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Life in an Inner City Primary - Chapter 6: Turmoil

by flock1 

Posted: 25 July 2006
Word Count: 1437

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Chapter 6 - Turmoil

“Morning,” said a child’s voice. I turned around to see Robyn. She was looking at me with genuine concern. “You alright, Mr Hunt?”
I was by myself in the classroom. Ken Jones had told me I was having Class 5J for the morning. He was in the staffroom catching up with his paperwork. I smiled and nodded at the girl. I asked her if she’d seen Justin. When she shook her head I felt a sickening jolt in the pit of my innards. Three more children filed in. No one had seen him. Perhaps he was in the Head’s office with his furious parents? Or worse, in hospital? Another blast of nausea hit me. Then Justin walked in.
“Morning,” he said as he hung up his coat.
“Good morning,” I replied, unable to believe he’d turned up. His eye looked fine. The redness had gone and there was no swelling. Relief washed over me. I watched as he sat down, reading his book as if nothing had happened. Colour made its way back into my thoughts.
The remainder of the week passed without major incident. Then Mrs Sharpe, my tutor, came in to watch me one afternoon. While I delivered my lesson, she sauntered to the back and started leafing through my teaching file. Then began writing on a pink pad of paper, periodically looking up to watch me. Her face was emotionless.
An hour later, with the classroom tidy I allowed the children to go home. When everyone had gone, Mrs Sharp closed her pad and beckoned me over.
“I’m not impressed,” she said, tapping my teaching file with her finger. “It’s unacceptable. Look at it! Look!” To me it seemed fine. I said nothing. Mrs Sharp then asked me something else. “Do you live alone, Jason?”
Her question threw me off track. Bewildered I told her I lived with three other students.
“All male?”
“Yes. My girlfriend lives in Manchester.”
She nodded knowingly. “Thought so! And I’d wager your house isn’t very tidy either? No female student would allow her file get into such a sorry state.” To press this point further she lightly pulled on a sheet of paper inside my file. It came out in her hand. “See what I mean? All the holes are ripped. It won’t stay in the ring binders.” She shook her head in disgust.
“Sorry,” I uttered, not quite believing she was getting worked up over such a trivial matter. I didn’t have time to dwell on such thoughts though because Mrs Sharpe moved to another section of my file entitled Lesson Plans. She tapped the file again. “These are not detailed enough.” I’d spent hours on my lesson plans. I was miffed she thought they were rubbish. “Your planning needs to include every question you’ll be asking the class. It needs a list of resources you’ll be using. And it needs a section at the end for your evaluations. None of yours have this.”
I stayed silent, deflated.
“Next week, I want to see this folder sorted out. I want a contents page and detailed lesson plans. Every piece of paper will be secured inside the rings. It’ll look like a professional teaching file. Is this too much to ask?”
I shook my head, so she closed my file. Then she reached down into her bag and brought out the pink pad of paper. She studied her notes for a moment before looking up. “That lesson was good, Jason.”
My heart missed a beat. Good?
“Not the best lesson I’ve seen, but good nonetheless. I was quite impressed with your control at hometime too.”
I didn’t know what to say. After sitting through an ear bashing over my dodgy file, I was now getting praise. I managed to mumble a word of thanks.
Mrs Sharpe’s tone softened. “And Ken Jones speaks highly of you. That’s a good thing. But please get your file sorted out. It’s your only downfall. Teaching’s not just about standing in front of a class. It’s also about getting the paperwork right. You’ll have to get used to that if you want to succeed in this profession.”
I told her I’d try my hardest. Ten minutes later she was gone, leaving me with an unexpected feeling of triumph.

