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Life in an Inner City Primary - Chapter 12: Losing My Rag

by flock1 

Posted: 02 September 2006
Word Count: 1700

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Chapter 12 - Losing My Rag

THE HONEYMOON PERIOD WAS WELL AND TRULY OVER. Ben McGuire was a constant thorn in my side. Barbara Cane seemed not to care. All she wanted was him contained in my classroom. I was soon loath to send him to her. On more than one occasion he’d come back from the Head’s office with a lollypop in his mouth.
“Stop making silly noises, Ben.” I said for the umpteenth time. “And get on with your work.” As I walked towards his table he jumped and ran to the back of the classroom. Feeling hot under the collar, I asked Katie to go and fetch Mrs Cane. I wanted Ben removed before I blew my top. As Katie left, I tried to ignore Ben’s raspberry noises from the back. A lot of children laughed and looked at me wondering why I wasn’t doing anything. I walked to the blackboard, silently seething. The classroom was hot and stifling.
A minute later, Katie returned. There was no sign of Barbara Cane. “She said she’s too busy.”
I tried my best to remain calm. Busy doing what? I was teacher in trouble. Surely I was more important than whatever paperwork she was currently doing.
I rubbed my temples. At the back, Ben was whistling and banging a ruler on the window. “I don’t have to do any work!” he quipped. He then gave me the finger. I turned back to Katie. “Go and tell Mrs Cane I want Ben out of my classroom right now!” Katie left for the second time.
“Ben,” I said. “Leave the classroom.”
“Nah.” Then he farted and climbed under a table. The summer heat made me feel as if I was losing the plot. The noise levels in the classroom were getting higher and higher. I saw Katie open the door once more. She was still alone. “Mrs Cane said she can’t come cos she’s in a meeting.”
Fucking Bitch! That was it; I threw down my piece of chalk and faced the class. “Everyone stop! Put your pencils down NOW!”
Everyone complied, except Ben. “Boring! Boring! Boring!” he shouted from the back. “School is crap! Mr Hunt is crap! I can do what I want.”
“Be quiet!” I roared.
“Nah! Make me!”
I walked over to him and this time he didn’t run. Grabbing him by the shoulders, I dragged him from under the table. He looked surprised but unconcerned. Somehow, this made me even angrier. I pushed him hard against the edge of the table, which at last, seemed to stun him.
“Aaaghh!” he cried out. “Knobhead!” There was a gasp from someone behind me. I paid them no heed. Grabbing his shoulders, I shook him like a rag doll. He was still grinning. My mind was a daze.
At that moment, Ben McGuire must have seen something in my eyes. When I looked down at him, he was no longer laughing; he was crying. I released him, allowing him to slump against the table. Real fear was evident in his eyes and I immediately felt sick. I’d just assaulted a seven-year-old boy. I turned to the rest of the class, telling them to get on with their work. They did so silently. Then I looked at Ben, who was still crying, and told him to get on with his work too. He looked defiant for a second, then went to his desk and sat down.
For the rest of the lesson, I didn’t know who to be angrier with: Ben McGuire or Barbara Cane. If she’d removed Ben when I’d asked her too, none of this would have happened. I went home in a sour mood.
At five to nine the following morning, I saw Ben McGuire and his mother walking up the corridor towards me. I began to formulate my defence but Ben spoke first. “I’m sorry,” he mumbled. He looked down at his shoes, the epitome of remorsefulness.
“And what else, yer little bugger,” added Mrs McGuire.
Ben rolled his eyes. “I won’t be bad again.”
“That’s right, cos I’ll belt yer, next time!” She gave his head a shove for good measure. I breathed easily. I’d finally received the back-up I’d so desperately needed.
And Ben caused me no problem after this.

