Monthly Archives: May 2010

Me Cheeta

I normally tune out of staff meetings, although the phrase “I know balls are a sensitive issue”, did wake me from my reverie. It turned out the staff member was referring to the inflatable types. There was a real end of term atmosphere, quiet and languid. The Headteacher asked if there were any other comments. I wanted to say to everyone within a 2 mile radius that the eye watering smell was Zak’s aftershave, not mine.

It was an impressive day though, choice of Cologne apart. Zak’s mental arithmetic, during a test, was assured. Kate, the class teacher, was incredulous and asked if I had helped him. He was enjoying the positive feedback and quick to share other abilities “I can strangle a lion” and “I can write with both hands”. The latter boast is true, although he writes equally bad with either hand.

Isolated and under exam conditions, Zak did eventually descend into ‘exam huff’. As his frustration increased, so he began to question the questions. He declined to answer one because he refused to believe Rashma would buy packets of balloons for £5, receiving 40 pence change. “She wouldn’t do that!” he insisted, as if it were out of character. He started beatboxing instead. I rapped over his rhythm with some quickly improvised lyrics, such as “you’ve now wasted seven and a half minutes, which is time you’ll have to make up at break”. Move over Jay-Z.

Lyrical dexterity continued into the afternoon lesson. Each group had to create a rap on a random subject. Our ‘posse’ received the shortest straw, by being given ‘Veganism’. Most bands break up due to a descent into drugs and alcoholism, we fell apart due to an inability to find anything to rhyme with either ‘brown eggless pasta’ or ‘vegetable samosa’. We did manage “I’m not afraid to boast, I love a nut roast” and “I’m not going too far-gee when I say I could murder an onion bhaji’. Zak was the first to bolt from the classroom due to musical differences, expect a solo album anytime soon.

While the other teaching assistants recline in the sun and chat, I patrol the playground like a prison sentry. Such is Zak’s predisposition to losing his temper, I can’t afford to take my eye off him for a second. Today, I heard the unmistakable shrill of my name. “They called me a cheater!” shrieked Zak, pointing to the children he’d been playing with. I’d been observing the game and understood why Zak felt aggrieved. He’d been playing within the rules, so I approached the other children.

Me: I’ve watched the game and you owe Zak an apology

Child 1: all we said was that he was a cheater

Me: you’re wrong, all of you are, he was playing by the rules of the game

Child 2: we meant it nicely

Me: how can you accuse someone of being a cheater and mean it nicely?

Child 3: cos he runs fast

Me: oh…you mean cheetah, the animal, right?

A collective nod of heads.

I ended the day much as I had started it, by tuning out. It was due to the stifling heat in our old Victorian building, during Assembly. I awoke from my daydream when I heard of an after school water fight. Daydream turned to nightmare. “Oh no!” I thought “what if Zak turns out to be a Gremlin?, then I’d have to deal with eight of him!”. Happy Holidays!.

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Sun and the Rain

I thought Zak took the news that the sun will die in 5 billion years badly, but he took his love being unrequited, far worse. I saw his heart-break live. “I will paint my face white!” he pleaded “I will paint my shoes black!”. It was the actions of a desperate kid.

She was adamant though, that despite Zak’s place as fourth loudest whistler in School, she only wanted friendship. He disappeared to a corner of the library and grabbed the first book to hand (‘Keep your Hamster Happy!’). “Will you please kill me?” he said, as I came over to console him. “Take your feet of the seat first” I replied.

I basked in the playground sunshine and listened to everyone’s news. The girl who is allergic to pineapple chunks but not pineapple, breathlessly told me about managing her first head stand. A boy confided that his Dad works for the FBI (‘probably a taxi driver’ I reckoned). An autistic lad kept me less than entertained, but impressed, by recounting every tube station in London from A through to Z. Another boy told me about what sounded like an addiction to disclosure tablets. “It turns my spit pink!” he shrieked ecstatically. It was cathartic being around so many people in better spirits.

Speaking of spirits, and back in the relative darkness of our ‘exclusion zone’ (a fight within 4 seconds of PE – beat that!), Zak wanted to summon some spirits of his own. He wanted to find ‘Bloody Mary’, a myth he’d picked up from somewhere. I was reluctant for him to call forth a dead witch and potentially open the gates of hell, but hey y’know what kids are like when they set their mind to something!.

Mercifully, apart from a sign falling from the wall, which even I have to admit was a bit trippy, the rest of the day was calm. We sat and watched ‘Wonders of the Solar System’, which Zak found so entertaining I could hardly type his questions fast enough into Google.

I knew it was time to finally go home after the following conversation:

Me: (pointing to a motorbike in a book) wow, this motorbike could pull 135 horses

Zak: what about 136 horses?

Me: no

Zak: 137?

Me: no, and I can see where you’re going with this

Zak: 138?

Me: right, grab your bag it’s home time

It’s coming

An anecdote from this morning that perfectly sums up the side of Zak I loathe. We begin each day sat in the main hall, away from the other kids. He told me the previous night a boy had said something to him he didn’t understand. He’d told Zak that ‘his trainers were from Oxfam’.

