The sixth kid I hated had migrated from Wales to the Australian desert. He had a penchant for being annoying; making paper aeroplanes; and being a smart aleck who had no friends.
When you first travel to a remote desert town in Australia, there is a realisation that however much expense and time you spent to get there, the same amount is also required to leave the place. The heat, the flies and the loneliness smack you across the face often leading the toughest of men and women to enter the foetal position and start bawling. At first you want to leave, but you know you must stay if only because you would have wasted all that effort getting there in the first place. Those who stay for a lifetime are remarkable people. The rest of us come and go for a few years at a time then return to the big cities.
Coming from one of the Australian capital cities to a desert town is hard enough. So arriving in the desert from another country on the opposite side of the world must be near fatal.
The same must be true for children. Except in addition to everything else, none of this was their decision. The young child residing in my Year Eight English class told me he’d been torn away from his friends back home, without consultation and that this was making him very upset. This may have been true, but was no excuse for his inane attention seeking, swearing and general rough housing with the other boys and girls. He was also putting the sop story on pretty thick for someone who acted like the Big Cheese.
He looked like trouble when you saw him. His eyes smiled with malicious thoughts; you could see his nostrils flaring slightly ready to snarl; and the side of his top lip twitched upward to display his nonchalance towards institutionalised education. He was a weedy kid with a weedy attitude to match. His acts of rebellion were an endless source of amusement for the other children in class, however no one wanted to be his friend, because he was unpredictable and would usually drag everyone down around him if he got caught out over a misdemeanour.
There was no one incident with this child that stands out as the cause of my hatred for him. He was mostly just an ongoing annoyance to myself and most of the other staff. So one particular day I finally snapped. He and his enemies were flying paper planes around the room. It was amateur hour in terms of the handicraft and the scene looked like something out a 1980’s high school sitcom. I added the final paper aeroplane to the pile on my desk and without explanation told the class to line up at the door. We then proceeded to the courtyard, where due to the frosted window panes, no other staff member or student would be able to see what was about to unfold.
I lined the students along one wall, with my Year 8 fooligan on the other. I then distributed one paper aeroplane to each child (29 planes in total. I am very patient when I want to be. And had waited to collect the exact amount). The origami firing squad were poised to attack when one student pointed out, “What happens if one goes in his eye?”. It was a valid point so I took an empty box, from by the photocopier, and placed it on the boy’s head.
There’s nothing more satisfying than the war-cry of children gaining sweet revenge in a punishment that fits the crime. The paper aircrafts glided through the air hitting every part of the victim’s body and creating no damage at all. They didn’t even damage his ego – although I had suspected this would be the case all along. He was a resilient child in that regard. I wouldn’t have unleashed an attack if I didn’t think he could take the hit.
The class reconvened and all A4 papers remained in their original flat form from thence forth.
However word of the events on the battlefield leaked out to the Year 9 and 10 English classes, who were soon requesting their own airborne conflict. I denied any knowledge of the previous raid, but learnt a very valuable lesson that day. When a child’s behaviour escalates, you are welcome to escalate the situation further yourself by turning the class against him, but inevitably the scoundrel wins because they have access to a larger artillery.
I ultimately came to a disciplinary deadlock with this child where both of us could see the funnier side of things, but if we ever met again I doubt I would fold paper cranes with him.
“There’s no low level disruption. There’s just disruption.”
These were the wise words from a learned teacher who had been around the traps by the time I worked with her. It’s a point well taken for most teachers; or for that matter anyone who enjoys calmness and tranquillity.
Many a teacher has probably been on the verge of self-diagnosed tinnitus only to find it was the clicking of a pen. The banging of a chair leg causes a sweat to break on an educator’s forehead. The rattle of a pencil pot causes one to lose focus completely.
Some days a student will chat, and chat and chat. Constantly. They’ve been asked to stop numerous times and don’t. They’ve been handed punishments, discipline and dirty looks. Some teachers have even been driven to use sticky tape to bind their students mouths shut (although using a stapler would probably produce a more satisfactory result).