During another show and tell, Josh put his hand up to come to the front. “On the weekend,” he stated. “Me dad’s mate got me a lizard.”
I looked at the rest of the class. They were all listening, even Ben. I looked at Josh. “A lizard? As a pet you mean?”
“Yeah. Me dad’s built a cage for it. It’s in me bedroom.”
“Wow!” I said, hamming it up for the occasion. “I don’t suppose you know what sort of lizard it is?” I remembered as a child being intrigued by reptiles.
“Yeah,” said Josh, nodding. “A dragon.”
There were some murmurs from the rest of the class. They were openly discussing the fact that dragons didn’t exist. Josh noticed the dissent.
“Josh,” I said. “Dragons aren’t real, they’re just make belie—“
“It’s not a real dragon. It’s a Komodo Dragon.”
I was taken aback. Firstly, I was surprised that Josh had even heard of a Komodo Dragon. They were the largest lizards on Earth, coming from Indonesia or somewhere. And no one could possibly have a seven foot lizard as a household pet, could they?
“It’s this big,” he said, moving his arms as far apart as he could. “Might be even bigger. Looks a bit like an alligator.”
I nodded. “And where did you get it?”
“Me dad’s mate. He works in a zoo.”
My eyes widened a fraction. From a zoo? Might there be an element of truth in Josh’s story. Had someone stolen an exotic lizard? Or smuggled one in from Asia? No, surely not. I still couldn’t believe it. I asked Josh what he fed to the creature.
Josh shook his head and exhaled deeply. He portrayed exactly someone with big news to tell, something so unbelievable, that even he, himself, didn’t quite believe it. “He eats owls.”
“Owls?” said a boy sitting on the carpet. “Lizards don’t eat owls, do they, Mr Hunt?”
Before I had chance to answer, Josh spoke up in his own defence. “Mine does. He swallows them down and growls like this.” Josh mimicked what I took to be a Komodo Dragon belching with owly satisfaction. It sounded quite authentic to my ignorant ears.
Before the class broke down into disorder, I thanked Josh and replaced him with a girl talking about her birthday party at McDonalds. I couldn’t take much more reptile madness.

Perhaps because of the Ben McGuire incident, I gained a reputation with children around school. I was the teacher not to be messed with. Hardly a day went by without someone being sent to me from another class for poor behaviour. Some children even cried as they were brought in; such was their fear of my wrath. I loved my new found infamy, though not the source of it.
With a week to go before the summer holidays, I was summoned into Barbara Cane’s office. “I see you have developed into a good disciplinarian. But what good is that when you arrive at twenty-five past eight and leave at twenty-past three?”
I said nothing, not computing the relationship between the two.
Barbara stapled her fingers. “Everyone else gets here before you. Everyone leaves after you. I demand professionalism in my school.”
I spoke up in my defence. “I can’t help it. It’s the trains. They don’t arrive until—”
“Get an earlier train!” Barbara snapped.
“But if I got the earlier train, I’d get here at ten past seven. I’d have to get up at half five in the morning.”
She shrugged. “That’s no concern of mine. I’ll be taking note of when you arrive and leave from now on. It will be logged for future reference. You may go.”
I left her office bewildered and angry.
The next day I went to talk to Jane Harris. I told her about the meeting. She closed her classroom door. “It was bound to happen eventually,” she said. “It always does.”
“What does?”
“People falling foul of Barbara. She’s a bully. I don’t know how she keeps getting away with it. She does it to everybody. Especially Monica.” Monica Denson was the Deputy Head. I asked Jane to explain.
“On the outside she seems really nice. That’s what everyone thinks at first. I know I did. But after a while you’ll do something to annoy her. And that’ll be it; she’ll have it in for you. So just be careful from now on.”

On the last week of term, Burton Edge held the annual Shuffle Up Hour. It was an opportunity for teachers to meet their new classes for an hour. As Year 2 entered in total silence I regarded my future class. Twenty-seven of them. All looked sacred to death. Good.In a school like Burton Edge, the only way to achieve discipline was to start of mean. I had learned this very quickly.
Because I hadn’t said anything, a lot of children simply stood about in the classroom, milling about in an uncomfortable manner. Two girls loitered by the door, looking like they might burst into tears at any moment. Then one boy did just what I wanted. He sat down.
“GET UP!” I roared, causing the boy to have a near fatal coronary. I regarded him balefully. “Remind me who gave you permission to sit down?”
“Er…no one,” he whimpered. “I just…” Then he started crying.
“Well don’t,” I said. “Do not do anything unless I say so. Got that?” The boy nodded. It was precisely the reaction I’d hoped for.
“Right then,” I said. “You can all find a seat.”
The whole class sat down and folded their arms in silence. It was that easy. My reputation had indeed come before me. Year 2 didn’t make a single peep for the next hour. And then the summer holidays rolled around. I was knackered. I’d been working fifty-five hour weeks for the first time in my life. I needed the break.

