Monday, April 10, 2006

Apathy Jack writes:

If you'd asked me last year what my biggest concern for 2006 was, I'd have said my forthcoming Year 11s. The Year 10s were an academically weak pack of hooligans, and our chronic teacher shortage meant that we'd be shoehorning well over thirty of them into each class come this year. I spent a fair amount of the Christmas holidays dusting off the big guns of my classroom management repertoire: the most authoritative way to curl up into the fetal position, the most masculine way to cry and cry and cry – that sort of thing.

So anyway, it's just before I leave for my surgery, and the Year 11s are busily finishing off an assignment. I have time to stand back and take stock.

There's my little hyperactive hypochondriac, talking a mile a minute to hide the fact that she can't really understand a lot of the work. Beside her, her long-suffering friend, with her through thick and thin since third form. She's facing the motormouth, nodding and replying as appropriate, but her hand is scrawling across the page in front of her – she's had over two years to learn how to work while seated next to, shall we say, distracting influences.

There's the kid who was expelled from his old school for assault. His teachers were all a bit leery of him when he turned up, except those of us who did a bit of digging into the circumstances of the assault. At his old school there was a bully terrorising the smaller kids. After a year or so of watching this happen, my boy decided it wasn't on, so used his not inconsiderable bulk to calmly and rationally put the bully in hospital. On the day of his expulsion, he was given a hero's send off by the students, who considered him to be a latter-day Robin Hood. Sitting in my class he is working as hard as he always did, violence issues notwithstanding.

There are the young lovers: the bad girl trying to get herself on the straight and narrow, and the good boy who spent all of last year trying desperately to be bad. They throw a jacket over both their heads in a poorly thought-out attempt to make out without anyone noticing. The kids around them laugh – which they ignore – and one of the boys asks me with a smile if that's the sort of thing I think I should put a stop to.

I think about it for a moment. The bad girl will finish her work by the deadline because she doesn't want to disappoint me. The good boy will finish his work by the deadline because, you know, he's a good boy, and taking up smoking and pretending to have been in trouble with the law notwithstanding, that's what good boys do – the poor bastard's hardwired to it.

“Give them five minutes.” I say.


This has been one hell of a month. I really thought I'd write more about it. There's been a lot of good: Going to Wellington where I not only got to watch the wrestling, but also got to see the look of crushing disappointment on David Young's face when we finally met in person and he realised I haven't been joking about being so low class; going to Australia to see Clutch; seeing HIM; the New Black exhibition by some ludicrously talented friends of mine. All of these things have been fun, but when I sit down to write about them, that's all that comes to mind: A rather dull “I had fun”. There has also been more than the usual share unpleasant things, but, as with most matters of real discomfort, they're either of no interest to external parties, or they're things that I don't really want to talk about at length, not on a blog, at any rate.

But through the good and the bad the kids have been there.

Down country a week ago to say goodbye to my Grandfather. Having seen him in hospital, I was wandering around Palmerston North making myself good and maudlin, when I saw one of my kids. I had forgotten entirely that Palmerston North was where her team was going for the national finals.

A Friday night hanging out on a war memorial in Palmerston North town square with a pack of slightly drunk teenagers celebrating a sporting victory may not sound like everybody's cup of cheap wine, but it broke me out of the funk I was developing for myself.

When I got the news that my Grandfather had passed, it was almost no time at all before I got a text from one of my students. Her grandfather had died only a month or so back, and I had helped her mourn in some small capacity, so when she found out that I was in the same position, she was concerned for me. She texted me to see how he was because she was worried. She was worried because it had been raining all day, and “because when somebody good dies it always rains”.

I spent the night texting back and forth, and she made me realise something I hadn't thought of: My girl's fondest wish was that her Grandfather see her turn eighteen, and he missed it by only a few months. Twenty-eight years is a pretty good length of time to have a grandfather around, and I'm lucky for it.

In hospital having a hernia repaired, I spent my time trying to puzzle out the scrawlings on the impromptu card my little goths drew me when they found out I was going away for a while, and answering concerned texts from students in my form class who wanted to know how the operation went. For desert I ate the yoghourt a student brought me after school finished because she was unsure if I could eat solid food. The next day I arrived home to find a card sent to me by a student who had stolen my address when I helped her fill in some student allowance forms.

I am thankful that I have something in my life that is good and right all of the time. No matter how badly everything else may confused, I am thankful for something that is always good and right.

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