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Life in an Inner City Primary - Chapter 10: My First Class

by flock1 

Posted: 23 August 2006
Word Count: 935

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Chapter 10 - My First Class

“RIGHT,” I SAID TO THE SEVENTEEN CHILDREN IN FRONT OF ME. “Let’s get one thing straight. I’m in charge and you’ll do as I say. When I ask you to do something, you’ll do it. If any of you misbehave, then you’ll wish you’d never met me.”
Year 3 looked wary, which was good, so I decided to tone things down slightly. “But if you’re well-behaved, then you’ll like me a lot. We’ll play games. We’ll have extra playtimes. I might even tell a few jokes. But only if I think you deserve it.”
Some children produced a faint smile but most sat open-mouthed. I was their first male teacher. It was a new experience for them. “And now,” I said. “We’re going to do some work.”
Until playtime, I got the children to do a piece of writing about themselves. No one misbehaved. Every now and again I asked someone to give me their name. I tried to commit as many to memory as possible. Anita, Ben, Stacey, Shazad and Ashley went in first. Not bad for one lesson, I thought. Playtime came and I marked books. A lot of kids couldn’t write properly. Some work I couldn’t read at all. I wondered what their reading ages were.
For the second lesson, I gave out number books. Again, the kids toiled away without a peep. From the mayhem and disorder I’d seen three weeks previously, I thought they’d try my patience from the start, but so far, they’d been fine. Maybe it was because I was a man. The afternoon went just as well. As my class left to go home, I thought back over the day. I’d seemingly achieved the impossible. Had I really tamed the class from hell?

“You’re Mr Hunt, aren’t you?” said the large woman, with an even larger blue rinse. It was my fourth day. I was in the dining hall watching my class line up to receive their slop.
The woman was Mrs Vanderhoof; a dinner lady in her late fifties. I’d already been warned by Jane Harris (the Year 4 teacher next door) that Mrs Vanderhoof was a lady of a certain temperament. She enjoyed a fearsome reputation with both children and adults alike. I told her I was indeed Mr Hunt.
“D’you know summit,” she said. “I’ve been here twelve years and I’ve never seen a class change as much as Year 3. It’s like a miracle. You’re the best thing that’s happened to this school in ages. I’ve always said junior schools needed more men. More respect, see. It’s only natural.” I didn’t know what to say so merely smiled. Mrs Vanderhoof continued. “And if ever you want some lasagne to take home, just come and see me. I’ll sort you out. A nice young man like you needs looking after, see.”

Ben McGuire was in my class. He lived with his mum and two younger sisters. At the end of May, about six weeks into my new job, a fireman arrived in my classroom. He showed me a black and white photo of a small boy holding what looked like a cigarette lighter in one hand. The photo also captured an image of a small fire on the left-hand side. It was clear that the boy had been involved in some way. “Do you recognise him?” asked the fireman.
“Yes. He’s in my class. It’s Ben McGuire.”
The fireman nodded, telling me the photo was a still shot from CCTV footage taken inside the block of flats where Ben lived. The camera had caught him lighting a fire in the stairwell of the basement. Once it had got going, he’d run outside. Luckily the fire alarms had gone off and everyone escaped safely. Within minutes fire crews arrived to put out the flames. The damage would run into thousands of pounds.
Standing at the front of the hall later that morning, the fire fighter spoke about general fire safety to the whole school. Then he described the incident at the block of flats. Pulling a sombre face, he said, “A boy – someone your age – sneaked down into the basement. He got a lighter and set fire to some old clothes.”
Children made suitable sounds of shock and amazement that such a thing could happen. Ben McGuire watched, mesmerized. He seemed to be smiling.
“Imagine how dangerous that could’ve been,” continued the fire fighter. “And what about the elderly people in the flats. They were scared to death. They could’ve died.”
Ben, sitting in front of me, tapped another boy’s shoulder. “It were me!” he whispered. “I lit it!” The other boy told him to shush.
A week later he was excluded for two days. He’d sworn at a Mrs Vanderhoof because she’d told him to sit down. It was his fifth exclusion since starting in Year 3. Nonetheless, even whilst barred from school, he still managed to cause mayhem. Arriving at school during Miss Williams’s outdoor PE lesson, Ben rode his bike to the edge of the playground, then began taunting the Year 2 teacher. “See this tyre, Miss?” he shouted, pointing at his front wheel. “I’m gonna ride over and shove it in yer crack.” With this, he turned and rode away laughing. He was excluded for a further two days.
But I had more pressing matters to dwell upon. They involved the secret meetings that seemed to be held after school most nights. I wondered what was being discussed. I wondered whether they were about me. It wouldn’t be long before I found out.