Still the student persists. It’s like a jackhammer of nonsensical whistling, muttering, asides, interruptions and nosiness that beats on the concrete shell of the adult’s delicate brain and slowly unravels years of teaching practice, careful lesson planning and sensible thought process, into a resolute hum of white noise, which leads to the supposed leader of the class questioning their very existence within this universe.
At this point it’s best to shut your eyes.
Don’t say a thing.
Take a deep breath in.
Give a deep breath out.
Take a deep breath in.
Give a deep breath out.
Open your eyes.
You are calm.
Ask everyone else to stop and join you in being calm.
Sit in silence for at least one and a half minutes.
Unless a student sets fire to a desk, do not talk.
Sit completely still and they will follow.
If after two minutes this hasn’t worked, then you’re screwed.
The fifth kid I hated wanted to blow her nose when there were no tissues left in the classroom. The staff were under strict instruction to not allow any student to leave the classroom.
However teenagers aren’t particularly au fait with being told “no”. So when it came time for me to decline her request, for leave from the classroom to expel her mucus, things really kicked off.
It was the depth of winter and, even though this school was in the middle of the Australian desert, the weather really declined in the winter months. The winters there are as dreary as London just for shorter periods. The rain is relentless; the nights are colder than the usual coldness of the desert; and the red dust turns to red mud. Additionally the classrooms aren’t particularly built for the cold. The air conditioning is great in the summer, but during the winter you’re often driven to don a jacket to protect against the brunt of the impending cold. One teacher in the school was known for harnessing the elements to her advantage and freezing her students out. If misbehaviour became a problem, she’d knock all of the heaters to zero, pull on her coat and tell the students to get on with things if they wanted the heating back on. If they still acted out, they’d be outside the class cowering under the narrow awnings to avoid the rain.
The student I hated, did not quite drive me to playing the elements against her, but when she requested the tissue for her ongoing head cold I checked the bottom drawer of the desk to find no tissues and little sympathy for someone who should probably have spent the day at home. She then proceeded to kick up a stink that it was a violation of her human rights – young Homo sapiens are prone to melodrama. I stood my ground and did not budge. The girl was the sort of student who had caused me grief in the past due to her deluded expectations that she could run her relationship with staff on some sort of credit system. If she asked enough clever questions in class, did a mediocre job of classwork and shot you a pseudo-smile every once in a while, it was as though she’d earned the right to entertain us with a semi frequent temper tantrum. Politeness and hard work is not currency. You can’t cash it in for sociopathic behaviour at the end of each month.
The real kicker came in the afternoon when I made a pre-emptive phone call home to the girl’s mother so I could set the record straight on the tissue refusal – the student had a habit of constructing a web of lies to side her mother against the school (including the time she convinced her mother she had nothing to do with circulating a note about her red-haired friend’s “ginger minge”).
Thinking in my naivety that the mother would take my side, if I got in first with my version of events, I was irritated to find that in the time it had taken me to move from the classroom to the telephone in the office, the daughter had already divulged her version of the injustices enforced against her wishes to acquire a snot-relieving portion of paper. Furthermore when I insisted that it was school policy students could not leave the classroom, even for a tissue, the mother burst into tears claiming (as her daughter had previously) that it was a violation of human rights and threatened to report me to the principal. I would have offered her a tissue but this was of course a phone call, and would have contravened the rules leading to this original confrontation.
Was it my own fear of getting in trouble from management that had led me to hold my students hostage without access to personal care products? Should students without access to paper handkerchiefs simply be expected to wipe their nose on their sleeves? Would it have been impolite to have offered the student the three-day-old used tissue I had in my own pocket?
I’m sure this singular event did not cause long term damage for this student and she has probably turned out to be quite the respectable (albeit melodramatic) individual fighting for the rights of other tissue-seeking individuals; but if we were to meet in a dust storm, I doubt I’d say “bless you”.