Tag Archives: classroom

1700. The hand we’re dealt

Look at that! 1700 is a round number if ever there was one! Usually for such a significant number I deviate into some true narrative or other. This time I’ve hit a complete blank. I don’t believe in “writer’s block” but I must admit that these last ten or so postings have been like trying to get blood out of a stone. I wanted to get to Story 1700 before Christmas and then have some time off until sometime in the New Year. And so I’ve drawn a blank. Let me think…

Well I’ve thought of something… but I don’t know if I should chat about it or not. Counting up it happened 33 years ago!

The photo incidentally is not of what I am going to talk about – it’s of another group unknown to me, but it gives the general drift.

I dare say those involved have long since moved on. I was teaching Music and English at St John’s High School in Hastings, New Zealand. Hastings had a pretty “varied” population. St John’s High School was a boys-only school and the only High School in the city that would accept students who had been expelled from other schools and couldn’t find another school to attend. That’s how I ended up teaching a class of 24, 14 of whom had a “history”. They were all aged 14. Montzie, for example, had a criminal record since the age of six.

The school didn’t have a great number of resources. My classroom was an old shed set apart from all other classrooms and in the middle of a field. We called the shed “The Shack”. The record player and all the stuff for music were in The Shack. The trouble was: The Shack couldn’t be locked. I told the class that if anything was ever stolen from this shack I’d “have their guts for garters”. (I also had to explain what garters were).

“Don’t worry,” they said, “we’d never steal from you.” We were the only school Music Department in the whole city that hadn’t had all its electronic equipment go missing. And then it happened. One night, the classroom was stripped. The policeman was very nice about it. He took notes and said he’d keep an eye out. That wasn’t good enough for Montzie and friends. Did not the policeman want to know the names of those who took the stuff? Did not the policeman want to know the place in the city where these thieves stored their stolen goods? The policeman was kind of stunned!

With such information it still took six months for the police to act. In the meantime insurance paid for new equipment and when our goods were returned we had two of everything. And Reuben, a master of the “five-finger discount”, would most days bring five or six long-playing records that he’d “got from the shops during lunch break” to replace the records stolen. I explained it was wrong. It was above his comprehension. He was helping out. (And I might add that not even the shops wanted to know because the packaging had been removed).

Many other things happened during the year which can wait another time, except to say I am a master pickpocketer; for they passed on skills you wouldn’t believe. I was never party to their activity, but they were surviving in the only world they knew.

The highlight came when I was selected (because I was pretty good at it) to represent New Zealand at an International Youth Theatre Festival – with theatre performances from Germany, England, India, South Korea, Australia, United States and New Zealand. It was inordinately expensive to get a theatre team to the festival and to survive a week. That is when I started to write little musicals for elementary schools and market them. Within two easy weeks, we had enough money to travel. I suggested we do a performance about New Zealand’s many endangered species. And would you believe? The class wanted to dance it, and from all the five-finger discount stolen records to dance to they chose extracts from Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring” and Ravel’s “Daphnis et Chloé”. At least I’d taught them something!

It was street-dancing. They did the choreography themselves. It was an outstanding hit! The boys were so well behaved and more charming than I could believe. At the end of the performance the audience didn’t clap; they stood and sang a song they all knew. It was very moving. The newspaper reviews were stunning.

I dare say these kids would be heading for their mid-forties now. Those who aren’t dead are possibly in prison. I know a couple have done murders and some are destroyed by drugs. A teacher can’t keep in touch with everyone.

But they were one of the nicest and most talented group of kids I’ve ever taught. A pity they weren’t dealt much of a hand.

(A Happy Christmas and New Year to all! See you some time in 2020!)

1576. Stink bombs

 

As every boy knows (or should know), if you crush the seed of a wattle (some might call a wattle a mimosa or an acacia) and spit on it, it is a stink bomb. Money need not be spent on purchasing stink bombs from the local trick shop. Of course, there might be places in the world where wattle trees won’t grow, such as at the North Pole, so Santa’s elves may have to buy theirs. A spat-upon crushed wattle seed stinks like the most humongous fart. It is colossally funny. It is a marvellous trick to play, especially on girls. (This is in the days before it was decided that both sexes were the same).

Larry and Barnaby were seven-year olds. Larry’s older brother had told him about stink bombs. Larry and Barnaby got some wattle seeds. They crushed them and when they were in the classroom they spat on them, hid them, and waited. What a stink!

The teacher entered the room and everyone stood up. (This was in the old days when pupils stood up when someone important entered the room). The teacher didn’t blink an eye. Pooh! The smell!

“It’s a bit chilly in here,” said the teacher. “Shut the windows.” (This is in the days when classrooms windows could be opened and closed).

