Thursday, 29 January 2009

Resistance is futile

Grit has an overwhelming urge to fool around at the back of the class. Like others before me, this is how to express my resistance.

And there are several great approaches to classroom rebellion. One of the masters of this art was a wiry kid called Jimmy.

Jimmy was fourteen, long and lean, with teeth filed into fangs. He looked strangely flexible, like his body was elastic. He may have used it to slip round shadows, under windows, through doors. With his thin, watching eyes he carried an air of serious intent about him. Perhaps he could have been brilliant. But it had gone entirely to the bad. He had several suspensions and a temporary exclusion strapped on him, and was carrying around behaviour cards and final warnings.

But his parents had threatened to take any teacher to court if we laid one finger on him, sent him out a classroom, looked at him in a funny way or upset him in any way whatsoever. And I was terrified of him. Just the reputation of him was enough. Thank God I don't teach him, I thought. Then one day I had a cover lesson. And Jimmy was in the class I was destined to cover. To escape, I thought I might run off, hide in the toilets, feign sickness. Most of these had been tried by the staff, so I knew I wouldn't get away with it. I walked to that classroom like a woman walking to the gallows.

I can hear the class from down the corridor. It is in chaos, because no one can be as threatening as Jimmy, so that means when Jimmy is there, everyone can do what they like, when they like, and take video footage to prove it. I try swinging back the classroom door suddenly and adopting a menacing stare. No one takes any notice. But I do have on my side the fact that for these kids I am not a regular teacher, so they don't know what I'm capable of. Some of these kids behave badly, but they're still afraid of letters home and groundings. So I shout RIGHT! TO YOUR SEATS! It sort of works, because there's a subsiding in the noise and a few kids plump down in chairs. I take the advantage, stride in, and stand in front of the main desk. And even though there's not complete silence, I start to read, using what I pray is a commanding voice, all the instructions left by the class teacher.

There's a bit of a lull in the room while I'm reading out this list of things to do, and some kids get out folders and pens. Then Jimmy stands up. I ignore him. He walks round the classroom, weaving round the desks. I ignore him. All the kids are tittering away and there's a few low murmurs to egg him on. Then he walks from one side of the classroom to the other in a straight line: to do this he jumps up on desks that are in his way, walks over them, jumps down the other side. The class is breaking up. I ignore it. I ignore Jimmy. I carry on reading the instructions, like nothing is wrong, like Jimmy doesn't exist. I suspect some of his classmates are a bit terrified by his behaviour because he doesn't have everyone behind him for this. Jimmy walks slowly to stand in front of me, where I'm getting to the end of that sheet, and I ignore him. He puts his hands on his hips, leans to one side and looks at me and I do not take my eyes from that sheet where I am reading.

When I reach the end of the instructions, I lower that paper, look round Jimmy like he isn't there, standing straight in front of me, inches away, and I say teacher words like Do you all know what you have to do? Is there anyone who needs help? I will come round and see everyone is OK. You're expected to complete this work. And I set off to the desks closest to me to check that everyone has access to books, pens, papers. Behind me, I can hear ripples of murmurs, some giggles, a few words thrown out like hecklers might, but I won't give in.

When I do turn on my tour round the room, there is Jimmy, lying stretched out on the floor with his trousers round his knees. He neatly divides the classroom in two with his body. To get to the other side of the room, I have to step over him. So that's what I do. For the rest of that lesson I step over Jimmy like he's not there. I totally ignore him. When the other kids mention him, call to him, point or laugh, I look at them blankly, like I can't understand what they're saying because there's no one there, lying stretched out on the floor.

I am absolutely terrified of him, what he might do, what might happen next. When the hour's up, the class floods away, I think the best thing I can do is breathe deep, and breathe again, because I survived.

And that is one pretty smart way to challenge and obstruct; to refuse authority; disrupt a lesson; opt out. It is just what I feel like doing right now, with the following question, which reviews not school education, but home education.

3. Do you think that Government and local authorities have an obligation to ensure that all children in this country are able to achieve the five outcomes? If you answered yes, how do you think Government should ensure this?

I want to do what Jimmy did. As he opposed my authority as a teacher, I want to completely deny the legitimacy of this question. Like Jimmy stood questioning my right to teach, I want to stand before this government and question their legal rights.

The five outcomes are not law. The state has no duty, right nor obligation to assure or impose these outcomes. They have no right to intervene in how I raise my children. The government has no obligation to determine what my children should achieve, no right to insist upon our values and beliefs, no duty to establish our outcomes, nor to define and legislate how we parent.

But the government will ignore me, and that strategy will work. I will be made invisible. Later, I may lie on the floor, like Jimmy, with my trousers round my ankles. The only difference between Jimmy and me is that when I do this, I shall be drunk, in despair, at what I fear is coming for every parent.

Grit's answer to this question is No.


sharon said...

Sounds eminently reasonable to me! Just make sure you are wearing the nice clean M&S knickers when you lay on the floor with your trousers round your knees ;-)

Anonymous said...

If you can deal with Jimmy then the Gritlets don't stand a chance!

I rather like the pacifist style lying on the ground protest. Much more effective than the fingers in the ears, la-la-la I'm not listening approach I'm tempted to take right now!

The Finely Tuned Woman said...

Award for you over at mine.

Grit said...

sharon, i shall wear no knickers and i will have a bucket on my head. i think that should be a suitable message to send to the government.

hi mud! the gritlets could never come up with anything as threatening as jimmy. anyway, when they wish to assault me, they just go right ahead and do it.

irene, i will be over immediately to see! thank you!