The Classroom Diaries - Chapter 2
The class were on edge. They moved and twitched as one, hungry and focused. Each one was as intent on their purpose as the next. Sixty eyes squinted, silently willing things to progress. It was the pinnacle of his day; they were all on his side. They were with him. Mr. Armstrong was at one with his class. They waited in unison. He took a deep breath, checked his watch deliberately and announced, ‘Ok guys that’s it for today. Bell’s about to go. Tuck your chairs and your shirts in and off you go. Don’t kill anybody.’
The final bell of the day rang out proudly and fifty eight legs pounded towards the door. One student took longer than usual to pack her things up. She slowly and deliberately placed her books one by one into her handbag (he should really pick her up on that he thought) then took some textbooks out and re-arranged it all again, all whilst furtively checking to see the rest of the class had gone. He instantly checked that the door was open and that there was someone in the corridor. A voice through an open door could save his career.
‘Sir?’ He knew what was coming. She held in her hand an immaculate A5 notebook. Scraps of paper poked their heads around the covers – begging for approval. Should he be brutal? Tell her that her ‘poetry’ was a sausage meat of well-meaning metaphor wrapped up in teen angst intestine? That her ramblings on the big issues of the world were skewed by the filter of her hormones and she would never see clearly until well into her thirties at the least? Nah – what if she became famous? he mused. She might remember him either as the man who crushed her dreams or the one who encouraged her and made her believe it was all possible. Anyway – what did he know? Those who can – do. Those who can’t – teach. And those who can’t teach – teach P.E.
‘Yes, pet?’ Maybe he shouldn’t call her that.
‘I’ve umm, written a bit more. I’d really appreciate your opinion.’
‘Oh, ok sure Lucy. Just pop it on my desk and I’ll have a look when I can.’
‘Could you have a look at it now, sir?’
She looked at him with her head tilted to one side, disappointment dripping from her.
‘I-uh well.’ How could a sixteen year old mouse of a girl make him lose his words? He didn’t want this responsibility.
Saved by the bell (end). Armstrong hadn’t sought his friendship with Jason but he was getting it anyway. There are two types of people in teaching (and never the twain shall meet) people who you can work with and people you can socialise with. Jason Delaney was definitely in the second category.
‘Oh sorry Luce, didn’t see you there. Doesn’t your bus leave soon?’ The special bus he mouthed at Armstrong when she buried her head in her handbag.
All of a fluster and with a line of red creeping round her pale throat Lucy gathered up her things, including the pristine notebook, with a speed strangely lacking earlier and huffed her way out of the classroom.
‘Oh Mr. Armstrong, can I have more work please? Give me something hard, sir.’ Jason’s frequent childish jibes made him feel uncomfortable but he managed a grin, or a grimace. A grinmace? An English teacher should know these things. He should write a novel one day.
‘You off to this meeting then?’ Armstrong changed the subject.
‘What meeting?’ Jason shot back as he leafed through the snowfall of Armstrong’s desk.
‘Key Stage Four Intervention – you done your homework?’
‘Oh bollocks yeah, missed the email on that one.’
‘It’s the same time every week. Got your figures?’
‘A* to C, A* to A? Micro detail?’
‘Uh huh. Yep.’
‘Intervention impact percentages?’
‘Yeah. Mm hmm.’
‘You’re going to make it up again aren’t you?’
‘Never,’ he teased.
‘How do you do it?’
Jason actually looked up from the pile of unmarked papers on the desk. He arched his left eyebrow. He loved this subject; loved to play the rake.
‘You just add a percentage point each week.’ He said with a shrug. ‘Then take a few off after they’ve had an exam and make some crap up about the need for more practise. Just keep saying the word ‘impact’ and they’ll be fine.’
‘That shit won’t wash.’ Armstrong had tried.
‘Has for three years now! If they get really arsey you act all squirmy and then pin it on one of your department. Piece of piss. You could blame it on Stevens. Everyone knows she’s a fuck up. They’ll just nod their heads gravely and you’ll look like you’ve tried to protect her. Everyone’s a winner.’
He considered it. Stevens had been a millstone round his neck since he’d joined three years ago. ‘Can you check this?’ she would wheeze breathily as she presented him with the simplest of tasks around fifty times a day. She was a non-entity. That meant he had no physical attraction to her. She wasn’t ugly, she was pretty in her own way and definitely FFS. (The Year 9 boys had come up with this acronym meaning Fit For School. In other words they wouldn’t give her a second glance in the high street but stick her in a classroom and give her some authority... then all those Oedipal surges surfaced.) It was well known that she was incompetent. Some teachers had sided with their colleague in the old school way and defended her in front of parents and staff. More often than not though, nowadays when told of what had gone on in her class most people tutted, rolled their eyes and muttered something along the lines of, ‘For God’s sake.’ Still, he couldn’t pin something on her that wasn’t of her own doing. She had enough trouble with what she was doing.
‘See you in there,’ Jason called as he rounded the open door.
Why would he bother to come in if he didn’t want to walk with me? Strange man.
Armstrong gathered up his notes and his diary, fished the agenda from the pile of ‘to-do’ scattered around the vague western corners of his desk and headed for the meeting. He wished Lucy had stayed. An hour of self harm similes and crudely crammed rhyme would be much more enjoyable than this would be.