BANG! BANG! BANG!

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Despite my best endeavours to encourage, calm non-violent play in a sharing and cooperative environment, the children in my nursery were constantly using whatever construction equipment they could find to make model guns. These were then brandished around the inside and outside of the building at an alarming volume with little or no regard to my opinions about how they ought to be playing or what they could/should be learning.

On one occasion I sat with a loud and raucous group on the mat and talked about how it might scare the other children – especially the younger ones, and went on to remind them about all the other nice things we had to do and how guns were not good things to play with.

“But my dad has a gun!” pipes up cute little girl with ringlets.

“He keeps it under his bed and takes it with him when he goes to work.”

“Does he?” I asked “how do you know that?”

“Because me and my sister play with it when he’s out.”

This being one of the rough parts of town, and her dad being one of the tougher looking parents in the playground, I felt obliged to write out a report about this.

Some paperwork later, and an assurance that I would not be identified as a source of information (a kind of witness protection scheme for teachers), things settled back to normal with the comments being relegated to staffroom banter and a running joke with the younger teachers.

I laid off telling the children how they should and shouldn’t play for a while though.

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The unshakable logic of children

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We were starting a project on biodiversity. This would include studying habitats, ecosystems and learning about conservation, symbiotic relationships and the world around us. For our starting point we were going to look at the familiar area of the school playing field.

“So what do you think we might see on the field?”

“Spiders.”

“Grass.”

“Daisies.”

“Spiders.”

Pause as everybody looks at each other.

“Anything else?”

“Sheep.”

“Sheep?”

“Yes, sheep.”

“Are you sure? Have there ever been sheep on the field before?”

“Not this field, no.”

“Why might there be today?”

“Because it’s a field.”

Unable to escape this feat of logic I tried to appeal to common sense;

“If there were sheep would you be able to see them now, through the window?”

“Not if they were hiding.”

“There’s nowhere to hide though.”

“By the bins?”

“Really? Ok, so even though there have never been any sheep on the field in the seven years you have been at this school, and even though you can’t see them out there now, you want to add sheep to the list of things we might find when we go out?”

“Yes, it’s a field.”

It is going to be a loooong topic.

Attack of the drunken grandad

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The playground, at the end of the primary school day, used to be a vibrant and exciting place to be. This of course was in ‘the old days’ before schools got locked up and locked down so tight that it’s sometimes even hard for staff to get in and out. (This is true, it recently took me nearly 10 minutes to be ‘let out’ of a school after finishing a day of supply teaching.)

Parents would stop and talk to one another, chat to staff and catch up on the day’s events while children ran around, fell over and shared sweets. On a really good day you could stop and share a smoke with a parent while you discussed their child’s progress (I did say it was ‘the old days’ – don’t judge!) you would occasionally get offered goods that parents had ‘acquired’, surreptitiously displayed in holdalls and bundled into carrier bags without ever seeing the light of day. It was a social time and a good opportunity to touch base with the community whose school it was – and maybe pick up a bargain.

On one occasion a parent stood and looked at me then said,

“I’m sure I know you from somewhere else.”

“I can’t think where” I replied.

“Have you done time?” he bounced back, “was it the Scrubs?”

Seriously? I was teaching his daughter!

Anyway, I digress.

There was this one afternoon, when I walked out of my class with the children and was stood cheerily waving them off and exchanging pleasantries with parents, that an elderly gentleman approached me.

He was a little unsteady on his feet and had obviously been ‘relaxing’. I didn’t know who he had come to collect but greeted him anyway;

“Good afternoon, who are you looking for?”

“Don’t you bleedin’ good afternoon me.”

This reply was accompanied by a resounding whack across my left shin with a walking stick.

“And don’t you go telling my Adrian off for sumfink he didn’t even do neither.”

Crack across the other shin.

At this point some of the other parents had seen what was happening. Firm but gentle hands steered him away. As he was led away I could hear a loud and distinct voice saying;

“No you daft old git, it wasn’t ‘im it was that other teacher, and you can’t go round ‘itting em anyway.”

It’s a bacon tree (or a ham bush, I’m not sure.)

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I once took a class of children out into the nature area that ran all along the side of our school. We crashed and blundered about shouting and singing and looking at all the different colours of green and different seeds and flowers.

We stopped to look into the little pond to see if any frogs had been visiting. Just then, from the far end of the nature, area I heard another class coming out to crash and blunder through the bushes and find different seeds and flowers.

“I know” I said loudly to the 20 or so children rolling and climbing around me, “lets hide behind this bush – (pointing to small shrub) – and surprise the other class when they get here.”

So we all went around to the far side of the bush and pretended to hide.

I should add at this point that it was an infant school and the children were only 5 and 6 years old. I assumed that was obvious but…well, you know?

Anyway, the other class arrived. As they approached I heard their teacher say, in a loud clear voice, “I hope nobody is hiding behind that bush – (points at small bush with 20+ small children crowded behind it giggling and peeping over the top) – to try and scare us.”

The trap was set, the children were primed, and as the other class approached my children shook the branches, roared their terrible roars and laughed with joy.

The other class reciprocated, they screamed and pointed, they laughed and greeted their friends from my class.

