Thursday, July 03, 2008

Dangerous Minds

Like most if not all arts graduates, I had an absolute shit attack once I left college. I wasn't qualified to do anything in particular and I had no idea what I'd like to do, so I blundered head-first into teaching. Well, elbow first. I tried a stint as a corporate whore and it didn't really take, so in the spirit of altruism and service to the community I accepted a temporary post in my old alma mater. A nice school with excellent staff, where I would be paid a gazillion euro an hour to babysit teenagers. What could go wrong?

Mid afternoon on day one I had my first class with 6th year foundation level English. 9 boys who already looked like big strong men, and who were fully convinced that they were big strong men. Most had repeated a year during some stage of their academic careers, I'm sure some of them had learning difficulties and I'm very fucking sure that most of them had behavioural problems. We spent a difficult 40 minutes together, but I won.

Day two found them in fine fettle, almost personable in their efforts to impress the new teacher. We were still at the honeymoon getting-to-know-you stage, so I was happy to indulge them in amiable chat. I mooted the idea that we might do some work on day three and asked them what they'd covered in class the previous year, intending on doing some revision. But oh no. English class had been cancelled last year.

I should have known better than to ask, I suppose. They spent 40 minutes telling tales of the three unfortunates who had acted as substitute teachers the previous year. The first of them refused to teach them after flicking paper balls at her had enraged her to breaking point, whereupon one of them threw a metal pencil case at her and hit her in the face. A replacement was brought in, a stern disciplinarian. She had two of them suspended for sexual harassment after they repeatedly complained about being unable to study due to (their) erect nipples - the classroom was freezing because they'd smashed the window with the duster. How this might constitute sexual harassment was beyond them, as they hadn't so much as mentioned her nipples. I stifled a giggle under an immaculately stern poker face, and quietly nodded when they asked me if I'd like to know what happened to the third teacher. I should have said no, but I really did want to know. Turns out they'd started flicking paper balls at him too. Lighted ones. I believe them, because they showed me a video clip. Not to intimidate, but to impress.

I dreaded my classes with them. They took a serious shine to me though and soon proclaimed me their favourite teacher, getting more than a little upset that I wasn't planning on speaking for them at the parent-teacher meetings. We spent most days watching Strictly Ballroom (it's on the curriculum) where they pushed the tables back and waltzed one another around the room, while the guy with ADD coloured the blackboard in from corner to corner with chalk (cleaning it off before the bell went, out of consideration for me). We had tears one day when one of them regaled me with a tale of an injured pigeon he'd filled with bangers and blown to feathers, thinking I would be impressed by his ingenuity when it came to putting the creature out of its misery. I was not, and this upset him. Two of them asked me to be their date for the debutante ball and threatened to batter the shite out of each other in a row over which one had asked me first. I politely declined both. But we got along. I told my friends at home about them and I got voicemail messages with Coolio's Gangster's Paradise playing in the background. Because my friends are very, very funny.

Then one day I arrived in to find them sitting at their desks, with poetry textbooks. I had left them in the care of another young substitute teacher the previous day, as I had an interview for a lecturing job. They had decided on an early lunch, she had refused to let them leave and had threatened to call the principal. So they backed her into a corner and tried to grope her breasts.

I could never be a teacher.

24 comments:

Radge said...

Your friends sound very, very funny.

In fact they sound like my friends, one of whom serenaded my voicemail with Kate Bush's Wuthering Heights because he was bored today.

Actually, no, other way round. I was the bored one serenading him.

By the way, that's two posts in a row with mentlers in the labels, by the way. I'm microscopically interested.

Radge said...

Forgive the repetition in that comment, a mhúinteoir.

alan said...

and that's why this Arts Graduate became a librarian

le craic said...

Reminds me of a substitute French teacher we had in 5th class. None of us had ADD or learning difficulties but she did have the misfortune of both looking and dressing like Mortisha of the Addams family. This inspired some of the lads to hum the theme tune of the show and click their fingers whenever she entered the room. She knew what was going on and eventually gave up and couldn't take the clicking any more.

Annie said...

*shudders*

The thing is, they don't want to be in school, learning an appreciation of the poetry of Edna St Vincent Millay, they want to be yomping up mountains with rucksacks and blowing stuff up. So why keep them in school? They've already got basic literacy and numeracy skills,
they should send them into the army until their hormones have calmed down a bit and they're ready to re-join polite society...