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Comments by other Members

di2 at 03:38 on 05 September 2006  Report this post
I laughed out loud at the bit where you roar "GET UP! causing the boy to have a near fatal coronary."

Your piece flowed freely and was very entertaining and I travelled along with you. I enjoyed it.

When I realised you were Mr Hunt, not Mrs Hunt (near the owl's paragraph) the tone of the story changed its tone for me completely. That's probably my bias not necessarily the voice nor the telling of the story. The male voice, for me, made the story more amusing, who knows why. I also got a good sense of place.

When I got to the end where you talked about putting in a 55 hour week, I got tired with you. I complain about a 40 hour week, I'll stop complaining immediately.

The story made me smile and I'm still smiling as I write these comments. The title of the chapter "Losing My Rag" sums the story up very well. I'm not sure if the amusing mood runs through all your chapters, if so, possibly you might think of re-working the Main Title as it doesn't have the same sparkle as your text.


flock1 at 15:49 on 05 September 2006  Report this post

Thank you for your kind comments. And the main title I'd like to use is:

SATS, Drugs and Rock 'n' Roll

Does this sparkle? I hope so! Maybe not though. Perhaps people might not see the SATS reference. SATS are standard Attainment Tests done across primary schools. They are the bane of most teachers' lives, mine included.

I hope you get the time to go back and read by other chapters which are posted on this website.

Chapter 13 coming soon!

Richard Brown at 18:38 on 05 September 2006  Report this post
More very entertaining stuff.

I'd not heard the expression 'stapled her fingers' before. 'Steepled'? or does it just describe an inter-lacing?

I would have liked some resolution of the arrival and departure times episode. Did you meet the bully's demands?

Also - my perennial - could do with a stronger hook at the end...a hint of something in the holidays, or if the next chapter is back at school then something to do with that?


flock1 at 17:00 on 06 September 2006  Report this post

Once agian you have been a Godsend. Stapled should have been steepled.

I have gone back and resolved the arrival time issue. And I've made the hook this:

By the last week of term, I still hadn’t altered by arrival time at school. Furthermore, taking Jane Harris’s advice, I had no intention of doing so. Oddly, Mrs Cane didn’t pick me up on this. Perhaps it was to do with Mrs Williamson in Year 2 leaving. She’d secured herself a job closer to where she lived. Barbara had been busy with interviews for a replacement. With two days to go before the summer holidays, Barbara told us a new teacher would be starting the following September. Her name was Helen Higson, a Newly-Qualified-Teacher. It wouldn’t be long before she incurred the wrath of the Head.


erm...in the first line, by should be my...

Terry Edge at 18:05 on 06 September 2006  Report this post
I've had a quick read of some of these chapters, and the main point I'd make--if it hasn't been made already--is that you really do need to 'fictionalise' this memoir. At the moment, it reads very much like a personal diary, with, for example, plenty of telling rather than showing. Which is fine for a diary, because you know what you mean; unfortunately, your readers don't. What you need to do is look at each scene and ask yourself, How can I make this special; how can I say this in a way no one else has said it before; how can I bring this alive? At the moment, it reads like, Something happened, and then something else happened, and then something else happened. You need a theme to unite all these arbitrary memories: why does this guy want to teach; what's driving him on; what's stopping him; what's his struggle that we're desperate to see him overcome?

The strongest advice I can give you is to get stuck in and critique plenty of other people's work, especially fiction. It doesn't look as if you've made any comments at all yet on anyone else's work. Apart from this being somewhat ungenerous, it's also unwise. One of the best ways to improve one's writing is to critique others' writing. It's easier to see mistakes in others' work, and that in turn helps you see similar faults in your own writing.

Good luck.



I've just read your comment above this one, which I think encapsulates the problem of writing out a memoir just as it happened, without adding story-value. You say 'this is the hook', but I can't see any hook--what you describe, to put it bluntly, is flat and uninteresting. Yes, it's interesting to you, but you need to be ojective and ruthless about your material, in terms of weeding out anything that just isn't up to the job of catching a stranger's attention. Which leads back to my advice to get stuck in with the fiction people.

Terry Edge at 08:10 on 07 September 2006  Report this post
I realise these comments may seem harsh, but then the world of the professionally printed word, and its readers, is harsh—at least in terms of story-telling. A story-teller has to be ruthless with his own store of life material, chopping out the stuff that's common, bolstering the stuff that's workable, and stealing anything else that will improve the story.

