Making a big production number of it, I walk to the whiteboard. Detention, I write on the top right hand corner. The ruckus continues. Raising my eyebrows in mock surprise at the foolishness of youth, I slowly underline the word; turn to face the class. I quietly exude the appearance of calm. Some students nudge other kids to get them to stop whatever they’re doing. ‘SHADDUP!!!’ someone yells, adding to the racket. After about a minute the group settles. I start to mark the roll. Someone, I can’t tell who, ‘blows a raspberry’. Raucous laughter. I wait. I return to the whiteboard with my marker. 2 mins, I write under Detention. To no effect.
‘I will keep certain people in at recess for fifteen minutes,’ I pronounce.
Brief silence. Then dramatic nose-covering. Girls have pulled the fronts of their dresses over their noses and mouths. Boys roar with laughter; fall off their chairs.
‘P-PHWAWWW!’ Don’t know how to spell that sound people make when they’re exaggerating how they feel because someone’s farted.
And someone had. It was snaking its tendrils right out to me at the front. Hard to quell that sort of disruption when you don’t know any of the students.
Giving up on settling the class, I turn to write the absent teacher’s instructions on the board. Some girls start mocking my name. Can’t tell who. Try not to emotionally engage with them. If I follow my ‘discipline plan’, I’ll cope. Five minutes later I evict a belligerent girl who’s screaming at me. Fifteen attempts at the ‘broken record’ technique – acknowledge the kid’s grievance then repeat assertive statement – failed to achieve anything. Clearly, she hadn’t read the book
For the next sixty minutes, the first fifteen having been wasted, I pace the room, assisting here and there – it’s a science lesson on light - and putting out ‘spot fires’. I have a heightened sense of anxiety for the duration.
At recess, I detain four students. I release one because she’s threatening to physically assault one of the other detainees, who’s called her a lesbian.
Twice each day since early November, this has been my reality..
A glut of junior school students. Not a bad collective noun for thirteen year olds one doesn’t know with whom one must interact. What I’ve failed to capture in the above scenario is the abject rudeness of these students. They are nasty. They treat me like shit. And they don’t even know me. This seems to be the default setting for so many teenagers these days.
Why the glut? I taught two year 12 classes. When they finished in November, the reward for all that extra-curricular preparation and marking is that one takes replacement classes. Fair enough. Junior and middle school teachers are still teaching and I’m swanning off.
When I tell non-teachers about replacements/extras/supply teaching they say things like ‘they wouldn’t do that to me’ or, ‘if you don’t like it get another job.’
And then I get defensive. Secondary teaching has been hard work, but mostly a great career. Or has it? It’s been manic, occasionally depressing, regularly bowel twistingly boring – that’s meetings – and joyous. A bit Ground Hog Day. I hope I’m still learning what I need to know.
Next year I’ve swapped my two year 12s for two year 8s.