Caro said...

Annie's right, the army would be great for them. If nothing else they'd learn how to make a bed and clean the jacks properly.

Rosie said...

perhaps i should change the 'mentlers' tag to 'interesting characters'? either way, it seems to apply to you, Radge.

a very nice job to have, Alan, one i've always fancied myself.

chances are that she was like me, AJ, she just didn't care enough to put up with it. my heart wasn't in it from day one - really i was wasting both their time and mine. i lasted two months.

Annie, Caro, are you fucking nuts? arm them???

AJ said...

Ahhhh school days & substitute teachers... I remember it well.
Was I the one who made the substitute religious teacher cry & leave, never to return & give up teachering forever ? No...but I did laugh...

Wierdo said...

This makes me look forward even more to teachers training next year.

It seemed such a nice idea when I applied!

Rosie said...

they do get lovely long holidays...

B said...

my character seems to be missing, although the fella at the blackboard shows some signs of me.

aj: we had a Mortisha too!

problemchildbride said...

One day a Highland terrier ran into our history teacher's class, jumped up and bit his thumb, causing him to have to go for a tetanus. Nobody ever saw that little dog again. Nobody knew where it had come from, but I do believe he was sent.

Aidan said...

I am always regretting not studying French (instead of Materials Science, why???) but I always conveniently forget the difficulty in finding a career direction when I am moaning.
Most people I studied with became accountants or went into IT because those areas love anybody who studied mathematical degrees.
We envied anybody studying Arts degrees because of all the girls on those courses. I remember that there were 160 studying Computer Science out of which 1 was a girl and she got taken the first week.

Govstooge said...

Jesus, that's why I chickened out of the HDip. You can't hit them anymore or stick things in them. Clerical officers on the other hand...

Andrew said...

Sounds a lot like my first teaching job. I gave up trying to get anything done with them after a few weeks and just had a chat with them and took the money.
Iris schools have some complete and utter fucking nutjobs in them and they need to be treated as such.

I told a kid once that I'd put him through the window if he pissed me off again. He came in the next day and "I told me da what you said. He said he wouldn't blame you."

backpedalbrakes said...

My sis had a particularly horrible class her first year teaching, constant hassle and heckling. She thought she'd finally made a breakthrough when the chief smart boyo stood up one day and said "Ah give her a break..." (ooh) "...it must be her time of the month"

Three weeks' detention, that cost him.

Spinsterella said...

Annie should be put in charge of Education For The World.

I don't actually get holdiays. No-one covers our work so we have to do everything in advance. A week is the most we can do. i am actually going mad.

Grim and illegal. Still, I'd rather do double that than teach one class of teenagers.

mary said...

Rosie, you remind me horribly of my very last day teaching 'supply' here in Wales!
I walked into the classroom to teach a group of remedial 5th formers Welsh (I don't speak a word!)
They said 'Oh no, not another supply teacher' and they opened the window and climbed out!
I stayed with the few (nice) pupils who had remained and thought of the money.

Rosie said...

the one like you is not missing, B, because the one like you is me.

we had a dog that used to hang out in the playground to play football, Sam. his name was MaraDoggy (geddit?) and i got in trouble when my brother told my mam i'd been feeding him all of my sandwiches every morning.

*kicks herself for not doing computer science*

Stooge, you are the reason i chickened out of accepting the EO job. your stories scare me.

aren't you planning on being a real grown-up teacher now though, Andrew? won't you have to care, or at least pretend to?

i think if a pupil said that to me i'd have trouble supressing a laugh, Catherine. perhaps not actually having a time of the month doesn't help.

unless you're curing cancer, Spinny, you should quit. that is, as Annie R would say, ridick.

brilliant, Mary. trouble is, i can see where they were coming from, having suffered through a long line of subs myself when i was in school. it's just a piuty that it happened on your watch.

B said...

So I was the teacher person... which makes the substitute person one of the student people. Doesn't make sense.

Andrew said...

Yeah I do an excellent job of pretending to care.

Nah, it was only the first job that was like that, because of the circumstances I was in. I occasionally do some proper teaching these days.

Rosie said...

no, it doesn't make sense B.

you have both my sympathy and my admiration, Andrew.

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