Sunday, October 30, 2011

A true third person account of teaching in Nottinghamshire, mildly censored

George had been at the hellish school for three days now. The only pleasant thing about each school day was the lovely drive. Every morning he would depart from his Nottingham home at 8 o’clock and slip the Nick Cave cassette on in his car. The music was buoyant, with bold, pulsating rhythms: The music not only woke him up; it also seemed to instil in him some confidence, some Dutch courage he needed to just simply arrive at his destination. The drive was thirty minutes and the pretty roads wended their way through tiny villages, some with friendly post offices and proud little community churches. It was winter and the fields were green and usually wet with rain. Every day so far on the same bend he would see black birds all in a row alight from a wire fence. Relaxed and nodding with the music he would greet cows and sheep with a toot from his horn. School children from various district schools were always waiting by the side of one of the narrow roads, holding an umbrella and text messaging at the same time. He didn’t quite have the courage to toot them as well, although he always wanted to.

The lovely uplifting drive ended each day at the black, sombre school gates. The English co-ordinator this particular day smiled at him, grateful it seemed that he was back for the third day now. A silent understanding between them as if to say ‘we appreciate the fact that that you’re hanging in’. She was diminutive and  looked, George had told his wife, just like the malevolent dwarf in the Julie Christie film ‘Don’t Look Now’. As was the pattern so far there was very little chatter in the staff room. Tired mouths sipping coffee. Looks of resignation. Foot weary soldiers who know they are about to lose yet another battle.

George crept away to his form room and saw several students in the corridor leaning against furniture, talking loudly. Unlike other schools he’d taught in, he couldn’t find any art work or posters on the cream- coloured walls. A couple of empty glass display cabinets and a student’s yearly planner on the floor. As he arrived at Room 41 to place his key in the lock he noticed that for the second day running somebody had forced pencil shavings and bits of paper in the lock. It took several minutes to dig it all out. He wondered who had done this and why. What was the point? At least this time there wasn’t saliva on the door handle as well.
Time stretched inexorably towards 9 o’clock. The form meeting with the year 11’s passed without too much trouble. George even had some banter with a girl he called ‘Polly Page’ because she looked like Polly Page. ‘The calm before the storm’ he prophesied to himself. Soon, outside the door, the day’s first class announced itself with a loud thud against the wall, someone rummaging for last place with some obnoxious shouting and swearing.

This was a Year 10 English class that George spent some of the night worrying about. He hadn’t done any photocopying, yet he knew some of the students wouldn’t have their anthologies. They ‘filed in’ in an ugly mass. After setting some comprehension work that only about half the class had bothered listening to, George left them to it, interjecting now and then with an unassertive ‘Get back to your work!’ and ‘A bit quieter so we can all think!’

George knew this had little effect, and he now spent several minutes tuning into some conversations. He couldn’t believe his ears. Courtney and her friends were compiling a list of boys’ names and drawing bar graphs. Noise he could tolerate, however obscenity offended something deep in his consciousness. He lurched forward and yelled at the group and told them to continue with the set work. His voice, louder and more urgent this time, drew a few furtive glances in the first rows, and only amusement at the back.

Nevertheless this surprisingly settled things down somewhat. In a one- hour lesson, only half an hour remained. George contemplated asking for quiet to see, as a class together, whether or not they could co-operate enough to discuss the first answers. Then, suddenly, the mood of the classroom changed.
Courtney decided to yell a question at one of the girls she disliked near the back of the room. It was loud, insistent, and received a huge reaction. ‘Charlotte, is it true you….’ His temperament inflamed, George dealt with it quickly. ‘Ok, get out! I’m sick of your disgusting conversations. Your behaviour isn’t good enough for my room. Out now and shut the door after you!’

Courtney did go, arching her spine and walking haughtily towards the door. As she passed George she looked at him steadfastly and repeated a further obscenity. George simply uttered ‘charming’ and to his surprise there was no more than a snigger floating across the floor. It was clear that some sort of mutual moral code had been broken, and over twenty people at that moment agreed that Courtney had to go.
Only a few days here, and already George knew that things were done by telephone at this school. He rang the Deputy Head, Mr P, who had shown him around at the beginning of the week. ‘Yes, yes, I know Courtney, I’ll speak to her myself’.

In the ‘palatial’ surrounds of the staffroom George was delivered the sobering news from seasoned staff members: ‘Forget it. The girls at this school, and especially the pretty ones like Courtney, have Mr P wrapped around their little finger. She’ll say ‘now would I speak like that Mr P?’ and he’ll say ‘Well I hope not, Courtney, that doesn’t sound like you’, and she’ll say ‘Now Mr P you know I’m always a good little girl’ and he’ll say ‘Well I hope I don’t hear any more stories about you upsetting your teachers..’
In the circumstances George felt it might be better approaching the Head of Year 10. He didn’t want the little vixen in his class again without an apology. He told Mr P that this was his preferred option, and it was all sorted out, albeit rather haphazardly. “Oh, alright, I’ll take your class then, but I can only give you fifteen minutes!”

George met the Year 10 Head in rather unfortunate circumstances in the corridor near her office some twenty minutes later. “Are you the teacher that I’ve been told I’m having a meeting with period five? Well thanks very much, that’s my only spare for the entire day.”

Her office was, to put it simply, a mess. The school had in place a system in which teachers would make a report about student misconduct on either blue or pink forms: blue was for the more mild transgressions, and pink was used for more serious classroom breaches of discipline. George had filled in a pink form for the incident with Courtney earlier. There were a few blue forms scattered on top of the Head’s filing cabinet. For the pink forms, there was a large pile. George estimated about forty or fifty. Books about accounting and legal studies were lying on the dirty shagpile floor, and a spectacular poster advertising Cumbria was wrinkled and coming away from the wall. A cheap desktop calendar displayed ‘June 30’ which was a Friday about three months ago.

The Head, herself, was hardly a sight to inspire. Greasy hair. Tired, bulging eyes. A grimace as she got up to stand beside her desk. And a large mass of fat circling her waist making a wobbling ring. George would feel several emotions whilst he was inside the Head’s office. The first of these was pity.
“Take a look at me. What do you see?”
“I’m fat, aren’t I? Look at me. Do you think I’m happy in this job? Do you know how much work I’ve got to do? I won’t even get to have my lunch today. This job’s driving me crazy. Can you tell I’ve let everything go?”

George began to tell the Head she should resign, that it isn’t worth it, when Courtney knocked on the door.
The interview wasn’t going very well- Courtney had her back to George much of the time as the Head asked for assurances of better behaviour. These assurances were so pathetic that George decided he must be firm. He wanted Courtney to sign a statement stipulating that she would only talk in George’s room if she was asked to- by George. After all George ‘couldn’t be confident about what might come out of Courtney’s mouth’. Furthermore, if she broke this necessary rule, George would have no choice but to tell her she must leave.

It seemed that both The Head and Courtney were so anxious for this meeting to end that within a minute or two the form was signed and the meeting was over. As unsatisfactory as the meeting was, Courtney didn’t come to George’s class again after this. So in a sense there was a positive outcome. Not long after George received a blunt letter from Courtney’s mother telling him he was ‘spineless’, or words to that effect. For four more weeks George and Nick Cave made the trip every weekday morning and evening. Then it all came to an end when another window opened in Gloucestershire, which offered a much sunnier and all ‘round more pleasant vista.


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