“I have to go and see Mrs Turner in Room Seven,” said the teacher. “While I am gone I want you to do Exercise Fourteen on Page Seven.” (This is in the days when pupils could briefly be left on their own to do some work).

The other boys ganged up on Larry and Barnaby. The two boys had to find and pick up the stink bombs and toss them out the window.

This was done. The teacher returned. No one, except for Bianca, had done Exercise Fourteen on Page Seven. Nothing was ever said. (This is in the days when teachers didn’t have to write long reports on every misdemeanour of every child and file it permanently on a computer).

Ah! Stink bombs need not be dealt with again, until next year’s new batch of boys.

1346. In God we trust

Dear Ms Bramley,
Mabel and I were shocked to discover on class open day that a big banner across the wall read “In God we trust”. What sort of superstitious nonsense are you shoving down the throats of seven year olds? Mabel and I are atheists, and we are teaching Connie to be discerning and to be an atheist too. If the banner is not removed we shall be forced to send Connie to another school. It’s not easy being an atheist in today’s world.
Mabel and Reg Parsonage

Dear Ms Bramley,
Charlie and me were so disappointed in the second class open day of the year that the banner across the back wall that read “In God we trust” had been removed. We thought it a brilliant way to instil into Hector the values our country holds dear. We hope you haven’t succumbed to criticism from Mabel and Reg Parsonage who apparently had much to say on the matter.
Charlie and Gwen Green

Dear Ms Bramley,
Francine and I were so disappointed at the lack of posters on the classroom wall on open day. It represented for us the nihilism that has become all too common in our modern society. Bareness, blankness, espousing no meaning in life. We are donating posters of Hillary Clinton and of Kim Jong-un so that the children will have people to look up to.
Francine Smith and Deborah Coolidge

Dear Ms Bramley,
I was outraged to see the poster hanging up in your classroom during the third open day this year. There are many world leaders that would serve as an example to the children… but that!!!… Please remove it or we shall be forced to send Petros and Stavros to another school. The Clintons are no example to tender minds.
Boadicea Whitelock

Dear Ms Bramley,
The blank walls of your classroom during the fourth and final open day of the year was enough to make Dolores and I shudder. There wasn’t even a vase of flowers or any greenery or living creature exhibit in the classroom. How can the children learn to care for the planet when you present such a barren landscape?
Myrtle Bristlewick

Dear Ms Bramley,
Josie came home and said there’s a pet turtle in the classroom. No wonder the planet is on the verge of extinction when you entrap living creatures and enslave them away from the natural environment for selfish adulation and aggrandisement. Put it back where it was found, please.
Holly and Arnold Steptoe

Dear Mr and Mrs Bramley,
This note is to express our sorrow at the sudden and sadly self-inflicted passing of a much admired teacher and mentor. Charlotte adored her, and Nigel did too. In her memory we are donating a large framed poster to be hung in the school assembly hall, so that all will be inspired by your daughter’s life and death. It reads:
GOD SHED HIS GRACE ON THEE.
Yours sincerely,
Dirk and Bonnie Wotherspoon

1224. Testosterone

It was Fredericka’s first year of teaching at a High School. In fact, it was her first day. The principal had told her to “dress modestly”. Dress modestly! What an old-fashioned concept! What an old-fashioned expression! She would dress tastefully! Fashionably! Appropriately!

Fredericka chose to wear a loose white blouse with the top buttons undone. It was, after all, still hot from the dying summer. And she chose a “modest” brown skirt with a slit up to the lower thigh that was both cooling and feminine.

Well! The testosterone in the class of sixteen year old boys! Fredericka could smell it. It was overbearing.

“Boys! Boys! Open the windows! It’s stuffy in here!”

The excitement when Fredericka reached up to open a high window.

“Boys! Boys! Let us have less tomfoolery!”

That did it. That took the cake. Fredericka would not change the way she dressed. She wouldn’t change because of a classroom of chauvinistic sex-ridden boys. It’s the boys that needed to change. They needed to learn to produce less testosterone. Tomorrow she would begin such a lesson. She would wear the shortest skirt she could find, and God help any boy who misbehaved.

1049. New word for the day

Ok class just settle down and keep quiet for once. It’s time for us to look at “the new word for the day”. DAVID SMITH, SIT DOWN! It’s time for us to look at the “new word for the day”. Who threw that paper dart? Ok. Keep quiet. I SAID KEEP QUIET! Class will you shut up. Get your books out!

You’re all behaving like a typical class of fourteen year olds. Why am I not surprised? Get you books out and shut up.

Andrew Jones , you’re on detention after school.

Ok. Just leave him alone; leave him alone, Nigel Green. It’s time for us to look at the “new word for the day”. Ok. SHUT UP! SHUT UP! YOU’RE GETTING OUT OF CONTROL!

The new word for the day is MASTIGOPHOBIA!

Ok. That’s better. Silence at last.