This heading of this chapter, for instance, is a cliché; the first sentence is a cliché; there is another cliché in the second. And because you're just recording your own life events, there is a lot of telling, like this paragraph, picked at random:

Perhaps because of the Ben McGuire incident, I gained a reputation with children around school. I was the teacher not to be messed with. Hardly a day went by without someone being sent to me from another class for poor behaviour. Some children even cried as they were brought in; such was their fear of my wrath. I loved my new found infamy, though not the source of it.

If a friend said this to you in a pub, you might just be interested, but only because it's your friend. If you overheard someone at the next table telling this to their friend, you'd just think, "Oh yeah—that's what you say,"—-because you'd only believe it when you saw it, when you were shown it. Without illustration, it's just the narrator's opinion, and comes across flat and lifeless.


Sorry, one more thing, and then I'll shut up. What you have to ask yourself is, why should anyone read my book? What does it have to say that's important to more than just me and my friends? I don't know if you've read 'A Dominie's Log' by A S Neill, but it's a fascinating account of a teacher's life, partly because we get an insight into a small village school of a hundred years ago, but mainly because of what A S Neill went on to do. You probably know, he established the 'free school', Summerhill, to develop the principles he'd come to from working with kids in what he saw to be a hopelessly inadequate system. So, while his log is full of tragic stories, it's also uplifting because you see the early signs of what he was going to go on to achieve.

flock1 at 15:50 on 08 September 2006  Report this post


I've taken a couple of days to mull over your comments.

First of all, thanks for taking the time to comment. They've given me a lot to think about. Especially about the need to fictionalise the tale. This is quite hard, I think. A lot of what happened actually did happen. It would be hard to make up things just so the story sounds better. It somehow wouldn't seem right. To me, if I have to do that, then I might as well write a novel. As for bringing the scenes alive, I thought I'd managed that in places. Maybe not,though. And that paragraph you highlighted was actually over 1000 words long originally. I chopped it to improve the speed the story progresses. Maybe that was a mistake.

But taking all your comments, I do feel I need a major rethink is in order. That is, if I feel I can take the time to do this. Maybe in a year or two, who knows.

So, to all the other people who have made comments, I thank you for your time and patience. But I will not be posting any more chapters. Not for the forseeable future anyway. Terry's comments, together with Richard's earlier comments about my story not really having any sale-ability, have made me realise it's perhaps time to throw the towel in (to use yet another cliche! A major rewrite for something that will probably not end up being published seems like a lot of work and effort for nothing. But I've enjoyed writing it nonetheless. And if any of you do wish to find out the outcome, then send me a message (I think my email address can be found on this site) and I'll email you the whole lot.

Cheers, and keep on plugging away....


Terry Edge at 18:55 on 08 September 2006  Report this post

Your book isn't wasted, simply because it's a personal record for you, and perhaps for your children and grandchildren.

But if you want to make your experiences attractive to strangers, you have to either write a novel instead that draws on them, but ultimately puts the story first (even if 'untrue'), or search for what it is about them that's different. If there isn't anything particularly different, you may need to think again. If there is, then you need to bring that more powerfully into the theme of the book; then, you need to 'fictionlise' the writing. By that, I don't mean invent or lie; more to edit out stuff that's boring or mundane, and talk up stuff that's interesting (exaggerate it, even).

I've kept a diary for 30 years, and it's not a 'had kippers for tea, took the dog for a walk' kind of diary. It records what I'd say is the interesting stuff, along with my thoughts about it. However, I'd think very hard about turning it into a memoir. There's much in there that I find fascinating, but I know in my heart that I'd need to work at it very hard--extracting the theme, fictionalising the prose--if anyone else was going to enjoy reading it.

In fiction, you need a main character who has a powerful struggle--he's tortured by inner and outer conflicts; and the story builds to a climax where we're desperate to see if he will succeed or fail; after which is the resolution: everything is now right with the world, or it isn't. A memoir doesn't necessarily need a main character who goes through such turmoil (although it helps), but it does need an overarching theme that involves struggle of some kind. Otherwise, it's just an episodic chain of random scenes.

Good luck.



By the way, I'm sure it was an oversight, that you forgot to mention you'll be getting stuck in with some critiques while you're re-thinking your book.

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