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Comments by other Members

Cornelia at 10:04 on 24 August 2006  Report this post
This is interesting material, especially the bits about individual children.

'Slops' and 'larger blue rinse' seem rather dismissive of school food and dinner ladies, so I think some detail could be added to give us an idea of the fare on offer and to avoid steretyping the dinner lady.

Seventeen children in a class seems an easy gig, even with badly behaved kids, which most of these don't seem to be. You may need to double the number for credibility. Today's education climate of constant testing would provide you with details of the children's assessed reading ages, but without that information I'd have thought you would devise some way of fnding out. As written it gives the impression you are only vaguely interestd.

In terms of narrative structure, pace'Mr Chips' it would be better if you succeeded after a hard struggle, preferably a number of years, instead of getting the dinner lady's accolade after only four days.

The second part, about Ben Maguire, is a good story, but instead of starting with the statement that he was in your class it would be more dramatic if you start with the fireman showing you the picture, which you then recognise, etc.

They were scared to death. They could’ve died.

reads as a contradiction. It would be better with 'almost' in the first sentence.

Hope this is helpful.




flock1 at 09:37 on 29 August 2006  Report this post
As always, Sheila, you raise very useful points. The sterotypical dinner lady I describe was perhaps a bit overdone. I'm not sure if she even had a rinse! And the other points are most welcome. Have changed the scared to death bit! Many thanks for you time and effort.

Hope you stay with me through the rest of my chapters!


Cornelia at 11:47 on 04 September 2006  Report this post
I assume this is a revised version.

The dinner lady is much better now, and I love the offer of free lasagne. It seems a natural expression of her gratitude for the class being brought under control. I wonder about her name and her accent, though. Is this supposed to be the north? I'm a native of those parts but have lived in London for a long time. The last sentence of her utterance sounds like South London, and her name is vaguely German, which raises questions you may not want.

You come across as a bit frightening in paragraph one. How old are the children?

Could you give a clue as to how you know about 'secret meetings' and their nature. Is is just informal gatherings at the pub, or meetings called by the management? Can't wait to find out.


flock1 at 15:43 on 05 September 2006  Report this post

I'm confused now! This chapter is the same one you initially read. Nothing has been changed.

Anyway, it doesn't really matter. Mrs Vanderhoof is no more! The whole section has been deleted.

Your other two points are good ones. I suppose I should have mentioned in the previous chapter that I was told to go in and 'frighten the living daylights out of them'. Even though they were only 7 or 8-year-old, they had seen off three teachers before I arrived. In hindsight, this is not clear. I shall go back and alter this.

As for the meetings. I agree, it is not clear where they are being held. In fact, they were taking place in classrooms after school.

Many thanks for your comments. Please keep them coming.

Cornelia at 07:30 on 07 September 2006  Report this post
Sorry, but I am a bit confused. The previous version I commented on didn't have a Mrs Vanderhoof but only a dinner lady with a blue rinse who made a remark about the change in the class behaviour but no offer of free lasagne. When I opened the notification this time I find there are no other comments ,although the listed number is five. Perhaps the comments are removed when you revise and resubmit? I may have missed a version because I have recently returned from a holiday.


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