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.