Monthly Archives: December 2010

Is it Christmas yet?

There was a real Christmassy feel to the last day of term, the snow had begun to fall, the decorations were up and the classroom was freezing cold. The heating had broken down overnight which meant teaching to kids sat in their hats, coats and scarves. I’ve never explained the difference between odd and even numbers while doing star jumps, but it should have at least made it memorable for them.

By mid-morning I had the kind of brain freeze you normally only get after a giant tub of ice cream. I tried to name Father Christmas’ reindeers and ended up naming the seven dwarfs along with a couple of the Ten Commandments. Mistake number 2 arrived after I’d adopted my sensible voice “we are letting you out to play, you may build snowmen and throw snowballs but I don’t want to see anyone stuffing snow down someone’s backs, sticking it down the backs of trousers…”  I could see their eyes widening “you’re giving them ideas!” I suddenly thought. It was all too late though.

I received a lovely leaving card from the class. It contained enough smudged glue and glitter so that once I’d finished with it I looked like I’d come back in time from the 1970’s. Each child had drawn and labelled a picture of themselves, with the exception of an anonymous picture scrawled into a corner. It was the stuff of nightmares in felt tip, a black-eyed figure with outstretched spiky fingers. It reminded me of the poster child for the ‘E-Safety’ campaign that haunts a picture outside our classroom; the eyes follow you down the corridor.

My last lesson, in a now thankfully tepid classroom, was religious education. I asked the children if any of them preferred to give presents than receive them. The result was entirely predictable; it did at least reveal who drew the macabre self-portrait as he was the only kid with his hand in the air.

I asked the children if they had any questions or comments. Mistake number 3, I should have said  “any questions or comments about the task’ otherwise you get, as I did, “I like to shrug when I dance” “my Dad’s name is Paul” and “is it Christmas yet?”. The only comment with any relation to the lesson was “we should write our name at the top of the sheet and not someone else’s”. My resolve broke and a hint of sarcasm surfaced “yes, good point, please write your name at the top of the sheet”.

We sat through an interminable final assembly with only the occasional flicker of humour. The child who won the award for ‘healthiest lunchbox’ was off sick. The nativity tale featured so much ill-treatment of the baby Jesus I’m surprised social services didn’t intervene. I took the opportunity to head to the toilet where I spotted my first grey nasal hair. I don’t know what my nose has to be so stressed about, but this has certainly been a demanding year for me. I’ve never needed a better excuse to relax over Christmas and enjoy roasting my nuts by the fire (I brought that joke back with me from the 1970’s).

Shake a leg

The day of the Christmas play arrived. Backstage I sensed the class’s apprehension. The sense that directed me to this was my sense of smell, they are only 6 years old and pre-gig nerves were inevitable. I had already been a little unnerved by an encounter while helping one of the litter munchers get ready. The zip was damaged on his costume “you might need your mum to look at this” I suggested. He looked me directly in the eye and said “my mother is dead”. I told him that I was sorry to hear this and as is the nature of conversation with 6-year-old kids he went off on another tangent.

Jean swept in a few moments later and I recounted the incident. “His mum isn’t dead!” she shrieked “she works here as a dinner lady!” The most liberal of child psychologists would describe this as the actions of a ‘deep’ child. I didn’t quite know what to think.

I have to say it was a proud moment when the little litter munchers took to the stage. I was crouched low before them to help them remember their moves, while trying not to obscure the view of the audience. I had one of those “if my mates could see me now” moments as the song began and then one of those “oh shit” moments soon after.

The last part of the song involved the children placing a hand on an opposing knee, while kicking out a leg in time to the music. I wondered how to remind them of this part while stooped on both knees. I struggled vainly to show the action and the kids duly copied me. I could sense the audiences collective reaction “why are they now bent double and moving as if they have a sudden attack of stomach cramps?” To the tune of ‘Daydream Believer’ it was incongruous to say the least.

We got through it. Well most of them did. I had to give some solace to the children whose parents did not allow them to be part of the show. Even at 6, the kids were already showing the first signs of dissention. “Why don’t my parents let me be in the show?” “(Kid’s name) is part of the show and she’s a Muslim”. I couldn’t even say they had avoided the future embarrassment of looking back at photos of themselves wearing an ill-fitting pair of their mum’s tights. No cameras were allowed.

Backstage, the kid’s rider involved enough sweets, biscuits and Sunny Delight to start them climbing the walls. It was crowd control, “how many times do I have to tell you?” I shouted at one miscreant. He held up four fingers. I went with it “so how many times have I already told you?” I enquired. He held up three fingers. “This is your final warning then”. He nodded; my earlier lesson in subtraction seemed to have sunk in.

The boy in the bubble

The picture arrived at just the right time. It was a Christmas scene drawn by some of the kids in the class “it’s for you” they beamed. Moments before, I’d borne the brunt of Jean the class teacher’s anger. I’d misspelled a child’s name on a session plan. “How can you expect him to spell his name right, if you can’t?” she bellowed. I tried not to take it too personally; she’d torn into the kids for most of the day. One child remarked it was his birthday and he was receiving a dog as a present. “No you’re not!” she roared “don’t tell lies…that said, let’s sing Happy Birthday”. I’d never sung Happy Birthday to a weeping child before.

It didn’t end there; one boy who has a particularly high voice spoke during a lesson. “Why are you talking in that silly voice?” she screamed. “Give him a break” I thought “he’s stuck with it till his balls drop”.

To the backdrop of a dinner lady being punched out by a boy and a group of parents suing a kid for kicking their daughter, I tried to concentrate on coordinating a dance for a bunch of 5 year olds for the Christmas play. To backtrack slightly it all started when a class teacher stopped me in the corridor to ask if I’d seen a “couple of her litter munchers”. My first thought was that this was a new politically incorrect term. I was about to state that in my day they were known as either gypos or pikeys; when she went on to explain that the Christmas play is called “The Litter Munchers”.

I was quickly drafted into a meeting about the play. We needed an opening song in which the Litter Munchers awake. Somebody suggested “Wake me up before you go-go”. “Yes” I added “we could have litter bug instead of jitter bug at the beginning…” I realized my mistake but it was too late. All eyes turned towards me, no words needed saying, and I was now the official dance choreographer. I very reluctantly agreed on the understanding that what happens in those lessons stays in those lessons.

I’ve been gradually eroded by the stress of my first school placement and so longed for the end of the day. I asked the class to write the word ‘close’ on their whiteboards, one held up the word ‘knob’. I hadn’t the energy to disagree. Even the following conversation made perfect sense at the time:

Kid: I want to drive a car one day

Me: Ok, does your mummy drive a car?

Kid: No, she wears contact lenses.

Jean was still on form though. “Why are you moving about?” she demanded from a child “do you need the toilet?” “No” replied the girl “I’m just excited about Christmas”. “Well, stop” she growled.

Despite the picture I’ve painted I’ve seen enough to know that behind the abrasive exterior Jean has a heart. We shared a joke at the end of the day. She told me she was going home to feed Pinky and Perky, who I assumed were her cats. It turned out they were nicknames for her sons.

She showed me a cushion she sits on each day that reads “a teacher is the guiding force that transforms the bright energetic minds of today into the hopes, dreams and opportunities of the future”. “I might be an old monster” she mumbled breezing past me into the cold night air “but I love those children”. And you know what? I believe her.