Chris – June
My first day and I'm late, isn’t it typical. It would be today that the car breaks down, and the busses are late, and that I get lost in this school because the guide didn’t turn up.
By the time I find the classroom 10 minutes of the lesson have passed. That’s a record even for me. I get lost so easily. The head is waiting for me, and he doesn’t look impressed at all. He has the same kind of glare that an angry bull might have just before it strikes, not a look I like to be confronted with.
“Mr Blake I presume?” Ouch, I think Mr Talbot is having a bad morning.
“Yes, sir. Sorry I’m late. The traffic was terrible, and there was no guide like there should have been. It was all a mess.”
“Just don’t be late every day. This is your class. Good luck”
I try again to apologise for my lateness, and explain my reasons. He just waves them away with his hand, asks me if I have everything ready for the week, then wanders out. I’ve been a teacher here 5 minutes and already I want to stay on the good side of that guy.
Once it’s just me and the class I relax a little. “Sit down everyone, please.” I don’t know why they were all standing up in the first place, it just made me uncomfortable, like I was the queen or something. I loosen my tie off and start the day. A list of 30 new names to learn, and that’s just the starter for ten. I have mannerisms and characters to learn, not to mention the rules of the school. This is going to be a long first term.
At a first glance the class look bright enough, except for that fact that all of them look bored. I haven’t even started talking yet. What a great start. I begin by taking the register. “I don’t know any of you yet, so I’m going to ask you to raise your hands when I call your name, just so I can put names to faces. Ok?” There’s a groan from a few of the pupils, along with a few eye rolls. Something tells me I'm not going to like this group all that much. The only person in the class paying attention any attention at all is a girl sat right at the back, and she doesn’t look that riveted. Still, at least she’s looking forwards.
Name after name after name nobody really makes any effort to move at all. It’s as if their hands are glued to the desks, all except Anne Rowcroft, she raises her hand at a strange angle, or is she just stretching? It’s hard to tell. She’s quite slim but not without a figure, blue eyes and very long brownish blonde hair. Just the typical teenage girl really. Her hair is straight today, but who knows, it might naturally be curly. She gives me a very odd look as I check off her name, almost like she’s sizing me up as prey. Something tells me she’s going to be trouble. “Right, that’s the boring stuff out of the way. Let’s get down to some Shakespeare.”
The moment I start talking it’s like the entire class has fallen asleep. Heads are actually on desks in some places. By this time though, I'm counting today as a lost cause, so I just keep on talking. One of them might absorb something, or at least, I hope they will. Once again it’s Anne that’s almost paying attention. She’s staring at me, possibly daydreaming, but it’s nice that she’s making an effort to look like she’s listening. That very effort is what makes me let her off when she flicks a note across the desk. The other girl doesn’t look all that interested as she writes back, but then she doesn’t seem to look all that interested in anything. Is this really what I’ve gotten myself in for?
By about half way through this lesson I can tell that basically nobody is interested at all in Shakespeare, or any of his works. Even the most gruesome parts of Hamlet or Macbeth don’t entice them. That’s never good news. I write facts on the board in the vain hope that someone might take notice, but I don’t hold my breath. Every now and again I turn from my diagram to see if anyone is paying attention, with little joy. Only Anne is looking at me at all; and I'm certain that she’s daydreaming. Every time I turn she has the same glazed look on her face, as if she’s looking at something far out to sea.
“Well, that’s the end of today’s lesson. As it’s the first time I’ve seen you all, I won’t set any homework. That will come later on, when I know you all a little better. I know it’s very hot today, and that has put a damper on concentration, so hopefully it will cool down, and we can all get some better work done next lesson. Have a good day everyone.” I know none of them really care about having a good day. All they care about is getting out of my classroom as fast as possible. I know it, and they know it, but as a teacher it’s my job to pretend that they’re interested. No matter what.
I’m sorry I haven’t written since I moved here, everything has been a little hectic. I’ve hardly had time to unpack everything.
I started my new job today. It was a disaster. Every class I had was uninterested in the subject, and I mean completely uninterested. They didn’t even look up half the time. I’m not really sure if I’m going to fit in here yet. I guess all I can do is try. I’m sure it can’t be all bad, not all the time.
It’s the middle of summer here, which really isn’t helping matters all that much. I know as well as any teacher that students really don’t work well in the heat. All they do is fan themselves with their books and wish for time to move faster so they can be outside faster. I wouldn’t mind so much, but they really don’t pay attention to anything that I say. The only time any student really looks up is when I dismiss them. Only one, possibly two students show promise, but even then it’s a long shot. I will have to keep you posted on that front.
Give my love to mum, and mess up Rosie’s hair for me.
