A deep need makes for a shallow grasp

Thursday 21st May 2009:

Today hasn’t been so great. 11 Soc is languishing under the weight of geography, and only now and then reaches the old heights. I try – but Geo and I are just not a great combination. I don’t feel in my element, I’m too self-aware, and it doesn’t flow for me.

But there are moments of grace in it, thanks largely to Dimario and Jack, who most willingly and sweetly do all their work – every last piece of it – as if they’re offering me a present. Dimario shows me every time I come near: “Miss, I’m finished, what shall I do next?” And Jack is the same. He does me a favour with the patient, accepting willingness he brings to this often boring work.

They trust my intentions – that’s what it boils down to. They had their minor (and completely non-disruptive) reaction a few weeks back, now they just do their work without rancour. Jack even likes it I think; he quite likes geography. I think cos it’s factual, and he knows when he’s right, when he’s found the correct answer to a question. Dimario doesn’t much like it, but he’s got over the initial dislike.


They finish, when everything else is done, their Mt Vesuvius wall chart as well.

“Miss?” says Dimario. “Are you going to laminate this, and put it on the wall, like the others?”

“Yes, of course I am,” I tell him.

“I don’t want you to,” he says. “Cos you might get into trouble, cos of this…” and he strokes the beautiful, finished bombing of the title. “The school will just think it’s tagging and that it’s bad.”

I say, “How could anyone say it’s just tagging?” I look at it, adding, “It’s artistic and beautiful.”

I see Dimario smile with such modest pride that it gladdens my heart. He says, “We’re not allowed to do it in art. I do it all on my own time, I practice it a lot.”

When he leaves class, he says, “Put it on the wall, Miss,” and he signs three little hits on it: one for Jack, one for Alexander, one for himself – with the lightest, quickest touch of his pen.

I say, “Yup, of course I will.”


Then Projects – they’re all supposed to have a 1:18 ratio.  But on paper I have 32 students – 29 of them boys! God in heaven! I don’t know what I will do with them.  How can school give me an extra 14 students – I’ve got no space and no extra computers. And there are people whose Project has 2 teachers and only 11 kids.

But I won’t turn the kids down if they wanna come – at least they’re choosing it. Only I have to think how to do this, how to play it.


Friday 22nd May:

‘Professional Development’ today – Central Teachers’ Centre with Mandy. I don’t really wanna go, except that we get lunch (cheap thrill), and a little rest, I guess. Luckily there aren’t any group ‘bonding’ activities. I’m not into bonding with teachers.

Mostly a boring lot of presentations, but it’s kinda fun sitting there, all the same. I can handle lectures, and a couple are okay. I just daydream if I’m not listening, and draw; just like my own school days. And lunch is good.

All except for one or two presenters just read out their presentation or else use power point (or in one case, the overhead projector!) and just lecture from it. I never once look up at the presenters or their material, except for the first guy – he’s interesting.

But it makes me realise how I have to be a hundred times more creative to hook my audience – cos the kids are not polite like us teachers, who just sit there quietly and clap at the end for courtesy’s sake. When I see these university lecturers who don’t even have to try, cos their audiences are respectful out of habit and maturity – I just think that I’ve learned something after all. And it makes me wanna keep going back… and then surprisingly, I feel like I’m not so helpless after all. I have strategy, I didn’t know I had it – but it’s there, able to be deployed. I know my audience, and I like them, and I wanna do it for them, not just (often not even; cos I often don’t get the point myself), as a way of getting a point across. Getting the ‘findings’ across, as if that’s what matters, and not the people listening, who need to make sense of their own reasons for listening at all.

So when I see that Dimario and Jack are working in 11 Soc, despite the fact that I have no aptitude for geography, I know I’ve done something more than just talked and expected them to listen. I know I’m not alone – and that means so much more to me than getting some facts or pet theories across to politely listening adults.


Dimario tells me a lot more about Alexander’s cafeteria incident. It was one of those occasions where things just went wrong, partly because of Alexander’s misreading of the situation. He used a sledge hammer to crack a nut – in the person of Gareth Cleveland.

Alexander tried to take Gareth’s wallet (it was in his shirt pocket) – that much is incontestable. What’s interesting is how it all escalated into its classification as a ‘mugging’.

Alexander reached his hand down from behind and uplifted the wallet from Gareth’s pocket. He didn’t know that Gareth Cleveland is pretty much the softest boy in year 9. Gareth is totally clueless as to the nuances of a situation – which almost makes it inevitable that he would have responded in the way he did. He turned around and saw Alexander and clutched him, as if Alexander was another little boy like himself, as if Alexander was trying to have a turn on the swings when it was Gareth’s turn. He clumsily grabbed at Alexander, trying to hold him, and Alexander – not knowing Gareth – read it as a challenge and a signal. So he swung back his fist and delivered the first punch.

“Alexander smashed him with one hit…’ says Dimario sorrowfully. “He just went straight down.”

Then it was a ‘mugging’ – with Gareth Cleveland lying looking at the stars, and Alexander mystified as to where the fight went wrong.


Gareth, with his plump and rosy innocence, reminds me of Ralph on The Simpsons. He seemed almost delighted to have been the recipient of Alexander’s celebrity-bestowing K.O.

“Did you hear what happened to me?” he asked, cherubically.

“Yes, I did,” I said. “Do you know the other boy?”

“Alexander!” piped Gareth, with radiant benevolence.

“Did you know him before?”

“No,” beamed Gareth, as if Alexander had transformed him, perplexingly, into a person of some renown. “I didn’t know him. But he wanted my wallet…” he continued dreamily, as if he was the hero of the story, the handpicked rival. He smiled at the pleased recollection; almost chuckled.

I tell Dimario, “Gareth is the softest kid – there’s no way he would have wanted to fight Alexander.”

Dimario nods in understanding. “But Alexander thought the kid wanted a fight… and things just got out of control.”

I imagine it – Gareth Cleveland looking momentarily like a boxer. “Never mind,“ I say, “At least Alexander just got 5 days stand down – it could have been worse.”

And Dimario says, “Yeah, it could.”

It’s a frank conversation, and I know Dimario wouldn’t pass on such information if he didn’t think I was on Alexander’s side. He knows, and I know – that Alexander was clearly at fault, but we both also know that the overall shape of things was not entirely as it seemed.



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