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Life in an Inner City Primary - Chapter 3: Sit down, Faheem!

by flock1 

Posted: 10 July 2006
Word Count: 1747

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Chapter 3 Sit Down, Faheem!

ON THE FIRST OF OUR THREE DAYS AT HARTFIELD FIRST SCHOOL, Jenny O’Hara and I met up in the staffroom. Jenny was a fellow student teacher in her late twenties with two children of her own. She seemed nice, though a little nervous. We sat down to have a coffee.
The school was located in the middle of an inner city council estate in the heart of Bradford. It was an area renowned for crime and social deprivation. I knew this, because I lived in it. As Jenny and I sipped our drinks, a bespectacled woman in her thirties walked into the staffroom. She introduced herself as Mrs Carson, the Class 4 teacher.
She explained that her class comprised of twenty-nine children, all of Pakistani origin. Three members of the class had major learning difficulties, but the main problem was a boy called Faheem. “He has real behavioural difficulties,” Mrs Carson said wiping her glasses. “He’d already been excluded twice last month. You’ll want to watch out for him. Come on, I’ll show you to my classroom.”
Fifteen minutes later, at five to nine, Class 4 trooped in, children aged eight and nine. Most ignored us, but some came up asking who we were. Mrs Carson ushered them to their seats and introduced us, telling her class we were new teachers. She then started the morning register. Most children sat quietly reading books but one boy did not.
“Faheem.” said Mrs Carson calmly. “Please sit on your chair.”
I took special note of the boy now identified as Faheem, taking a mental mug shot. He was a smallish boy with a close crop of black hair atop an angular head. He was standing by the desk of another boy, talking. He openly ignored his teacher.
“Faheem,” repeated Mrs Carson, with an air of resignation. This charade was clearly something that happened often. “Please sit down and read your book.”
The boy turned around to look at his teacher and then after a final message to his friend, slinked to his seat. “Okay, miss,” he said with a smirk. Mrs Carson carried on with the register.
For the rest of the day, Jenny and I watched Mrs Carson in action. She seemed a good teacher. The way she organised various activities and at the same time dealt with Faheem and his small band of sycophants, reminded me of those Greek waiters who spin plates on sticks for amusement. It was all a balancing act, and one Mrs Carson was clearly skilled at.
At the end of the day, after the children had gone, Mrs Carson checked through our lesson plans. She was making sure we were prepared. The key moment in our careers was due to happen the following morning. Jenny and I were going to take Class 4 all by ourselves. I couldn’t wait. I was particularly relishing the prospect of whipping Faheem into shape. He wouldn’t know what had hit him.