I explained that Oxfam are a charity trying to end world poverty. I also informed Zak that the boy was being mean. I emphasised this was not a nice thing for him to say. Zak absorbed this information and as soon as the next kid passed us, shouted “your trainers are from Oxfam!” My head did not leave my hands for a good five minutes.

My bad luck persevered into break time. It had to me, responsible for breaking up a fight between the two girls in the School who speak the least English. Both of them babbled so incoherently I wondered how they’d even discovered they had differences in the first place. I got them eventually to shake hands and say something as close to ‘sorry’, as possible.

Morning Assembly featured one of the most disconcerting things I imagine I’ll ever see in a Primary School. The builders, who are on site at the School, gave a talk on Health and Safety issues. To close the talk they introduced their ‘mascot’ to the kids. It was a lumbering, menacing, dome headed, jet black-eyed Teletubbie, with a high visibility vest and hard hat.

The kids recoiled in fear, to the point where I wondered if the guy inside the outfit was developing a complex. Ironically, for a talk on Health and Safety, the mascot’s unsteady footing nearly saw it take out the entire first row of kids. It was no surprise there were no volunteers for a photo opportunity afterwards.

An expression I’ve heard banded around School of late is ‘Restorative Justice’. It encourages those who have caused harm to acknowledge the impact of their actions. Now I wouldn’t say Zak was compensating for any earlier incidents, but he did suggest making a nice card for the caretaker. The caretaker had fixed the wheel on his scooter and was genuinely pleased to receive his gift. We kicked a ball around in the afternoon, while another boy ran after screaming girls. It was an almost unbearable reminder of my teenage years.

High (melo)drama

Much of today could have been in soft focus, with stirring music and breathless dialogue. “You love Tim and want to marry him!”. As a quote this could have been from ‘Gone with the Wind’. Instead, it was bellowed by a 10-year-old boy, to a teacher. She had just reprimanded him for not following my instructions.

The melodrama didn’t end there, with Zak picking up the mantle in Roisin’s office. He accused me of making him “itchy” and said Roisin’s rules were enough to make any child “go crazy and die!”. “Maybe she should come with a health warning?” I wondered. At one point, he even tried to paper cut his neck.

Things took a turn for the even weirder, just as our attention was waning. Zak began to impersonate me, dealing with him. While as ‘me’, he then began to side with me and chastise himself for the poorer aspects of his behaviour (are you still following this?). Anyway, this seemed to work and he settled down, sometimes hearing voices isn’t such a bad thing.

He later told me about a dream, where I’d had a brief cameo. In the dream I’d suggested he talk to a girl, only for her to slap him. Thankfully, there was a temporary happy ending as she forgave him.

It was only temporary because this is Zak, so drama is always just around the corner. In a bizarre twist, she was shot through the heart. He registered my disappointment at this turn of events, so added that through some praying she came back to life. They then went on to have five children called Jake. I didn’t ask but assumed they were all boys.

The lesson in the afternoon was about ’embarrassment’. Unfortunately Zak is above this and quickly got himself a class exclusion. The afternoon passed slowly and Zak got back to doing what he does best, asking me questions I couldn’t possibly second guess. “How long would it take for a sea urchin to cross London?”, “Does Shaggy wear nice T-Shirts?” “Do stingrays make good eye contact?” and my personal favourite “How did you get this job – did they find you on the street?”

He’s behind you

Pantomime came early to the School today. The kids devised a new playground game, which basically amounted to pick a kid and boo him. Zak was inevitably on the hit list, but seemed to enjoy the attention. He’s now part of the pre-school football training and even inspired a new term ‘Zak-ish’. The expression, thought up by the School Secretary, is used to describe anything done or said in an angry, unpleasant way. I like to think of this as further evidence of his integration into the School.

He was certainly ‘Zak-ish’ in the morning. There was only one child, in a lesson about ‘Fairtrade’ that refused to share his chocolate. It was an unfair trade, as far as Zak was concerned. This was indicative behaviour of a generally volatile classroom. Among the class was a young woman on work experience. By the end of the lesson, her shell-shocked thousand yard stare spoke volumes. She asked “would you ever work again with a child with special…?” “No” I interrupted. “Would you work with year 6…?” I began, a shake of the head and she was gone.

In the afternoon we visited the local park for our School’s Olympics. I was the Head of ‘Team Great Britain’. I toyed with the idea of giving the kids in my team fizzy drinks, the equivalent of steroids for adults. I couldn’t risk any random urine tests though. Instead, I conformed to a Great British stereotype and forced them to wear neckties along with their PE gear.

Each team composed of a mixed bag of sporting abilities. I had a child who spent most of the time scratching around in the dirt and making pretend roll-ups. His suggestion for a new 100 metre event was enough to dent my Olympic spirit. If you’ve ever seen the behaviour of dogs on carpets suffering with worms, you can imagine his idea.