The second week at Liveredge Middle School went just as well. When Mrs Sharpe returned, she actually seemed happy with my new improved file. In fact, she was positively friendly. This was no doubt helped by Ken Jones’s kind words. He owed me a favour.
“Look,” he’d said to me the previous Monday. “And you can say no if you want, but the Head wants to know if you’ll take my class when I’m on my course?” As well as being a cheeky proposition, it was also highly unethical. Students were not supposed to be used in this way. The college had told us so. It was slave labour. Especially when a supply teacher would cost the school over a hundred pounds. “In return, added Ken. “You can have a full day off. What do you think?”
We were supposed to say no straight away. But having Class 5J for a full day would be great experience for me. It wasn’t as if I didn’t know them. Plus I’d get a day off. I decided to say yes.
The following day, without Ken Jones popping in every now and again, the children soon realised they could get away with things. It didn’t take long for me to lose my momentum. The afternoon was worse because I was so tired. The kids had literally worn me out. I lost my temper with five minutes to go before hometime. The children didn’t seem to care. They left the classroom, laughing and joking, boisterous till the very end. Only Robyn said goodbye. I went home mentally drained.
Flopping down on my bed at 5pm I slept like a log, waking three hours later, wondering where the hell I was. For the remainder of the evening, I wrote evaluations for the day’s lessons. After a brief phone call to my girlfriend, I retired for the night, still exhausted.
After school a few days later, Ken offered me a lift home. As we set off, I questioned him on how long he’d been a teacher. After a brief mental calculation, he told me it had been about seventeen years.
“Seventeen years!” I blurted. It sounded like an eternity. I immediately thought of another question. “Ever taught anyone famous? A pop star or football player?”
“No,” said Ken, a wry smile forming on his face. “But I have taught someone who might be thought of as infamous.”
“Yeah, an ex-pupil of mine. Lad called Joe. Can’t remember his surname. I saw him on the news once. He’d murdered someone. Got fourteen years if I remember rightly. Little bugger he was. Didn’t surprise me to see him go down for something like that.”
Just over a week later, I taught my final lesson to Class 5J. After the children had gone home, Ken Jones shook my hand. “You’ve done well. You were thrown in at the deep end but you kept afloat. I’ve had students who’ve drowned very quickly. You should be proud of yourself. You even started swimming towards the end.”
I hadn’t expected such praise. All I could think of were the negatives, the things that had gone wrong. I could still feel the slipperiness of Justin’s eyeball on the end of my finger. I still hadn’t told him about it. I smiled and took Ken’s proffered hand. “Thanks. That means a lot.”
“And for what it’s worth,” he added. “I think you’ll make a fine teacher one day. Good luck.”
Ten minutes later I was standing at the bus stop waiting to go home. I was exhausted but elated.

Back at college, a quarter of our fellow students had gone. Phil Jackson, Nick Kenyon and I were sat in the college cafe discussing this. We’d all found the First Teaching Practise hard, but evidently not as hard as others. We congratulated ourselves on getting through the first major hurdle.
For the rest of the month life returned to an even keel. Lectures, coursework and going to the pub reigned supreme. And then it was time for the Final Teaching Practice – a hellish stint stretching out over seven weeks. The drop out rate was nearly fifty percent. And though we didn’t know it at the time, only two of us would get through.

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Comments by other Members

Cornelia at 10:38 on 25 July 2006  Report this post
I enjoyed this very much. It struck many echoes with my own experience:the apparently insane emphasis on paperwork and records;the overwhelming temptation for classroom teachers to exploit students; the anxiety about consequences of mistakes; the shock of the workload. It was all delivered in the right tone, too. I'd have been tempted to histrionics if it were me, although I must admit I've tried on the whole to to forget.


Richard Brown at 08:53 on 27 July 2006  Report this post
More good stuff! You have an excellent way of creating a mood or an atmosphere and bringing people quickly to life in the reader's mind. The only thing that jarred for me was; ' I slept like a log' - too much of a cliche for such quality prose in my view. (It's an odd expression anway - sleeping dogs, yes, but a sleeping log?)

My one structural reservation concerns the ending. You have been so good, thus far, in creating the 'hook' and maybe this chapter ending seems a bit tame by comparison. Not knowing what the content of the next chapter is I can't speculate as what the hook might be - but I'm sure there'll be something which will get the reader eagerly turning the page.


flock1 at 09:16 on 29 July 2006  Report this post
Thanks Sheila. The paperwork is chronic in teaching. And the worst thing about it is the sheer pointlessness of 90% of it.

Richard, once again, thanks for your kind words of encouragment. And many thanks for the pointers. All, and I mean all, have been thought about and then I've altered my story. Slept like a log has gone. And I have put a better 'grabber' at the end of Chapter 6.

So , now enjoy Chapter 7.



PS. Nick, I'll have to look into what you said. Thanks.

crazylady at 09:16 on 19 August 2006  Report this post
I'm really enjoying your story Jason. It's totally engaging and I feel that I want to read on avidly.
However I must get on with my weekend but will be back asap to catch up with your exploits.
I love your honesty and think that this should be published and be compulsory reading for trainee teachers.
Cheers for now

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