Spy in the camp

Got nothing left to do except cut directly to the chase:

Thursday 13th May,  2009:

Frankly, I’m terrified. I don’t know why. I didn’t have a difficult day. But that’s not it. That doesn’t answer the question, cos I’m not sure what I’m afraid of – not really. So today I’m gonna act as if I’m not afraid, and as if I know what to do. I’m gonna act like that, though right now I’m trembling. I feel like it’s me vs. something; something so huge, and so crushing that I squirm like a bug, seeing it come down. I don’t know what I can even do. I just know it’s important to try.

I wish I could understand this better. It’s like walking into a battle – well, that’s what it feels like.

Projects. I dunno, the lists aren’t out yet, but mine is full, it’s disappeared from the drop down menu. I don’t know exactly who’s picked it, until we get lists – but Riley has, and Laine too. They come up to me at lunchtime,  and “Miss, I’m doing yours,” Riley announces.

“My what?” I say, giving her shoulders a little squeeze.

She grins, “Your project,” she says. “I couldn’t pick it, cos it’s full. But I’m doing it.” And she looks at me with pugnacious trust, and I feel very tender towards her.

“I’ve picked it.” says Laine, happily. “I’ve already done it, cos it wasn’t full then.”

I look at Laine and laugh, saying, “Do you remember saying once, you didn’t want to take a class of mine ever again?”

“No-oo,” she protests, “It wasn’t me.”

“Yes it was,” I say, “Last year.”

They giggle, rolling their eyes in disbelief. I do like these two little girls so much, after struggling with them so long. God only knows how these shifts take place.


Friday 14th May

Noa: a ‘guest’ in my year 10 class today. He comes and asks me, at assembly – actually asks me! Like he’s expecting to be listened to, at the very least. And I hardly know him.

He just says, “Miss, can I come to your class today instead of Drama?”

I say, “Why, Noa? What’s happening in Drama?”

He says, “I don’t like it. It’s shaming.”

“So why did you pick it?” I ask.

“I just got put in it,” he tells me.

I say, “Well, Noa, I don’t know… really, I don’t know whether you should.”

“Please, Miss,” he says. “I’ll just do work, with Levi.”

I don’t say yes, I don’t say no. I just listen… and then he comes to class.


He doesn’t want to talk to Levi or Riley, just sit by them and do the work with them.

I say, halfway through, “This is a bit boring, aye Noa.”

“No, Miss,” he tells me at once. “I’d rather be here.”

He’s a good boy (Inia’s brother) and he doesn’t want to make trouble, and I can’t with any degree of honesty turn him away. Again, I feel like I just wanna hear him out – he wants so little.

So much to learn: how to respond, move, how to draw back, how to create space. It’s so hard, so often I feel like I’m floundering, or I can’t remember; or I feel like everyone else is right and I’m wrong. That the other teachers are better than me; that I’m blank because I haven’t found how to do the different thing. But the way ‘teachers’ operate is hollow to me though – just all air when you look past it.

I don’t believe in this school stuff, and so I can’t do it with authority. But I need authority for what; for what else? Cos there’s a ‘what else’, there is one –  I know there is.


Sunday 17th May

When I was younger, maybe around 16 or 17, I used to have a lot of daydreams about being a spy. They were complex and vivid with a continuing and developing plot and set of characters. It was almost as if I knew that one day I’d need them. And now I do. So, what makes a good spy?

  1. Confidence
  2. Belief in something, a ‘cause’
  3. Ability to ‘double’, to act (i.e. play the game)
  4. Courage
  5. Strategy
  6. Faith in others – at least some others: allies
  7. Intelligence
  8. Thinking on your feet – being able to respond quickly to shifts in circumstances (reading the swell)
  9. Stamina – holding on
  10. Setting the pace (as well as #8)

Where I fall down: 1, 3, 5, 8, 9, 10.

Where I’m good so far (sometimes): 2, 4, 6. 7

So – the qualities I need to develop:

  • Confidence
  • The ability to double
  • Strategy
  • Reading the swell
  • Stamina
  • Setting the pace

And of those, the first two let me down – time and time again. It’s so obvious, once I write it down.  I’m at the mercy of every fear and every failing. I have the courage to go back every time, but not the confidence to play it differently.

I can’t do anything but wait and expect… what? An answer? It’s a crazy day, I feel as soft as butter, like I’m gonna melt.


Monday 18th May:

Today I have a conversation with Nio which gladdens my heart in the strangest way.

I come down the steps soon after interval, about 15 minutes into class. Nio’s sitting, head down, just up from my door. When he sees me, he says, “Miss…”

“Nio,” I reply. “Aren’t you supposed to be in class?”

“Yes, but I left.” (already he’s back on best Nio form.)

I just say, “Well, you should go back. What did Mr say when you walked out?”

“He said nothing,” Nio tells me, matter of factly.

“So he just let you go?”

“Yeah,” Nio says, with a kind of weary resignation.

