real piece of work. It was scary enough encountering her as a teacher. I daren’t like to think how the other students in my class dealt with her hysteria.

Worse than the student herself, was her mother. The apple had not simply fallen close to the tree, but appeared to have been cloned.

My first encounter with the mother was as I brought the children into the playground on my first day of teaching that class, and had the pleasure of being sworn at, a walking stick waved in my face and a fair amount of shouting – not ‘raised voice’ but shouting. Apparently, another student was in tears because I’d told them to stand in line quietly. The child I was being accosted about, didn’t even belong to this raging lady.

Mostly due to shock, I can’t remember the rest of the encounter. But I most likely did my silent ignoring, head-shaking, frowning and general retreating-behaviour that happens when I’m faced with confrontation. There was no polite smiling and nodding. I let her be on her merry way, thinking to myself that if this was how she defended someone else’s child, I didn’t want to be in the crossfire when she defended her own daughter.

It turned out that crossfire could not come too soon. Her daughter would intimidate other students, steal their stationery, swear at them when no one was looking, pinch them, punch them and spread malicious lies. She was a class A ‘b’-word. However, she was equally cunning and could never be pinned for any wrong doing. She had become so expert at her subversive tirade on other students and her pathological lying that her coating of Teflon was beginning to form an entire suit of armour. Additionally, when her mother arrived to discuss any misgivings the school had about her daughter, she would begin ranting again, waving her pretend walking stick and inevitably leave a receptionist or manager in tears.

Now perhaps I empathised too much with Janis Ian and friends in Mean Girls, or perhaps I had been watching too many detective programs at the time (namely Wildside, which is an Australian series set in the gritty underbelly of Sydney’s suburbs and often sees rogue detective Tony Martin – the actor, not the comedian – slamming down his hand on interrogation tables); but I found myself making it my mission to catch this monster out.

The usual method was to accept any accusations the other children made. I’d take their side 99 per cent of the time to see if she’d crack. But she held tight, accepting no blame. This approach would lead to another complaint by the mother.

Sometimes I’d go with the more nurturing approach of sitting quietly and talking about the right thing to do, in an attempt, to check whether her conscience would kick in. It did not. Instead it further affirmed our suspicions of her sociopathic tendencies. Also, this approach would lead to another complaint by the mother.

And finally, the crème-del-a-crème was when beyond doubt she had caused another ruckus amongst her friends by gossip-mongering and – this is where my behaviour management style became a bit too much bad cop bad cop – I knelt down to be at eye-level and repeatedly asked “Did you call such-n-such a such-n-such?”

She didn’t crack.

The insistent repeating-of-the-question technique had worked in the televisual law enforcement programs when the detective was trying to get a confession from the ring leader of an international drug cartel. Why had it not cracked the nine-year-old?

And again, this approach led to another complaint by the mother and a meeting with the father, mother and daughter.

I would later find out that this pattern of complaint had repeated itself every year. Other staff would give me long lists of colleagues who had momentarily caught the ire, of these parents and their offspring, for months or a year at a time.

“Oh, you’re teaching that class,” they’d say. “Look out for that girl’s mother.”

“Oh, thanks for the heads-up,” I’d say. “It’s too late.”

It can’t quite be captured with words the level to which she and her mother terrorised the other staff and students. But the mere utterance of her name would normally trigger a fleeting spasm in the eyeball of whoever heard the name mentioned.

After that final meeting and a precarious understanding was met, the mother became almost polite, when collecting her child in the afternoons. The strained attempt at being decent was perhaps more unsettling than the reckless abuse she was more used to wielding. Nevertheless, all our careers felt less at risk of being destroyed on the whim of one of her outrageous accusations.

There was of course the complaint that I’d tried to strangle another student.

“Now, I know this wasn’t my daughter,” said the heinous mother, “but my daughter did see you pull on the backpack of another girl and almost choke her around the neck.”

More than likely that other girl had barged onto a bus, knocking over a senior citizen, and I’d reacted by loosely grabbing the top of her backpack as she continued to lunge forward self-inflicting her own asphyxiation.

Either way, I nodded politely, she made her complaint, I noticed she wasn’t using her walking stick anymore and then she wandered off into the distance for another day. At least now she was complaining about my mistreatment of other people’s children again, and not her own demonic offspring. We’d come full circle.

I headed back to the staffroom where we put our feet up on the desks, knocked back a strong cup of coffee, crossed another suspect off our watchlist and laughed heartily about how tough life on the beat was.

Or did that happen in an episode of The Bill? I can’t recall.

Kid #26 – The Bright Lights of Holby City

The twenty sixth kid I hated appeared as a baby in the television series Holby City.

This wasn’t why I hated her, but it would have been reason enough. She was eleven years old when I knew her, and the class had been asked to complete an autobiography on themselves. She chose to focus on the time when she was one week old in hospital and the casting crew from Holby City had come around the wards looking for a baby suitable for one of their two week story arcs.

Apparently as babies go, she was the perfect infant for the job; or perhaps the only one who had parents who would agree to have their child appear on one of the most banal soap operas of all time. It was most probably this early experience of fame, catering trucks and pampering, that led to her awful pre-teen personality. She could easily be described as a ‘right madam’.

