Monthly Archives: April 2011

Only Human

Arriving late for assembly, I sneaked in, only for the door to slam loudly behind me. A thousand pairs of eyes turned my way. The school for my second placement is one of the largest in the country and for a small moment I felt as scrutinised as Kate Middleton’s wedding dress.

I’m an occasional ball of anxiety in a place with nowhere to hide. So it was some relief to find the school’s bungalow (yes, a school with its own bungalow) where like-minded, anti-social people come to eat their lunch, read the paper and shut up.

The library-like atmosphere of the bungalow could not be matched in the library itself, where one frustrated child told me he wanted to find “a book on killing”. We compromised instead with a book on World War Two. The same child, during a lull in a maths lesson on sequencing, asked if we could chat about the end of the world.

His joie de vivre was matched by a hero of our times, the school secretary, defying medical science to drag her slobbering cold and retching cough into the place. “Look at the size of my glands, the doctor said I shouldn’t have come in” she whined to anyone who would care to listen, followed by a great heave and body spasm. “I just didn’t want to let anyone down” she modestly revealed.

The Anti-social Bungalow Brigade Association (ABBA for short) would have allowed her entrance to its inner sanctum, after all you can’t help being unwell, it was the constant moaning that would have led to her eviction.

What she needed, as any blue-blooded member of the Royal Family will tell you, is a haircut and a spell in the bloody army. Failing that, a session with the school’s PE teacher might do the trick. I’m still not sure if he was kidding when he told our class of 8-year-old kids that he was going to “introduce them to pain” and “try and break them” over the course of the summer term.

The aftermath of the PE lesson was something I didn’t witness but I am still trying to piece together ‘Columbo-style’. From across the sports field, moving towards me, were what looked like the three wise monkeys. On closer inspection they were in fact four bawling boys, each clutching a different part of their head, on their way to the school nurse. A square dance gone horribly wrong?


By any other name

There are some sentences, even when having been said in our tutor’s sing-songy voice, that reverberate when I least want them to. Upon entering the school gates, to begin my second school placement, I was trying to ignore her voice saying “children have a scent for a student teacher”, “give children too much praise and they’ll work harder at annoying you” and “you’ll be teaching 80 percent of the curriculum”.

The sentences were dislodged from my head however, the moment the music teacher said “for the last five minutes children play what you like”. I listened to thirty kids expressing their inner torment through the medium of keyboards, drums and the glockenspiel. I was grateful that this was just a small fraction of the 900 children at the school. The assembly line for assembly was like a military manoeuvre, with its conveyor belt of kids from Nursery to Year 6 resembling the ascent of man.

With me being the ‘new kid,’ I soon found myself surrounded by children, with names such as ‘Severus’, ‘Comfort’, a couple of ‘Unique’s’ and a family of four called Manjit, Manjot, Manget and Manjat! Can you imanjit that?  A 7-year-old equivalent of Francis Drake proudly told me he was responsible for first bringing nits to the school, another how she could score me rat pellets from her dad’s pub, should the need ever arise.

I also met Sheila, although I was aware of her presence before our paths crossed. All items, from staples to shredders, were labelled with “this will self destruct if used by anyone other than Sheila”. Every school has a Sheila, somebody who has been there far too long. I was stunned to see a certificate awarded to her for “always having a smile”. She certainly wouldn’t win any awards for her grammar, describing one child as not being able to “use words with any comfortabilitness”.

The ‘feelings board’ of the class confirmed that the children were ‘tired’ and as the sun streamed into the class, we all wanted to fast forward a few weeks to our planned trip of a chocolate factory. Judging by the behaviour of some of the kids, I will spend much of this visit comfort eating.

On the crowded bus journey home, the driver refused to set off as some passengers were standing on the stairs. I recognised the children and forgetting I was no longer in class, heard myself shout “Musket! Manure! Off the stairs!” I apologised to the passengers I’d alarmed and the children whose names, it turned out, I only thought I knew.