Except Nathan.

Nathan had picked up on none of the hints, clues and cues he had been offered.

Nathan had not noticed the entire class of children poorly hidden behind a bush.

Nathan was duly startled and leapt away from the terrifying bush monster, straight into the pond.

He stood there with water up to his knees until I helped him out and took him in for some dry clothes.

At home time I braced myself to ‘fess up and manfully admit my part in the escapade. I walked out with him to see his mum and tried to explain. I truly did try, but she was having none of it. She did not know why he would do such a thing even if he was scared, and told him so.

To my shame I finished with a rather lame,”Well I think he’s learned his lesson now.” and skulked of to the staff room for a cup of tea.

Since then I have arranged no more ambushes of any type.

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Way back at the start I used to teach the daughter of a close colleague and good friend of mine. My friend had been helping me through those difficult days when you are busy trying to apply all of the information, theory and essay writing from college into something that you can use on ‘actual children’ – (like people, but smaller was always my favourite description.)

Anyway, we regularly met up for coffee and social engagements and I got to know them well in and out of school. It was my first education into how different children are when they are at home compared to when they are in the classroom.

She was a dear sweet little thing who couldn’t do enough to help, listened nicely, joined in enthusiastically at tidy up time – (I have previously explained that this is a euphemism used by teachers to describe the time when children are herded into one part of the room and trapped there with a book while staff frantically put everything away.) By contrast, at home, she was loud, messy and frequently didn’t do things she was asked! I loved her.

On one visit we were met by my friend at the door;

“This may not be the best time, her pet mouse died last night, and we only just found it.”

We were invited in anyway, to commiserate with a distraught and upset little girl who was sitting forlornly on her tiny chair drawing pictures of her recently deceased pet.

“Is there anything that would make you feel better?” her dad asked. “Anything at all? What could I get you that would help you feel less sad?”

She looked up at him, big eyes starting to brim with tears again, head tilted at exactly the right angle to make her look as miserable as possible;

“I don’t know, I am very sad.”

“Do you want another pet, a new mouse?”

A slight sobbing sound and more sad looks.

“Tell me what you think would make things okay.”

“Well, maybe if I had a Gameboy….”

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Christmas is coming – possibly- depending on whether Santa can find his way.

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“I know” I said enthusiastically, “We’ll draw maps with our houses on so that Santa will be able to find us easily.”

This, of course, was a cynical and manipulative teacher ploy to get small children to work on remembering where they live (important information for people of all ages) and help develop the necessary skills to find their way home if the need ever arose.

“Try to think of something that is near your house that Santa will be able to find easily and put that on your map.”

….still the same trickery going on here.

“Sir, mine is near the park.”

“My house is next to the shop.”

“Mine is next to his house, and the shop is called the Co-op shop and my Mum gets her bread and milk there and buys me sweets if I am good and I’m allowed to go with my brother sometimes but we have to be careful and stay on the path.”

“There’s a big road near my house.”

Excellent, I am winning, I am king of the teachers, I have success in my sights.

“Just you then little man. What special thing can you think of to tell Santa about your house that will help him find his way there next week?”

I am on a roll, how can I possibly fail now?

“Umh? There’s a bird on the roof – I saw it there this morning.”

Sigh.

 

Hoping Santa finds your house, Happy Christmas.

First day nerves – and why I will be getting up early tomorrow.

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Tomorrow I start a new job. I am nervous and a little worried about arriving on time. I am a very punctual person by nature and hate to be late to anything, maybe I was just well bought up, or maybe I am scared that everybody will talk about me if I’m not there. Paranoia is a great motivator.

Anyway, I have good reason to be apprehensive about my arrival time;

When I got my first teaching post it was in the East End of London. It was not an area I was familiar with. I had lived in South London for nearly a year previously, but anybody who knows London will agree that I might as well have been moving to a different country.

I was so worried about how I would get to work that I set aside a day of half term to practise my route to work (2 minute walk, bus, tube for 4 stops, another bus, 2 minute walk) I made sure I knew which bus numbers I had to get, what time, which underground platform, which bus stops – I was thorough and well prepared.

On my first morning I stood at the correct bus stop, at the correct time, and watched as not one but two buses went straight past the stop, too full to take on any more passengers. I did squeeze onto the third bus, but the knock-on effect meant I was very late for work, arriving just after the children.

I got through that first day (once I had arrived) and finished  with a warm feeling of satisfaction having made it to the end, not lost any pupils or made any major gaffes, not collapsing into a heap of uncontrollable tears and snot because I didn’t know what to do – I was a teacher!

I sat in the staff room and lit a celebratory end of the day cigarette. (Don’t judge me, things were different in those days.) As I exhaled Maureen, the Deputy,  put her head around the door. She looked directly at me with a glare that I would come to know over the following years, a glare that could reduce grown men to tears – never mind what it did to the children.

I thought she was going to ask how the day went, congratulate me on surviving, and offer some hints or tips to help further my development as a teacher. Yeah right;

“Are you coming back tomorrow?”

Me – “Er yes..”

“Well let someone know what time you think you’re thinking of turning up, it helps.”

I flapped my mouth silently at the empty doorway, then went home and set my alarm an hour earlier.