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”.