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Life in an Inner City Primary - Chapter 7: Stocklane Middle School

by flock1 

Posted: 29 July 2006
Word Count: 1061

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Chapter 7 - Stocklane Middle School

STOCKLANE MIDDLE WAS A TOUGH INNER-CITY SCHOOL located ten minutes walking time away from my house. It had 480 children, of which 99% were of Pakistani origin.
Year 6 were ten and eleven-year-olds. The hardest thing was remembering their names. Saleema, Tariq, Aseema and Kifyaath were just some of the ones on offer. The only name I picked up easily was Kelly, the solitary white girl in the class. Regardless, by the afternoon, I was handling half of them by myself. Mr Thurston, the classteacher, was most impressed. A day later I was taking the whole lot. Slowly I memorized the names.
By week two, I was well into the swing of things. And by the end of the third week, Mr Thurston, the teacher, was content to leave me in charge of his class for half of the lessons each day. Somehow I was succeeding at being a student teacher.
Not everything was rosy red though. I was suffering from major weariness. Every morning after what seemed like five minutes sleep I felt utterly exhausted. Teaching was draining me of all energy. It was school, school and more school. And weekends were not much better. With no time for socialising I simply caught up with my planning and marking. Saturday and Sunday were no longer my own. And before I could do anything constructive, Monday would roll around and it would all start again.

At the start of June, Mr Thurston organised a class trip to an area of limestone scenery. The highlight was to be a cave visit. With hindsight, I was lucky to get away with what happened inside that cavern.
As we neared the cave, our guide told us to sit down on the grass. He said the entrance didn’t offer much in the way of headroom so we’d all have to wear hard hats before going in. “And because it’s so dark inside,” he added, “you won’t be able to see the drop that comes up. So make sure you’re holding the hand of the person in front of you. They’ll warn you about it coming up.” We all stood up and set off.
My job was holding up the rear of the line. Very soon, the boy in front entered the cave. I followed close behind, crouching down to fit inside. The darkness quickly engulfed me. The guide was right. It was pitch black. I held the hand in front of me tightly. As we moved deeper into the cave, my helmet started scraping along the low ceiling, causing me to stoop down lower. It was becoming uncomfortable. Trudging along, I ran the palm of my spare hand along the side of the cave, feeling the cold, uneven surface of the wet limestone walls. It gave me the only bearing of my immediate surroundings. Just then, my helmet scraped along a particularly low section of the roof. For only the briefest of seconds I decided to let go of the hand in front so I could reach upwards and see what was there. Unfortunately it was at that precise moment in time that I stepped over the drop.
I floundered with predicable results. And although my arms windmilled like a cartoon character, I didn’t actually fall over. But I did make one mistake.
Shit!” I shouted, clearly forgetting I was in the company of thirty children. And because we were in a cave, my expletive was repeated over and over again, “Shit-Shit-Shit-Shit-Shit.” I did the only thing I could think of. “Oh dear,” I said to the children just in front “Ignore that horrible man behind me.”
Because it was so dark, nobody questioned my statement. What added further credibility to my lie was the fact that there were actually a few people behind us. Pensioners on a trip. It was an opportunity too good to miss. I was not proud.
At the start of week 6, I was in the staffroom listening to Mr Brawley, a wizened old veteran of the teaching profession. “You’re a fool for wanting to be a teacher,” he informed me. “I’ve been doing it nearly thirty years. I’ve taught more runts than you’ve had hot dinners. It’s the worst job in the world. Especially with the way runts are now.”
From prior experience, I knew Mr Brawley liked to rant about runts a lot. I sat back, saying nothing. In his late fifties and close to retirement, Mr Brawley had spent the last twenty-two years at Stocklane Middle. He was an institution to himself. I waited for his next outburst.
“In my day we could whack the runts! And do you know something? They soon learned! Yes! It put them on the straight and narrow from day one. Not like now. Runts can do as they please. We can’t stop them. The country’s gone mad. There’s even a runt in charge!”
Murmuring in general agreement, I said nothing, suspecting Mr Brawley secretly thought I was a runt. He arose slowly, regarding me carefully. “And there’s nothing we can do to stop it happening. It’s gone too far.” He turned around, leaving me to my own private thoughts.
In my final week at Stocklane Middle, I realised I actually liked Year 6. I liked the fact they’d accepted me as their teacher. Some would hang around at hometime showing me things such as football stickers or books. They seemed to trust me. For the first time, I experienced a little something of what it must be like to be a proper class teacher.
On my last day I received gifts from some of them. I also got numerous cards telling me they were sad to see me go. It was very touching and quite unexpected. Half an hour later I was at home asleep. I’d passed my second and final teaching practice. I was almost a proper teacher.
On the 22nd July 1991 the PGCE results came out. Neither Phil nor I could believe it. We were Newly Qualified Teachers! The only person not celebrating with us was Nick Kenyon. He’d dropped out in the final stages of his teaching practise. He told us he just couldn’t cope anymore. He ended up moving back to London.
And then came my first paid day of teaching. It was a strange experience to say the least.

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Comments by other Members

Richard Brown at 18:24 on 02 August 2006  Report this post
Only a couple of my usual niggles (which didn't at all spoil the enjoyment of another strong 'human-interest'episode).

First is - I don't think you really need to refer to Mr. Thurstone's role a second time (first line of 3rd para). In fact it threw me for a moment because he had been designated 'class teacher' previously and I did a back flip to make sure that I hadn't mis-remembered the surname.

Second: The 'With hindsight' sentence at the outset of the field trip story didn't really work for me. I think you could leave the outcome much more open (ie hint at something portentous but don't give the reader advance notice that you 'got away with it'). In fact you could perhaps milk the tension a bit more during the rest of the story. Will the children be taken in by your quick-thinking subterfuge etc? Nervousness whilst you wait to see if anyone says anything when you emerge from the cave....

Thanks for the entertainment!


flock1 at 19:32 on 02 August 2006  Report this post
Thanks Richard,

If my book ever does get into print, I'll make sure you get a mention (in tiny little letters on the very back page somewhere!)

Thanks for spotting the repeat about the classteacher's role. I can't believe it escaped my attention. And I've gone back and altered the sections you brough up. I think you're right. It works better now.

Chapater 8 coming tomorrow.


crazylady at 21:31 on 21 August 2006  Report this post
Hi Jason,
I'm still here right with you.
I'm finding this rivetting reading and enjoying your easy style. After reading it I will never take teachers work lightly again.
I'll read on...

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