I look at him, and as usual he touches my heart, cos the way he operates is nothing if not straightforward. “Oh Nio,” I say, “I don’t know – you walk out of every class.”

“Yeah,” he says again, without triumph.

“Don’t you want your credits, though?” I try.

“Nah,” he shrugs, “I don’t need them… I’m gonna be a drug dealer.”

“I doubt that, Nio,” I say, and he grins at me.


Another boy comes up then, seeing me with Nio. He says, trying to cover Nio’s ass, “Oh, Miss, I have to get Nio, he needs to go to the Deputy Principal’s office. The DP needs to see him, about… changing classes.”

I raise my eyebrows, sighing at the obviousness – but all the same, smiling at the attempt.

Nio sees this, and gives me a look of something approaching understanding. He says to his mate, “It’s ok, Miss is not gonna snitch.” He turns to me and adds, “Don’t, Miss – don’t snitch.”

I say, honestly, “Have I ever snitched on you Nio?”

“No,” he says sincerely, “You’re not a snitch, Miss.”

The other boy looks startled at this frank conversation.

As they leave, Nio turns round and takes a few steps back towards me. “Catch ya up later, Miss,” he says. Then he smiles, before disappearing swiftly behind his friend.

All I ever try and do for Nio is respect his ways.  He doesn’t want what school’s got, well not yet; maybe not ever. But he’s intelligent and admirable in my eyes. I can only offer him a very small thing, which is like a bow towards him from time to time. But today he felt better for it, and that made me glad. Sometimes all you need to know is that you’re not alone. I think that’s all he wanted, today. God knows, it isn’t much. But something. And for me, too – the same.


In 11 Soc today, Alexander and Dimario are so well-intentioned and so gentle, the way they speak and act with me.

Dimario shows me the title of their wall chart, which is beautifully and exquisitely lettered.

“Can you read what it say, Miss?” he enquires.

I look at it and say, “Honestly – no. But I’m sure it says VESUVIUS.”

Dimario laughs. “How do you know, Miss? I could have written anything – it could be something you don’t want on the wall.”

I just say, “No – cos I trust your good intentions.”

He smiles, saying, “It does say Vesuvius, look –  there’s the ‘V’,  the ‘E’,  the ‘S’; he points each letter out, gently. “It’s cos it’s wild styles, it’s supposed to be like that; it’s difficult to read,“ he explains.

Alexander follows the letters with his finger too, “Is that the ‘I’ ?”

Dimario nods.

I say, “Yeah, I get you,” and he looks pleased.


Alexander’s already been to ‘DP Alley’ – someone comes to get him at the start of class.

As he’s taken away, Dimario says to me quietly, “Alexander’s in big trouble, he smashed someone at lunchtime – in the cafe.”

I say, “Really? I thought Alexander wasn’t into fighting,” mock seriously, but half seriously, too.

Dimario laughs, “Oh yeah… everyone thinks he’s like that. But he’s not.”

“Nah, he’s not,” adds Jack, and they nod at me, with concerned faces for their friend; their brother.


When he comes back, they’re truly surprised and delighted. Dimario and Alexander sit and talk while Dimario keeps working on the title for their chart. Alexander had begun it earlier but, “I can finish it Miss,” Dimario says, “I know his style.”

I say to Alexander, “Can you find the rest of the information – it should all be here?”

He says, easily, “Oh yup, sorry Miss,” cos he’s just been telling Dimario the story of the DP visit. And he takes the paper tenderly and scans it for its yield. “That bit?” he asks, pointing out a paragraph.

“Yeah – all that,” I say. “You can just stick it straight on if you want.” Letting him know that I’m not expecting a great amount of concentration, considering recent events.

He looks at me with something like gratitude, and says, “Oh… ok. Is there a glue stick?”

Candy comes over and gives him one. He cuts and glues, patiently and as if he’s settling his energy, finding a peaceful act.


Meanwhile Jack is at the computer, researching Mt Vesuvius for the group. He works with happy concentration.

I say, “You’re working so hard, Jack.”

He says, with relief, “I like this topic… it’s interesting, finding out about volcanoes.”

I look at him in surprise. “Oh! I’m really glad,” I tell him.

He smiles, saying then, “Can you help me find out about calderas?”

So I do, and he writes it into his book, before bringing it back for the others.

At the end, Alexander shows me their work, which is not quite finished, but “Look, we’ve got this… and this… and this…” he points. And he lays it down on the table, and the three of them gently pack up, so gently, the way they place their information in a little pile atop their work, and then their felts and glue into the trays… and they don’t rush out, they walk out last, just quietly and in no hurry.


At lunch I just go for a walk around. When I finally get up to the office, a minute before the bell goes, it’s to a conversation about cleaning the carpet, and Sard Wonder Soap.

Still, I look at things, and I see gentleness and care in unexpected ways, and unexpected allies – and it seems like all I need, for this day. But I’m not confident, I can’t double, I have no strategy… and I still need help.



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