Miscellany of Memorable Moments
Previously I’ve written about my darkest days in teaching because I think it should be recognised that these things happen in schools. However, more often schools are places where funny, bizarre and embarrassing things happen; things you never forget.
Here are some of mine:
Bad first day.
I was late to work on the first day in my first job. I started running out of petrol and got lost in the outskirts of Wigan looking for a petrol station. When the Principal introduced me to the staff, I was still frantically driving down a country lane in a hot sweat, looking for signs to Billinge. Later that day, the Head of PE gave me a verbal roasting for going into the gym in my outdoor shoes. It turns out he thought I was in the Lower Sixth….he apologised later; it broke the ice. Slightly stressed out, I lit a cigarette in the staff room (it was 1987…I didn’t know better then) and a Maths teacher told me to “piss off”. It got better after that.
At APS, a Y11 girl won a Radio 1 phone-in contest where the prize was a day with a popstar. Daniel Beddingfield surprised her at the end of her street on her walk to school and spent the whole day in her lessons. At lunch time he did a 30 minute set on a catwalk-style stage in the school hall. We were all getting down with the kids singing along to ‘Gotta Get Thru This’.
Oxide and Neutrino also put in a surprise visit one afternoon. One of our boys got up on stage with them and proved himself to be an extraordinary rapper. Sadly, a year or so later, his picture from CCTV was on the front page of the Evening Standard as one of ‘London’s most notorious pickpockets.’
Alistair Campbell came to our first proper GCSE celebration evening at APS as Guest of Honour. This was memorable for his bemusement when a colleague and I played a song we’d written. It meant something to the students – with some of the lyrics written for them- but Alistair thought it was very strange for teachers to sing in front of parents. The most memorable thing was that a few students refused to shake his hand in protest; they told him it was because of Iraq and WMD.
David Blunkett and Tony Blair visited Holland Park not long after Labour won the election in 1997, to launch one policy or other. Our plans for a carefully stage-managed visit disintegrated when they arrived late and drove straight into the school grounds during break. They were mobbed like rock stars…it was quite amazing. Kids were chanting ‘Tony, Tony..’ I escorted David Blunkett through the melay to sanctuary. He said “gosh, is it always this noisy?” Sadly, it often was.
On one of my PGCE placements at South Manchester High School in Wythenshawe, Channel Four News came along to report on strike action in 1987. We closed for a half-day in what was a major event at the time. The news crew wanted to shoot a ‘walk-out’ as if we were working at a Leyland factory in the 70s…and bizarrely the staff complied. We gathered inside the doors and, on a signal, we all marched out in a line past the camera. The funny bit was that everyone had left their stuff inside so we all went back inside again to get our coats and car keys. My mum saw me on the telly that evening. She asked if you were allowed to strike during a PGCE placement. I wasn’t even in a union then but no one seemed to mind.
Anti Iraq sit-in
At APS in 2004/5, there was a big student anti-war march planned in central London. Some of our Y11 students wanted to go and, although we sympathised with their cause, we said no. They weren’t satisfied and decided to “occupy” the playground. The core protest group soon attracted the attention of pretty much everyone else and we were faced with hundreds of students sitting down refusing to go to lessons. It was quite an unusual behaviour management dilemma being faced with such blatant defiance…the SLT acting as a proxy for Tony Blair. In the end we picked off some ‘ring leaders’ and then the rest followed. They were actually quite relieved…it had turned into something much bigger than they’d bargained for.
Lockdown Pot Noodles
At BIS, Jakarta, security was an ever-present concern. Terrorist attacks against foreigners had been all too real as evidenced by the Bali bombings and a couple of Jakarta hotel bombs. Every day cars were checked for bombs and the school had armed security guards. As well as fire drills, we also had a routine for a lockdown in case of an armed intruder. The kids had to sit under tables in silence and blinds were drawn. My job was to patrol to check no-one could be seen or heard; it was eerie. One SLT meeting, the whole thing got out of hand. We started talking about a siege scenario where, for communal safety we would gather students together in the large gym. Someone said we might need to be there for overnight..maybe up to 48 hours..,and what would we do for food…we’d need a special stockpile of dry food…maybe ‘pop mie’ (the Asian pot noodle)…but which flavours should we buy? We’d completely lost the plot by this point…and everyone started to laugh. The pot noodle scenario never arose.