“SIT DOWN!” I yelled at Faheem. He ignored me. Louder this time: “SIT DOWN, FAHEEM!” It had absolutely no effect. I didn’t know what to do. My temples began to throb. Jenny looked stunned. Our lesson wasn’t going according to plan. In fact, it wasn’t going at all.
It had started okay. Mrs Carson had completed the morning register then informed the class that Jenny and I would be taking them for the rest of the lesson. With that, she’d left us in charge of Class 4.
Forming a united front, Jenny and I stepped to the front, surveying the children staring back. My mouth was dry, my hands slick with sweat, and then my brain went into neutral. Fear must have radiated from every pore. Jenny took control, telling the class they’d be starting with some number work. After some groans of disapproval, the class were told to get their maths books out. This proved to be our first mistake.
Suddenly every child jumped from their seats towards a pile of maths books on a shelf at the back. Immediately there was pushing, shoving, elbowing and violent jostling everywhere. One girl, who’d been pushed out of the melee, ended up on the floor in tears. I decided to take positive action. “STOP!” I yelled.
No one took any notice.
Stop at once!” shouted Jenny.
Still no one took any notice. Faheem was at the centre of the disorder.
“Sit down, Faheem!” I boomed to no avail.
Jenny rushed to the crying girl, helping her to stand up while I surveyed the mad crush, simply waiting for things to die down. There was nothing else I could do. A few minutes later, most children were back in their seats though none looked ready to learn. With Jenny still tending the sniffling girl, I started the lesson without her. “Okay, Class 4,” I said, trying to speak over the chatting and laughing. “We’re going to learn about division. Who can tell me what division means?”
No one answered because no one was paying a blind bit of notice.
This wasn’t how it was supposed to be. I started to feel angry with the whole class. How dare they act as if I wasn’t there? I felt steam beginning to rise through my brain. From somewhere a pencil arced across the room. Then someone swore. I decided to shout at the top of my lungs. “THAT’S IT! I’ve had enough! I’m going to send people to Mrs Carson!”
Some children looked at me, and quite a few stopped talking. Jenny, now seated at a table to my left, looked at me with what seemed hope, or perhaps pity. I continued speaking in a raised voice. “I want everyone to sit down, fold their arms and put their fingers on their lips. Anyone who doesn’t will be sent out.”
Everyone, including Faheem, sat down following my orders. I was in control and felt a surge of mightiness pour through me. What power I wielded! I was master of the classroom! Then I made the second mistake of the lesson. I asked the children to get their rulers and pencils out.
Immediately every child exploded from their seats in an effort to reach the stationary drawer first. It was pure madness and I was helpless to control it. My powers of command had deserted me as swiftly as they’d arrived. “Sit down!” I yelled, but like before, no one paid me any heed. Some children actually laughed. It was humiliating. It was a disaster. The classroom was in total chaos.
Mrs Carson entered the room, evidently alerted by the screams and shouts. What she saw must have been the exact definition of a classroom gone bad. “Class 4!” she shrieked. “Stop!”
Everyone did. It was that simple. All heads turned towards her. When she told them to sit back in their places, they all did so, even Faheem. The classroom became silent. The transformation was amazing. My ears were still ringing.
“I’ll take over,” Mrs Carson told Jenny and I. She turned towards her class, regarding them with an icy stare. Shamed by her expert display of classroom control, we crept off to the back where we sat and watched an expert at work. Being a teacher was almost a black science. How could they stand there and make it all look so simple? And where had it all gone wrong for us? These were questions I’d come to ask myself again and again.
The next day, we had another go. Learning from our earlier mistake, we’d already set out the necessary books and stationary during lunchtime. When Class 4 came in, both Jenny and I were standing at the front. We waited for everyone to sit down.
“Right then, Class 4,” Jenny said, when the noise had dropped to bearable levels. “Mr Hunt and I are going to give stickers to good children.”
I nodded, retrieving said items from my pocket. I showed the goodies on offer. The class seemed to like what they saw, and some even sat up straighter. It was then I learnt Rule Number One about teaching. Praising good behaviour works better than berating poor behaviour. Holding the stickers enticingly, I told the class about the science activity they’d be doing. Just then though I spotted a kafuffle near the back involving a couple of boys. Deciding to act decisively, nipping the problem in the bud, I addressed the boys. “You two! What’s going on?” I glared in what I hoped was a threatening manner.
“Nowt,” answered one of the boys. “Akram’s farted and it stinks!”
The whole class erupted into laughter.
Once more, Jenny and I were faced with a situation we had no way of dealing with. No lecture at college had ever mentioned how to deal with issues like the one we now faced.
“Err!” shouted a girl, covering her nose. “It stinks! I’m gonna be sick!”
Jenny asked for quiet while I waved the stickers about. This tactic worked somewhat. Soon a third of the class became quiet. However, it didn’t last long. Another boy spoke up. “Tell him, Miss! He’s kickin me under the table.”
“Shurrup,” said the other boy. “I didn’t do owt.” He then elbowed his accuser. A shriek of pain became audible over the growing unrest in the classroom. And then the fight broke out.
Over on my left, Faheem had the boy next to him in a headlock. He was banging the poor lads head onto the desk. I could hear dull thuds. Jenny screeched at Faheem to stop, but he carried on. Frantic, I sent someone to fetch Mrs Carson while I rushed over to Faheem’s desk. At that moment, Faheem released the boy, then rose from his seat. As he made his way to the door, he looked over at me. “He shouldn’t have called me dad a puff.” He left the classroom.
Mrs Carson returned and took over once more. She told us that Faheem had run off home. She took the class for the rest of the lesson. Once more we sat at the back wondering how on earth teachers put up with kids like Faheem day after day.
At three o’ clock, standing outside the school gates, both Jenny and I were glad we’d seen the last of Hartfield First School. Being in charge of a class had been an unmitigated disaster. All we wanted now was to go home and lick our wounds.

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Comments by other Members

Cornelia at 19:58 on 12 July 2006  Report this post
I was really rivetted by this, perhaps remembering the awfulness of encountering for the very first time situations I had no idea how to deal with. Students love new teachers, and your description makes it clear why. I like the introduction of a possible romantic thread.

I spell it 'kerfuffle'.



should puff be pouf?

Richard Brown at 16:52 on 14 July 2006  Report this post
Gripping stuff and painfully honest. A very satisfying read.

I noticed 'stationary' for 'stationery' a couple of times and 'lads head' instead of 'lad's head' - both the kind of tiny things that defeat spellcheckers - but nothing detracted from the tale. You must have overcome eventually, of course, because you were for so long a teacher. I'm looking forward to learning how you managed to take charge!


crazylady at 08:57 on 19 August 2006  Report this post
Oh Jason,
Scary! If this is what it's like (and I'm sure it is, because your honesty comes over loud and clear) then I'm having second thoughts about teaching.
I'm going to dash over to the next chapter to see how you learn to handle these situations.

crazylady at 08:57 on 19 August 2006  Report this post
Oh Jason,
Scary! If this is what it's like (and I'm sure it is, because your honesty comes over loud and clear) then I'm having second thoughts about teaching.
I'm going to dash over to the next chapter to see how you learn to handle these situations.

crazylady at 08:57 on 19 August 2006  Report this post
Oh Jason,
Scary! If this is what it's like (and I'm sure it is, because your honesty comes over loud and clear) then I'm having second thoughts about teaching.
I'm going to dash over to the next chapter to see how you learn to handle these situations.


OOPs! laptop playing up posted it 3 times. Sorry.

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