More summer days, more lessons. My first impressions of the class were correct. Very few of them are even remotely interested in what I'm talking about. It makes me wonder whether or not they actually wanted to take the subject at all. On a particularly hot day I allowed the students to remove their ties. On reflection, I'm not sure if that was a good idea or not. Its Anne again. She’s wearing her shirt buttoned so low that she’s almost indecent. I'm sure that’s not part of the uniform, but then, nor is letting them not wear ties. She’s fanning herself with a book, I wonder if she knows that the boy next to her is ogling her boobs, but then, he seems to do that all the time anyway. Dan Hunter, he even looks thick. I’m certain evolution kept some men as gorillas. That boy really needs to learn that a woman is for more than just ogling. Just as I'm turning back to the board I could swear she winks at me! I don’t know if it’s me or the heat but I can feel my face burning as I turn away. Surely she wasn’t winking at me?
I know it’s too hot for any of the students to really be concentrating on Macbeth, but it’s my job to try. I can tell that none of them are interested but I can’t just give up on them. It would be wrong. After the wink Anne starts to become more and more, well, flirtatious I guess. She glances at me while flicking at her hair or chewing her pen, it’s disconcerting and I'm not sure what she’s trying to achieve. Her friend keeps rolling her eyes in her general direction too. They must be planning something; some scheme to make my lessons hell; a ploy or some devious trick that will make either everyone pay even less attention, or that will make me quit. If nobody shows any motivation, I may end up doing that anyway.
Eventually, finally someone starts taking an interest, and its Anne. She has become a little star. She’s handing work in on time, and completed to a good standard. I don’t know if she’s simply decided to take an interest, or if she likes this module or what but I'm glad of it. I was starting to wonder if it was my teaching. It’s really difficult to talk to a class who are all giving you the same glazed look that a cow would give an oncoming train. It seems that now I'm almost giving her my full attention, but in a way that’s because she’s the only pupil in this class worth teaching. None of the others care what they do in this lesson. I hope somebody doesn’t call me up on favouritism, I know I give her a lot of praise. Overall though, I think she deserves it.
The weather is turning against me I'm sure of it. What little bit of attention I get from these kids disappears as the heat rises. Even Anne seems to be finding the heat a strain. She’s still top of the class though. Mind you, she has taken to wearing some terribly short skirts, it’s no wonder my students can’t concentrate with those legs looking at them. I know I shouldn’t notice these things, but it’s hard not to. Especially when you can see the stocking tops... No. She’s a student for goodness sake!
I can see that the class just won’t work inside, it’s stifling. In a last desperate attempt to teach them anything I decide against my better judgement to break the rules, again. The first time everyone looks up all lesson is when I stop talking. I tell the kids to grab their stuff and follow me outside. I feel a swell of pride as they follow me through the corridors, for the first time ever the entire class has listened to me. Anne was the first to move, no surprises there, but everyone else listened too. If it can happen once, it can happen again.
Once we’re outside I feel so much more relaxed. There is a breeze and the students look more interested in what we’re going to do. We all sit on the floor and I begin to talk. I don’t have every single person’s attention, but at least half of the class are looking at me now. I think that might just be a record. Out of the corner of my eye I catch Anne’s friend, Bella I think her name is, whispering to her. Whatever she said it made Anne cover her chest quite quickly, she was showing rather a lot. Sometimes it worries me that she doesn’t think about how much of herself she shows off. I wonder what makes her think she needs to, or who.
The lesson flies by with us all out in the air. There is less muttering and I'm sure more people have actually taken in some information, even if it’s not that much. I find it easier to teach them like this too. It’s so much more relaxed, I can just chat to them rather than having to stand at the front of a room and talk at them all. They ask questions! For the first time someone who isn’t Anne has asked a question. I'm stunned. Perhaps I should break the rules more often. Well, the little rules at least, just as long as Mr Talbot doesn’t find out.
As weeks and lessons go on, I notice Anne’s work is slipping a little. She doesn’t seem as focused as she was, she’s not asking questions and she’s getting low grades. I can’t place what it might be wrong with her, perhaps issues at home, I don’t know. I hope it doesn’t last too long though, she’s my best student. I want to ask, but I don’t think I should pry, she’s a teenage girl, she would just think I'm weird. Crazy English teacher. Still, I hope she’s ok.
Staff rooms are so dull. Full of teachers talking about their best and worst students, drinking tea and marking work. It’s always the same. Most of these people wouldn’t know character if it jumped up and bit them on the nose. I don’t really talk to anyone yet. Mrs West is nice enough, but I’m certain she has been at this school since the Stone Age. She even looks like a dinosaur. Her and some of the other English teachers, Ms Rose, Mr Chan, Mr Brooks. Mostly I avoid them, all they talk about is the next assignment, or some student they share. Never anything interesting really, nothing that I could relate to. Being the new guy is terrible.
