The struggle of others

Thursday 30th July, 2009:

The ‘walk throughs’ have started. I find this idea so totally abhorrent I still cannot write about it – except to say I haven’t had one yet.

And school incenses me with its constant surveillance, its squeezing of any freedom or space, and worst of all: its requirement for complicity – which they call ‘ownership’ of what we are told to do. I don’t think ‘diabolical’ is too strong a word, at times. Really.


So I’ll write about what makes me happy: 11 Social. They’re in the zone today, more than I’ve ever seen them – even in Term 1. And so am I, with history this term. It’s so different from the way I felt about the geography topic last term, though I tried really hard, and I did keep it going. The kids sense they’re getting their money’s worth now though. Other classes have started watching movies, but not us – and my class don’t protest or skip a beat. “We’ll watch them later on, aye Miss,” Candy says. “It’s better to do this first so we really understand the topic – it’s interesting.”

They really want to learn. Dimario and Alexander can barely contain themselves; they need to know everything – they ask me questions I can’t answer and have to look up. As soon as I ask them to do anything, they’re onto it. I hear Dimario chivvying Jack along. Afterwards we talk about racial terminology: all the words people use, and how and why meanings shift and become blurred. Dimario and Alexander are the ones with the most nuanced perspective on things – they provide example after example, making the others laugh and nod their heads knowingly.

As I explain things, they make notes; ask questions. Alexander keeps saying “No,” when I want to change slides. He’s still writing, he’s concentrating; his art just sits to one side and he doesn’t touch it the whole time. They’re talking to one another about their work – I can hear Jack and Dimario sorting it all out together; they laugh at Alexander cos he rushes it and gets things the wrong way round, and “Ohh…” he says, as he realizes, and Dimario grins, affectionate and amused.

When the bell rings, Candy and Preet hover at my side and say, “Miss, this class is so interesting,” and I know that my three colleagues up the back feel like that too. I know it for sure, and it’s the best thing to soothe me on a day like today – to know I’m doing one thing right; just one thing – and when Alexander and Dimario walk out of class, they’re saying to one another, “C’mon nigga…” and “Hurry up, nigga…” with an air of informed, delighted, referencing. I love seeing them realise that they’re smart.


Friday 31st July:

After school I email Marjorie (the year 10 Dean) about Argos.

I don’t tell her this, but he’s been in my room all day today (until the last class, when I had seniors).

He comes by in first period, looks in the window. I go out.

“Miss, can I come in?”

I just say, “Of course,” because there’s nothing else to be done for this young wanderer and no point to be made in telling him to go away – he’s got nowhere else to go. He just sits on the floor at the front. My class, bless them, take no notice; they aren’t even a tiny bit surprised at my visitors. Besides, he disturbs no-one. All Argos wants is to be at ease – no more moving along. “Can I do something for you Miss?” he asks. “I’ll do any job you want.”

With him he brings a boy named Jahman, who has (apparently) just transferred from another school, though he’s got no timetable – and I doubt he’s enrolled at all. They relax instantly – as if their bodies have to take any moment or chance that comes along in this tense, fugitive day. But when a knock comes on my door; Argos reacts by springing up and darting into the little corner behind my desk, within half a second he’s wary and hounded.

It’s only George, Conor and Hala though, and I go out and talk to them. They want to come in, but understand when I tell them it’s a bit tricky at present. Instead I give them a ‘prop’ (the Black Civil Rights textbook) and they sit in the block, pretending to do work at a table. That should keep the long arm of the DP’s off their back, unless anyone checks. George looks cheerful, which makes me happy.


When I go back to class, Argos says, “Who was it, Miss?”

“It’s ok – just George and them.”

“Miss – don’t let them in – just us today?”

I say, “Ok… just you.”

They relax again, their alert, vigilant faces becoming soft and unguarded. When I start showing a documentary near the end of class, they watch almost dreamily; Argos tilting the laptop so they can see it from their spot on the floor.


After interval, they arrive to my next class straight away. In they come and settle down, pleased and at home:

“Can I change my timetable, Miss… then I can be in your class?” asks Argos

“But don’t you have Hospitality now, with your friends..”

“No… I don’t care… I like it better here.”

“I bet your Hospitality class is fun.”

“No it isn’t… it isn’t,” he insists. “It’s dumb, I don’t care about it.”


And the year 10’s come in, happy as can be. They welcome Argos and Jahman with delight and no surprise. They don’t say – What are they doing here? Levi and Aperamo, Riley, Simeon sit by them immediately, moving from their usual seats to do so.

“Are we still doing climate change?” asks Simeon.

“Yes I’m afraid we are!” I say.

Cries of “Oh no…” and “I hate it, it’s boring!”

I laugh, saying “Too bad.”

“But why – why Miss? Can’t we just not do it, why do we have to?”

I say, “No… cos we all have to, all the year 10’s. I don’t have any say in the matter.”

“But how come… Miss?“

“Cos I just have to do what school tells me to do sometimes, same as you.”

“Unless you were principal, aye Miss.”

I say, “Yes, well that’ll never happen!”

“Why not?” they ask, genuinely wanting to know.

“Oh God, can you imagine… me as principal…” I mutter, making them laugh and laugh.

Then I say, “Anyway, look you guys, we are doing it, so get some self control,” and they grin at me, and I add, “Tired of you always standing up for your rights…” in loving tones, and they look at me fondly, saying, “But it’s good to know your rights, aye Miss.”

“Yes it’s good, it’s good – but you make me tired and stressed.”

And they say, “Oh yes that’s right, you said you were going to murder Riley, last time… and Simeon.”

“No, not just me!” chirps Simeon. “Levi – with scissors!”

Argos and Jahman are laughing too, and I’m happy to see Argos just at ease and not in pain.

I start off, and they’re still chatting a little bit, and I say, “Guests, be quiet.”

“Sorry Miss,” says Argos.

“It’s alright,” I tell him.


The year 10’s get through the whole rest of the class – it’s like a never-ending torment – but they still do all the work, moaning about their bloody rights.

“Can I have felts or colored pencils?” asks someone.

“No way – you guys can’t be trusted with felts and pencils!”

And they giggle and look happy. They love to be teased, and they know I kind of get them and their little ways.

At the end Jahman says to me, “This is a cool class, cool people in it… cool teacher,” and it’s so nice and natural the way he says it, just like that. Argos just says, “Thanks, Miss,” and I tell him I’ll ask about his timetable and see if we can sort it out.


All day I’m tired and I’m thinking about it, mostly wondering how I can help, then after school Kuli comes in and tells me that Marjorie picked Argos up in S block after lunch – and for me that clinches it. I know I have to try and do something, even if I don’t know what to do. So that’s when I email Marjorie, just saying that I’m well aware of the general situation, and that I would be happy to have him in my year 10 class if it helps him to come to class, etc etc.

She gets straight back to me – it seems to be quite good timing. They’re just about to formulate some kind of last ditch plan to try and intervene before they are ‘forced to refer him on’. She’ll be back in touch when she knows more about it.

And I feel better for having tried, even if nothing happens. But my mind won’t really switch off. Down to the valley – I don’t have a clue really if I’m right or wrong. I don’t know whether I’m doing anything useful, I just know that I’m not able to forget, even if I’m tired: I can’t forget. The new teacher (La-Verne) was going on about ‘work-life balance’ today and I thought – what’s that all about? Life’s not just what you do when you’re not working. I can’t separate them out as if the struggle of others means nothing.



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