Best to keep on the move on yard duty, twenty-five minutes of which I endure each week. (Full-time teachers get more.) Even better to grab some barbecue tongs and a bucket and pick up kids' rubbish. The time goes more quickly, the yard gets cleaned up and I can avoid engaging too closely with some of the bestial behaviour one is sure to encounter on one's tour.
But on this particular Friday, fate had other plans for me.
"Teachers on yard duty in Zone A need to be particularly vigilant. Especially at recess. We've had some serious fruit throwing incidents." That's the principal speaking. He does a spoonerism on fruit-throwing and laughs at his tongue trip. It is hard to say fruit-throwing fast.
Guess who's on yard duty in Zone A at recess.
I'm to plant myself amongst the picnic tables and watch for rogue Year 10 fruit throwers. Great. Standing still on yard duty invites confrontation with randoms: kids who don't know me and don't care that I Am A Respected Former VCE English Guru and Coordinator. Kids will generally utilise me as they see fit.
On good days, especially when the sun's shining, some kids will bail me up for the simple pleasure of a catch up. I love that.
Other days, I can be a prop in whatever boisterous game they're playing.
"Miss! Miss! Did you see what he did?" they cry as they climb up each other. I'm also 'barley'; the safety zone. If a kid's chasing you, run behind 'Miss'; dodge behind her, grab her by her hips and whip her around, your human shield preventing your assailant from catching you. That's me. Buffer zone. No matter that buffer zone is a 56 year old woman.
That's all good; part of what I signed on for back in 1974 when I accepted my studentship and guarantee of three years work in one of our state secondary schools. Thirty-two years later...
But on this particular TGIF, I am stuck guarding Zone A, at recess. I'm eating an apple. Several teachers scurry by on their way to the refuge of the staff room. "Now don't throw that apple core!" They all say words to that effect; wagging fingers. Hilarious.
I'm already attracting student attention. A couple of big boys gawp at me and laugh. I resist flipping them the bird.
My problem? I can't ignore all the blatant littering going on around me when there are three big green bins in the immediate area.
Girls are generally more discreet than boys. Girls gather in groups on the very expensive and quite aesthetically pleasing fake lawn. (Seriously, this stuff works.)
They cross their ankles and lower themselves effortlessly to the ground as thirteen year old girls are wont to do. Some hands are thrust deep into those little multipack snack bags. They blithely drop empty bags by their sides and let the breeze have them. Or they stand simultaneously and walk away, leaving a circle of tetra packs, orange peel, half eaten apples and sandwiches.
"Girls! Pop your rubbish in the bin, thanks!" I have to shout over school yard noise but my tone is polite.
"That's not ours. It was there when we got here." They're all stunned by my rude accusation. "Is she serious?? Oh my god!! Get a life!!"
"Put it in the bin! Now!"
They sullenly comply, casting me filthy looks, muttering.
How dare I demand that they put their own rubbish in the bin? Clearly I'm deranged and a Big Bitch to boot.
If I have somehow communicated that this school yard interaction is benign, it's not. You have to really stand your ground. Doesn't affect everyone like this, but my little heart will be thudding in my chest. It's a battle of wills. Yes, I know. I could just ignore it, and often I do. But yesterday I was stuck there.
That was when a portly boy strolled down the steps. He threw the lid of his icecream cup vaguely towards the bin. Suppose I should have just given him credit for trying and picked it up myself. But I didn't.
"You missed," I say. Well, he's had eye contact with the hapless teacher on fruit watch. What could I do? "Go back and put it in the bin."
He keeps swaggering towards his group of mates, all the time, eye-balling me.
I step towards him to block his path. "You can either pick up your own rubbish, or you can clean up this whole area."
Reluctantly he backs up. leans down and hurls the lid into bin, snarling at me now. He stomps to his group who've been watching the show, which unfortunately must go on. He scoops a huge spoonful of icecream and plops it onto the fake lawn.
"Clean it up."
"No." He's huge; towers over me. The crowd closes around me and Mr Plop, who continues to defy me.
My hackles rise as I'm taunted by twelve year olds, none of whom I can put a name to. My arms are out now, clearing a space around me. I order them off.
"Coordinator's office. Now." Mr Plop stands his ground. I reach behind him and steer him in the appropriate direction.
"Get your hands off me!" this gruff giant threatens.
"Yeah, what are you going to do?"
Without further physical contact I barrel the kid along the gauntlet of year 7s who part in front of him, with his melting strawberry swirl in one hand and his plastic spoon in the other.
He sits outside the coordinator's office and I feel ridiculous explaining the situation to the twenty-something male coordinator - who's in his second year of teaching, BTW, but, you know, he's the Year 7 coordinator; he has power - and a shitload of work that he's welcome to.
Mr Plop, true to form, denies any transgression.
"So you're calling me a liar?" I demand.
"Yes," he sneers.
"Leave it with me," says my young champion.
I trail off back to fruit watch, dragging my dignity behind me. Definitely didn't win that one.
Bet Mr Plop is in my class next year.
First world problems.