“Good afternoon Ms Rose, having a good day so far?” I suppose it’s best to make an effort to be polite, even if I know she’s only going to complain and then storm off for her 5th cup of tea. She’s always the same. Tough old dragon.
“It’s been dreadful as usual. These students think they know so much, I would like to see them get through an English exam without me!”
“Terrible isn’t it, I just try my best with them, some listen, some don’t. But at the end of the day, it will be them who suffers, not us.” Not that this cranky old bat really knows what a positive outlook is!
“That might be the new way of teaching Mr Blake, but that’s not how they did it in my day, and that’s not how I’m going to do it now! I need a cup of tea. Good day.”
Another lesson where Anne hardly says anything. I have to ask her what’s wrong. I don’t care if she thinks I'm a creep, this matters. I'm going to do it after the lesson. When her friends have gone, I can make it sound like work stuff, then she will tell them to go, that she will catch up. That will work. She might tell me if we’re alone. I'm certain that something is wrong. She just isn’t like this.
The local pub is a nice place, I suppose. Even if nobody really talks to me, mostly because nobody really knows me, it beats drinking alone. The bartender is nice, we chat quite a lot when he as the time. It’s not a busy place either, just the regulars and every now and again a few people who play darts. I wonder how long it will take me to make friends here, everybody seems to have their niche already. I’ve decided I am going to ask Anne what’s wrong, I can’t just leave it, she’s my best student. I want to be the kind of teacher that the kids can talk to, the kind that they can trust.
“Closing up now Chris” that means time to go back to the flat. My plain boring flat, I really should decorate, at some point I’ll get around to it. The main issue at the moment is Anne. I’ll talk to her tomorrow, after class. I’ll ask her then.
She was struggling. I knew something had to be up. Even though she didn’t tell me what was making it all go wrong for her, now I can help a little. She’s going to come for extra lessons once a week. It will mean being home a bit late, but it’s not like there will be anyone waiting for me. Just the kettle, and Jimmy, the goldfish. I think I’d rather be in school; at least there someone needs me. I guess that’s one reason I wanted to teach, it’s nice to be needed.
Catch up day. Normally, a time held for the less intelligent people, for those less than capable of, well, anything really. I’ve never stayed before, and I have to say, I’m almost looking forward to it. I know that my student is intelligent, so that’s a plus. I don’t hate her, and she doesn’t irritate me like some of my students, that and I think she will catch up really quickly. That looks good both sides, on hers because she’s getting good grades again, and on mine because I caught her up so fast. I really need to get on the good side of Mr Talbot, I’m certain he has something against me. Apparently nobody ever gets lost and late on their first day, it’s not my fault this school is a maze and most of the students are insolent morons with no respect for anyone.
“Hello? Mr Talbot? Are you here?”
“This is my office Mr Blake, it is where I tend to be.”
“Right, yes. Of course, how silly of me. I need to talk to you about arranging an extra lesson with a pupil, on the catch up evening. How do I go about arranging it?”
“You tell the student to turn up, and you teach them, if you don’t think they will attend you call their parents. It is not a complicated procedure.”
“Oh, right. Good. Thank you sir.”
“Good day Mr Blake”
After my last lesson everyone practically runs for the door. It’s like some kind of race to get themselves away before I could possibly say one more thing. They all scurry away until the only people left in the room are Ann, and myself. We just stand staring at each other for a while, like we don’t quite know what to do. It’s almost awkward. I gesture for her to take a seat, and I sit opposite her. Still awkward, but I begin. As I start to ask her questions she looks like she’s drifting into another world, dreaming. I almost start to wonder if she can hear me at all. Eventually she vaguely murmurs about not understanding why Hamlet went crazy. That I can manage. Even though, for the first time ever, I’m not sure if she’s listening. I begin to talk.
“And that, in short, is why Hamlet went mad.” It took far less time than I thought it would too. 20 minute tops. I thought this would take much longer, but it seems that’s all she needed. Just as I start packing away my things she asks me another question. But, from the tone in her voice I can tell that it’s not going to be work related, and I’m right. She’s asking me for relationship advice. Me! I guess she doesn’t know about my terrible relationship success, or the fact that I’ve not been in a relationship for the past 3 years. It’s nice that she trusts me enough to ask, but still. What do I say to a teenage girl asking me about dating overseas? “It might work, if you’re lucky, but they often don’t. Don’t be disappointed if it all goes wrong.” That’s the best I could come up with. Some great help you are Chris. I walk her to the door and say goodbye. Hopefully I helped.
I can’t stop thinking about that question my entire drive home. Does she really think that she has to date over the internet? She’s a bright young woman, surely she doesn’t think that the best she can do is someone she might never meet. She should know that she’s better than that, that she deserves better than that.