Tag Archives: teacher

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!)

1678. Fatty next door

Fatty Brown, who happens to live next door to me, is a know-all. I showed him one of my stories and he said I was wasting my time. As if he knows. He thinks he knows everything. You’d think he’d try to be more positive.

Anyway he’s so fat that when he gets into his swimming pool there’s no water left. I don’t know what he eats but he’s not only fat, he’s gross. He obviously doesn’t clean his teeth properly. And his dress sense is disgusting. If he’d dress like they did in the nineteen seventies he’d be more fashionable. Mind you, flares on a fat man is asking for trouble.

Fatty said my story needed more punch, but I didn’t want it to have punch. As I said when he criticized it, if you don’t like my story why don’t you write one yourself. I only showed it to him because he once had a poem published in some magazine so I thought he might know what I could do with my story. That’s the last time I’m going to show Fatty anything.

God, I hate some of my teachers.

1633. A salutary lesson

Hugo was a teacher of the old school. He believed that students were born with empty heads and it was his job to stuff knowledge into them. SIT DOWN, SHUT UP, AND LEARN.

Guntar was a teacher of more contemporary times. He believed students were born with heads full of knowledge. It was his job to gently draw knowledge out. Good morning everyone. What would you like to talk about today? Perhaps we could share how we feel about it.

Hugo and Guntar taught at the same school at the same time. They were both successful teachers. One pushed knowledge in, the other sweet-talked knowledge out. Well, the next thing was (would you believe?) Guntar was appointed the headmaster. The more liberal stance became official; in fact, it became compulsory.

We care about people. It is the humane way. It takes into account where the students are at and how they feel. You must coax the knowledge lovingly out of each student.

Hugo didn’t think much of the new directive. He complained at a staff meeting. Guntar answered:

“You call yourself a teacher? It’s conservative, right wing idiots like you who are not open to new ideas. I suggest you SIT DOWN, SHUT UP, AND LEARN. As free-minded people we prefer to share and do things in a more open liberal way. So use your initiative and do it my way.”

These days Hugo delivers mail on foot from house to house. It’s a job. Guntar, on the other hand, has risen to new heights; he’s now a bigwig in the Department of Education. Teachers beware! You had better SIT DOWN, SHUT UP, AND LEARN to be open and tolerant.

1612. Pretty garden flowers

There was nothing wrong with Shelley really. She was simply a goody-goody. She was one of those girls who was always proper and correct and nobody liked very much.

When the teacher gave students the task to write about their favourite thing in the garden, Shelley handed in what she thought to be the most beautiful reflection (complete with coloured-in drawings) of the poppies of Flanders Fields. She even stuck in a poem. Most of the other girls had gone in for something ordinary, like pansies. The boys, except for Gavin, went for potatoes or parsnips. But Shelley! Oh! exclaimed the teacher, what a darling! Oh it’s fabulous, Shelley! You have a wonderful gift! I have a special reward for you!

It was enough to make you sick.

You could tell. Shelley had a crush on the teacher. She was all starry-eyed and thought Mr Cvetkovic was the cat’s pyjamas. Personally, I hated Mr Cvetkovic, especially when after school he’d take me out to the school’s maintenance shed and tell me it was our little secret.

1522: Secret code

Ms Evelyn Zimmermann was frothing at the mouth. She was spitting tacks. Ms Zimmermann had spent two and a half months working out a complex, secret code. She would use it with her teenage literature class. They would decipher the code over a period of several weeks. She would help them bit by bit; a hint here and a hint there. The overriding question to answer was: What poem is hidden in the code? How exciting is that?

Ms Evelyn Zimmermann handed out the beautifully printed sheets. She had taken such care; the manuscripts were almost gilded. “This,” said Ms Zimmermann, “is the poem in code that together we shall decipher over the coming weeks.”

Willie Barros put up his hand. “The poem is obviously Tintern Abbey by William Wordsworth.”

