The Classroom Diaries - Chapter 4
Great, Armstrong thought. Wind. Tuesday morning brought more than just bus duty for the Joint King of English as the kids had dubbed him. It was always harder to teach when the weather changed. Summer was horrible. 30 sweaty bodies who are yet to learn the merits of washing, crammed into a stifling little classroom with littler ventilation and a carpet that seemed to absorb the stink. Year 8 were the worst. The lesson straight after PE on a hot summer’s day is when he always seemed to have them. He could smell them halfway up the corridor – burgeoning hormones and Lynx coated sweat. Winter wasn’t much better. One droplet of snow can devolve a room full of A-Level cynics with vocabularies horribly stuffed with words they don’t quite get the gist of yet, into slack jawed infants scrabbling at the windows breathing ooohhhs. But of all the seasons, Armstrong hated the windy Autumn. Great gusts of distraction would brew up across the valley and sweep in right at the start of his lessons. Obviously the gods of weather (he must ask Jason who they were again – Weathero? Cyclotron?) had no respect for his carefully made starter activities.
Armstrong trudged up and down the bus stand, checking shirts and ties. He often wondered if he would miss horrible, disfiguring facial scars and diamond (probably diamante these days) encrusted eye patches as his eyes were constantly trained on midriffs and necklines.
‘Tuck your shirt in please, young man.’
‘Sort that tie out please.’
‘Ain’t got one.’
‘Go to student reception please.’
Should say thank you instead of please he thought. He had heard on a behaviour course that it promotes respect and sounds less grovelly. He made a point of trying out new techniques and had a few shortlisted for today.
‘Tuck your shirt in thanks.’
‘Oh yeah sorry sir.’
He spotted Bobbi from Art across the road on crossing duty. She was another new starter. His three years here made him seem like some elder statesman; the staff turnover was horrific. In the meetings they called it ‘natural wastage’ and put the moving on down to promotions and changes in circumstances; not down to pigheadedness and the fact that the staff were worked to within an inch of their lives and distrusted no matter the matter. He should go and talk to her but if SLT were slithering around he would be cheerfully reprimanded and given the health and safety guilt trip.
The first bell rang in the distance and he was free. He quickstepped to the crossing and caught up with Bobbi.
‘Morning,’ he panted.
‘Bobbi isn’t it?’
‘Yeah hi, Bobbi Freeman. Sorry I don’t know...’
She extended a gloved hand. Everything about her screamed kooky and knowing it. He hated her already.
‘Everyone round here just calls me Armstrong. Head of English.’
‘Oh right yeah.’
Dead silence. Please don’t talk teacher crap, please don’t talk teacher crap.
‘Got much on today, Armstrong?’
Shit. She’s one of those.
‘Uh yeah teaching all five then a parental meeting. How you settling in?’
‘Yeah good, good. Everyone seems nice.’
Yeah they seem a lot of things.
‘Oh yeah it’s a great place here. You’ll love it.’
They parted at the door where the Deputy ignored him and clocked her. She looked to the Head to see if he moved and when he didn’t, donned her fixed smile. Obviously not been in the door long enough for a bollocking then.
He speed walked to the classroom. Year 11 were waiting outside in their usual disarray, scattered around the corridor like pebbles in a stream but with less purpose.
‘Morning, morning. Sorry I’m late, go on in.’
There was no response as they trickled in. The soft hum of their broken conversations was somehow comforting.
‘Ok books out and ready, coats off and bags under desks please.’
He shuffled around on his desk for the starter activity. He thought for a Tuesday morning something quite active. Then he remembered who he was teaching. Something easy. Something with sex or violence in it if at all possible. He had taken on the bottom set like a good HOD. Or rather because he knew nobody else in the department could get a jot of work out of them. They were a bunch of feckless layabouts with varying degrees of attitude. Annoyingly they also had a dash of intelligence sparingly shared amongst them. That could go for the department as well as the class he thought. Something easy was needed. The rest of the lesson was bloody boring.
‘Ok ladies and gents.’ This had been the first slide on the behaviour course. The universal call for silence which everyone had used since teacher training. Strong, assertive yet polite.
They murmured on.
‘Can we make a start please?’ Re-enforce your presence, but keep it light the course leader had said.
Slightly less noise but still spikes of chatter.
‘We need to get started. Thank you to those who are ready for the lesson.’ Praise good behaviour, don’t reward bad behaviour with attention the literature said.
A loud laugh from the corner. Sod this.
‘Riley, Morrison, Clarke shut your faces. Groves, one more word out of you and you’ll be back on report. Cassidy, do I need to call your mum again?’
‘Ok, now that you have actually learned some manners let’s begin. There’s a word on the board – make as many different words out of it as possible. 6 minutes. Go.’
Scribbling started. Some stared blankly. The three girls at the front squinted in the hope that it would help their vocabularies blossom and bear more fruit than ‘OMG’,’ Shut up’ and ‘my bad’.
Armstrong sat down to impress his authority on someone, anyone. If SLT were to walk in now he would be panned for sitting behind his desk and for the kids doing too much writing. In his experience walking round the room exposed his arse to sarky/saucy (saurcy? Too Sid James) comments from the girls and gave most kids the opportunity to chat when his arse was turned. Doing too much writing in an English lesson seemed impossible.
‘Ok so what have we got?’ The word on the board was Onomatopoeia. He planned to make a nice link into his poetry lesson when one of the kids asked what it meant. Or rather asked to be reminded what it meant.
‘Ok, Chris what did you get?’
‘Ok very funny Chris, what else?’
‘Right, moving on. Tanya – how did you get on?’
‘Alright anyone got a six letter word?’
‘Anything longer?’ He asked hopefully.
‘I’ve got a long one, Sir.’
‘Giggidy,’ came the echo.
‘Ok, Year 11, it’s not that hard.’
‘That’s what she said.’
‘Very funny – who’s got (don’t say a big one, don’t say a big one) a better one?’
‘Twelve letters sir!’
‘Really? Wow, ok Hastings, go for it.’
Armstrong sat down heavily to a chorus of guffaws and moans. He barely looked up from his desk as he recited, ‘Page 34. Read the poem ‘Homecoming’ and answer the questions in your booklets. All questions must be answered in full sentences and completed for next week or it will be half an hour’s detention. No need to talk when answering – just get it done.’ Pause. ‘In silence.’ That certainly wasn’t on the course.
They all began shuffling pages and some scribbled. Half the class resented the other half as they had taken it too far. He had tried to make it interesting. This way they would all learn – like it or not.