Back in the playground, our afternoon kick around ended abruptly, when I accidentally collided with Zak. He went flying, landed in a crumpled heap and cried. I felt like the biggest ogre imaginable. We rushed to the medical room and I cursed my big feet and tall frame. While I dabbed his cuts and apologised profusely, another child was being treated for ‘pinching the top of his leg till it hurt’.

Zak dried his eyes and proudly showed me his scooter. He’d argued his parents into submission sufficiently, to get the morning off school to buy it. Although he’d originally wanted a BMX, they were sold out. The scooter had seen better days and this somehow further compounded my sense of guilt. I did my best though to encourage him on the walk home.

As he flew downhill on the scooter, thankfully staying on his feet this time, it occurred to me this was something else that might end in tears. All of the other kids have BMX bikes, and just as his SAT’s exclusion demonstrated, Zak doesn’t have a hope of keeping up with them.

Insult to injury

There was a giant chalk penis in the playground today. By that, I don’t mean it was some specially commissioned Chapman Brothers-esque sculpture, which would be too weird. It was instead drawn by one of the children.

Zak was preoccupied with other things, namely the girl he’s fallen in love with. If she walks past us, he now hides behind me. I’m beginning to get premonitions of what it’ll be like to be an embarrassing parent.

“I will follow her after school” he declared “I know where she lives”. It may have been his slightly disconcerting glassy-eyed stare, but I had a further premonition of him one day being roundly booed on ‘The Jeremy Kyle Show’. We made a compromise. Zak will instead ride his BMX past her, as she sits on the bus, with me running alongside him. I always get the best jobs, for evidence of this, see current one.

I invigilated one of the SAT’s examinations. Some of the children assumed I’d be marking the paper, as I was mentioned in the list of ‘favourite teachers’. Back in the canteen, there was a sudden explosion of (look away now Jamie Oliver) burger and chips, as Zak flipped. I immediately thought “what have I done now?” and gave chase. I was actually grateful for the interruption. One of the teaching assistants had recounted her experiences of seeing the Nursery toilets. Even my iron stomach had smelted.

I was summoned to Roisin’s office to talk about the lunchtime incident. “Are you going to fire him?” Zak helpfully asked her. Roisin misheard this as ‘fight him’. I’d discovered the reason for Zak’s aberration was because ‘that girl’ had sat down at the same table. Sworn to secrecy by Zak, I had to deny knowing the cause of his behaviour. While acknowledging I had a “difficult job”, Roisin suggested I remain “one step ahead of him” and “anticipate” his errant behaviour. I smiled politely and told her I would do my best, while thinking “have you met Zak?”

A little despondent after the meeting, I trudged home through the playground. After a rain interrupted day only the chalk balls defiantly remained.  I began to cast a furtive look over other job opportunities. One advert caught my eye, “History, Geography and Economics Teachers are in hot demand!”. Surely this is the only time the words ‘history, geography and economics teacher’ and ‘hot’ will be in the same sentence.

True story. I went for a run tonight and a squirrel landed on my head. I was running in a forest, so probably should have anticipated this…

Fly like paper

What are the odds of this? On my way in this morning, I passed one of the children loitering outside a Bookmaker. It took a moment before I realized she was waiting for her parents inside. Upon arrival in the staff room, I found one of the teachers lying on the floor, with her legs in the air. She was definitely conscious and the other staff seemed at ease. If she was trying to get pregnant, I wanted to tell her it’s just an old wives tale.

It was our day of internal exclusion, so Zak and I were cast into the pit. Only on a day like this can questions such as, “what is the best pencil a police officer can use?” “are you scared of Bloody Mary?” and “will I save a girl’s life when I’m older?” seem perfectly normal. The last question was prompted by our discovery of a single plimsoll on the staircase. I urged Zak to take it, suggesting this could be his ‘Prince Charming’ moment to meet his Cinderella.

I can confidently say I’ll never meet a ruder, more aggressive 11-year-old than Zak. Generally, when he’s at his most obnoxious, I can tune my head to a frequency that ignores him. Today though, his rudeness was becoming more intolerable. Enter Mrs Godsend, as she is to be known from now on, a woman who brings out the very best in Zak.

Zak helped Mrs Godsend in the kitchens, and it was a delight to see him working so well. Later, back in the pit, I discovered Zak had an ulterior motive. He wanted to serve food to the object of his affections. I asked how it went. “My hands shook a bit” he admitted “and my voice went wobbly when I asked if she wanted custard on her pudding”.

The afternoon was the antithesis of the morning. We all stood proudly for our class photo and later flew paper planes. Unfortunately for Zak just as our paper planes came crashing down, so did any hopes of him sitting Sats exams. Kate, the class teacher, gave him the bad news. I felt sorry for him, particularly as he had made a paper plane for my wife. He asked if my wife and I would be flying our planes this evening, and as we rounded a corner into incoming parents said “I hope you beat your wife tonight!”.

The other children in the class spent their afternoon in a mock election. Three children represented the major political parties. The rest of the class voted for their favourite. I’m not sure if this is in any way prophetic of the result tonight, but as I left at the end of the day, ‘Tory boy’ was sobbing uncontrollably.