Holland Park Talk.
In my first week as a supply teacher I remember a Y9 girl saying: Get your disgusting spots out of my face Man. She was talking to me. It was eye-opening. Although painful at times, I grew to enjoy the linguistic contortions of defiance and friendship.
That’s liberties Sir man; innit I’ve done my work..What are you lying for man..look at all my writing. (Two sentences…)
That’s Deep…allow it man…I swear down man, that’s a liberty. Libs! (On being given a detention)
IS it! Is it that I did that? Am I talking? No. No, I am not talking. Teacher’s a fool man. Swear down. Get me. (On being asked to stop talking in class)
You’ve got bare chips man. Allow me some….
Leave him man; He’s safe; allow it. ….(A noble act of protection from bullying)
That is Deep. That is Sick. That is Bad. That is Dark. He is Salt/Beef/Butterz. (Various!)
I told him blatant. Dis me: Don’t come to me; don’t even try that. Get me. Dis him: Safe man, safe. I’m joking you. Dis me: Safe,safe, Allow that. (Reported speech)
Misguided Moroccan Muslims.
I taught some challenging Moroccan boys at HPS. They used to use their faith as a shield. Strangely absent for large parts of Fridays, this was always because ‘I go Mosque innit’. Er, no it wasn’t. Actually it was a regular excuse for some cotching in Holland Park. And during Ramadan, they imagined they developed some immunity to all allegations of wrong-doing. ‘How could it be me though? I’m fasting innit!’ Right, as if that stopped them nicking people’s things or swearing at a teacher!
Behaviour Management Atrocities
As I’ve shared elsewhere, I didn’t always find behaviour management easy. I made lots of mistakes…losing my temper and my self-control. Some of my errors include:
Locking a boy in the prep room over lunch. I’d parked him there when he’d disrupted my lesson and then completely forgot about him.
Getting angry with a boy for missing my detention, finding him in the dinner hall and ceremonially throwing his food away. He was on free school meals and I said I didn’t care – I was that angry. I’d lost the plot; his parents went mad. I’m not proud of it.
Chasing a Y9 student who ducked under my arm when I tried to keep him back after class. I was so affronted, my angry switch went off; I ran down the corridor, down the stairs, out to the school driveway…and still couldn’t catch him. A more experienced colleague stopped me. ‘What on earth are you doing?’ I had no idea…
Throwing a student’s book down the stairwell after losing my patience. I told him to leave the class, to go wherever he wanted, picked up his stuff and chucked it down three floors. It felt good for about 3 seconds…but there were repercussions. Gosh, those early days were rough. I got better; I grew up.
Drunk history candidate…
In my first term at KEGS, we had to recruit a history teacher. One of the candidates turned up looking very ill. I was called over to see him and asked him to walk over to my office. He could barely stand up, and staggered along the corridor grabbing for the wall. I sat him down and saw that he had a completely empty wine bottle in his bag. He was completely intoxicated and it was only 8.30am. I told him he could not participate in the process and we’d get a taxi to take him home. His pleaded with me: ‘Give us a chance….I’ll be fine.’
That was a ‘no’ from me. Tragic really; he was so young to be an alcoholic. He was still on his PGCE at the time; I don’t think he passed.
In the early days at APS we started running Year 8 day trips to Boulogne. For many kids it was their first trip abroad. The trip included a hefty chunk of ‘free time’ in the town. This had mixed results. The most delightful moment was finding Latoya and Elena sitting in a cafe in their fake fir coats (they’d dressed up for the day) having ordered moules in French. They were living out a fantasy of French sophistication in style. This was in sharp contrast to the way the day ended: a police van turning up to our meeting point where we were desperately worried about losing three boys. They’d been arrested for shop-lifting bangers and pen-knives. What a day.