At first it was unnoticeable. She was very industrious. She would complete her work, shyly answer questions in class and present artistically presented homework. However, meanwhile she was unleashing a relentless tirade against one of the weaker members of the class. It was a subversive attack, completely unseen by the adult staff. It was a series of mind games aimed at deflecting from her own insecurities. It was a batch of actions torn from the pages of The Plastics’ Burn Book in Mean Girls.

Unbeknownst to myself she could be found whispering insults to one particular girl. In the playground she was gathering together groups of girls and gossiping nonsense, when her victim was nearby. I later quizzed the girls on what had been said. It had merely been a series of indistinguishable mutterings aimed at creating paranoia in her victim. Finally it was escalating to the point where she was encouraging all female members of the year group to steer clear of the other girl, rendering her victim completely friendless.

All this was happening in such a calculated manner, it went by without myself batting an eyelid.

Luckily for everyone the classroom teaching assistant was wiser than myself and had her ear to the ground. She soon brought to my attention the reality of the situation. The teaching assistant held a few round table conferences with the girls and resolved most of the issues.

When I confronted the girl about her manipulative actions and the seriousness of bullying, she admitted to everything. But that was only because the teaching assistant had already done all of the detective work, so the girl was cornered.

I said time was too precious to be holding round table discussions if this sort of thing happened again, and I asked whether there was anything troubling her that may have caused such nasty behaviour.

It was at this point she channelled her inner Regina George and played me for a complete fiddle. She told me how upset she was that her grandmother was dying and she may not see her again because she lived overseas. I asked what was wrong with her grandmother and the girl responded that her grandmother had been sick for eleven years.

At this point I smelt something fishy. I mean, if the grandmother had lasted eleven years already, she was as likely to live as she was to die. But I gave the girl the benefit of the doubt and sent her back to work.

A few weeks later the students were sitting their practice tests for the end of year exams. Due to limited resources the tests were downloaded from past papers stored on the Internet. So the sharp students were already onto these and downloading them from the web to cheat the system.

Unfortunately the girl was not smart enough. She had memorised the answers word-for-word from the marking scheme. One particular answer stood out as being so precise, there was no way she could have come to that conclusion without having seen the answer booklet. When confronted about it, she again crumbled knowing full well that the evidence stacked up against her. She had been caught red-handed. She was now a bully and a cheat.

A few months passed and everything went quiet again. Too quiet when there’s a rat in the ranks. I was keeping close watch on her and making sure to isolate her from situations where she’d be able to cheat or psychologically terrorise her companions. But then she struck again. She was caught, by a lunchtime supervisor, telling her posy of girlfriends that her victim had been saying things about them behind their backs – certainly a classic move in the ‘mean bitch’ stakes.

And so it was that I was left with no choice but to mark her behaviour down as ‘satisfactory’ instead of ‘excellent’ on the report card.

This did not go down well with her mother who turned out to be a beastly woman, who was ten times the bully her daughter was, but did not have the fall-back of being a ‘child-star’ on Holby City to excuse her behaviour.

She stormed into my room on parent teacher evening, declaring her daughter had never been anything but excellent in previous reports. She demanded the school records be adjusted to show her daughter as an upstanding citizen.

I pointed out the daughter’s status was still satisfactory, where I could have marked ‘unsatisfactory’, but I couldn’t possibly in my right mind say her behaviour was ‘excellent’ when she’d caused a near nervous breakdown in another student.

The mother, being a queen bee parent of deflection, proceeded to blame the other child for all the misdemeanours, began questioning my professionalism in behaviour management and espoused her misinformed knowledge about the academic curriculum because as she put it, “I work in schools and I know how these things work”.

What school she worked in and what particularly she did at that school I do not know. But she spoke with the knowledge of someone who perhaps restocked the stationary cupboard once a fortnight and only had interaction with children when her own brat wasn’t been looked after by the au pair.

The meeting spilled over by twenty minutes as she refused to leave. Luckily other parents begin getting agitated when this happens, and she only got the hint to leave when there was soon a number of angry faces leering at the window because their own parent meetings were now delayed. This didn’t stop her pursuing the deputy, the following day, to have her daughter’s behaviour record adjusted to reflect what she deemed to be the appropriate grade.

The deputy was a level-headed person who politely explained to her what good manners were and ushered her back onto the street. That was the last we heard of her. Well at least until the next parents’ evening.

There were no further flair ups from this pouting pre-teen plebeian before the year was out. Well, certainly there were no incidents that I was aware of.

Perhaps there was something deeper causing her puerile behaviour, which if I’d given more time to her, I’d have been able to help her with. On the face of it, she was probably bullying because of her own insecurities about her own lack of intelligence.

Or maybe she was in fact just mean.

Or perhaps it was modelled behaviour from her mother.

Inversely, she could be somewhere now being victim to a meaner nastier bully. Perhaps I’d even have some sympathy for her.

But if we ever met again, I doubt I’d sit down to watch old VHS tapes of her Holby City appearance.