Ms Evelyn Zimmermann was shocked beyond belief. She was thunderstruck. She was gobsmacked. Months of planning and several weeks of planned pedagogy had gone down the gurgler in seconds. To make matters worse, she would have to give the upstart student a high mark for his know-all insolence. She’d never liked him. He was one of those nerdy students – a goody-two-shoes with no personality. He had pimples and absolutely no dress sense. He was one of those completely yucky adolescent boys whose half broken voice squawked up and down like a clucky chicken.

“That’s very clever of you, Willie,” said Ms Zimmermann sweetly. “How did you know that?”

Willie Barros explained the code in detail. “The answer just came to me, almost without thinking,” he said. He was particularly pleased with himself, although he didn’t say so, because Ms Zimmermann was always nasty to him, although she pretended to be kind. In fact, at times she was downright cruel. Tyrannical even. She preferred the better-looking students.

That’s why, over the last few months, Willie Barros had hacked into her computer and knew everything there was to know.

1498. Hi Magdalen

Hi Magdalen
This’ll have to be a quick note because my wife’s due home any minute. I just want to say that little Julia is loving being in your class. She came home singing Little Bo Peep and Mary Had a Little Lamb. I also wanted to say that I’m pretty upset about the rumours of you having an affair with one of the parents. If my name gets out I won’t be at all happy. Hopefully we can carry on. Speaking of which – when’s the next parents’ interview evening?
Herb McCauley

Hi Magdalen
This’ll have to be a quick note because my wife’s due home any minute. I just want to say that little Archie is loving being in your class. He came home singing Little Bo Peep and Mary Had a Little Lamb. I also wanted to say that I’m pretty upset about the rumours of you having an affair with one of the parents. If my name gets out I won’t be at all happy. Hopefully we can carry on. Speaking of which – when’s the next parents’ interview evening?
Clive McCormick

Hi Magdalen
This’ll have to be a quick note because my wife’s due home any minute. I just want to say that little Francesca is loving being in your class. She came home singing Little Bo Peep and Mary Had a Little Lamb. I also wanted to say that I’m pretty upset about the rumours of you having an affair with one of the parents. If my name gets out I won’t be at all happy. Hopefully we can carry on. Speaking of which – when’s the next parents’ interview evening?
Jack Flanagan

Hi Magdalen
This’ll have to be a quick note because my wife’s due home any minute. I just want to say that little Bart is loving being in your class. He came home singing Little Bo Peep and Mary Had a Little Lamb. I also wanted to say that I’m pretty upset about the rumours of you having an affair with one of the parents. If my name gets out I won’t be at all happy. Hopefully we can carry on. Speaking of which – when’s the next parents’ interview evening?
Ivan Ainsworth

Dear Parents
I’m happy to announce that Clarissa Dobbs will be the replacement teacher while Magdalen
is on maternity leave.
Charles Allen
Principal

1478. Sex in the classroom

Ms Daphne McHathaway was a wonderful teacher. She had a class of ten-year olds. They loved her. Well, they did until…

Everyone was stunned to hear her say, “Class! Class! What do you know about sex?”

There was a stunned silence. Then brave Johnny Overall ventured to say, “Not much, Miss. Perhaps you can tell us about it.”

“I’m not sure I’d be allowed to,” said Ms McHathaway. “You had better ask your parents first.”

Not every child went home and asked their parents. Some were too scared to broach the subject. Others simply blurted it out at dinner time. “Can Ms McHathaway tell us about sex?”

There was outrage from some quarters. Opposition against Ms McHathaway went from the frying pan into the fire. It grew into a conflagration. In the end, the parents were called to a meeting at the school.

“You should not try to usurp the duty of parents,” expostulated Mr Freddie Turnbull.

“I don’t know what the problem is,” said Ms McHathaway. “All I wondered, with the separation of church and state, whether I was allowed to teach them about sects.”