I See Tea Time

Anybody who has ever taught ICT in a secondary school context will tell you that there are but a small number of ways to arrange a computer suite, in order to fully facilitate the process of teaching.  Read all of the books on Feng Shui, and Interior Design that you like, but this is one instance where layout serves a much more practical purpose: the teacher has to be able to see every screen from every conceivable position in the room.  Concepts such as ‘harmony’, ‘balance’ and ‘vibrations’ don’t enter into the equation.

Given that this particular tale relates to  a time prior to every ICT teacher having the software to oversee all of the other computers in the room, the best way to achieve the desired effect was to imagine oneself on the bridge of the Starship Enterprise, and arrange all of the monitors around the outside, facing inwards: thus enabling the teacher-protagonist to strut around the room, barking out instructions akin to Captain James T. Kirk; complete with imaginary space-vest and space-paunch, should the need arise.

Sadly such precise layouts weren’t always on offer, and given my fairly comprehensive track record of supply teaching, I have found myself in plenty of situations, whereby a lesson was compromised by a constant need to supervise particular individuals prone to downloading games in a bid to avoid the prescribed lesson; as well as, pass the school day in a way more agreeable to themselves. How else might it have been possible for me, to discover the joys of ‘Bubble Shooter’ and subsequently whittle away a certain amount of my own downtime, which I could have used more productively?

So, it was on one such occasion that I found myself covering a Year 10 ICT lesson in a school that I had been regularly attending, and had seemingly – for the most part – ingratiated myself with.  That is, if one overlooks a slight feeling of ongoing antipathy directed towards me, on the part of one of the assistant head teachers.

Of course, it could quite easily have been the case that the individual in question, carried an awkward charge more generally, and subjected any number of other members of staff to the same passive-aggressive demeanour, unwittingly or otherwise i.e. it’s not all about me. It’s very easy, at the time of engagement however, to see oneself as the sole lucky recipient; particularly when one is a supply teacher, with few real allies in the staffroom.

That aside, most of the time, things were just great, with the majority of the lessons on any given day passing peacefully and productively.  Naturally, there are singularly tricky groups in every school, and this was no exception.  As was the case, with the aforementioned Year 10 ICT group: particularly if you bear in mind that I was teaching in a computer suite that had so many nooks and crannies, you could have played hide and seek in there, as well as attempting to conduct the actual lesson. Oh, and did I mention that they were a small group comprising largely special needs students, and individuals with behavioural difficulties? They certainly did.

‘We’re the naughty kids, aren’t we Sir?’

‘Oh, I wouldn’t say that’

‘Then why is our class called 10w, and all of the rest are called 10a, 10b, 10c, 10d and 10e?’

‘Ah well, there might be a good reason for that. The letters might stand for something. Yours might mean ‘wonderful’, or something like that?’

‘It might stand for something else beginning with a ‘w’ sir’

‘Witty, maybe? I’d say it’s probably best not to speculate?’

Despite the slightly negative deliberations on the part of the students, the lesson went off fairly peacefully, especially if we further consider that it was the last one of the day, and if anything – at least in my experience – things tend to get tougher as the day wears on: the more fatigued one gets as an individual, the more the kids are apt to exploit the ‘chinks in the armour’; more so, if they’ve been exposed to a welter of sugary drinks and snacks over the lunchtime period.

So I was quite pleased that I’d managed to keep them relatively on track with regard to the work, with chastisement regarding the business of looking at sites other than those prescribed kept to a minimum.  So much for the Feng Shui and Interior Design theories.

But such appearances can be deceptive, and rather than congratulate myself on my ability to – not only – maintain order and build a rapport into the bargain, I should have adhered to previously hard won insights along the lines of ‘if a group of otherwise disruptive students, elects to play along to such a degree that it might be deemed out of character, then it probably is out of character, and then there is a deception or a distraction at large’.

And so it was that with about ten minutes to go, until the end of the lesson, the landline in the corner of the room put in an appearance. It was the lady on the reception desk, down by the entrance to the school.

‘Have you ordered some pizzas?’

‘No, why would I do that?’

‘Well, somebody in your name has.  Don’t worry, I’ll get the duty manager to come up there and see what is happening’.

It was at this point – putting the handset down, and slowly turning on my heels – that I became aware of a fully attentive audience eagerly awaiting the next move: an audience, it seems, fully ‘in on the joke’; an audience fully aware of the events leading up to this moment, and excitedly awaiting the next scene. An air of anticipation hung heavy in the room.

‘What was that, Sir?’

I decided to play it down, in an attempt to minimize both the incident, and any potential outcome.

‘Oh, nothing to worry about.  C’mon, why are topping… er, stopping?’

Now I don’t know who the much alluded-to ‘sod’ is, or what business he or she has making laws in relation to the business of stuff going awry, and spinning further out of control, but I think it was pretty much a given that the duty-manager-du-jour would turn out to be the assistant head I had previously deemed somehow resentful of my presence. And sure enough, in that precise capacity, they ‘dutifully’ appeared.

They ‘dutifully’ appeared just as the bell rang, so that the whole episode had the unfortunate look of a pizza-delivery person announcing their presence at the door, and entering to pass their wares on to the hunger-stricken inhabitants therein. I thought it best not to suggest the possibility of a tip.

Assuming an immediate assistant head-style authority over the situation, the identity of the perpetrators was promptly established – it was a fairly small group, after all – and the whole class was dismissed without retribution; a generous move that had little bearing on their need to push things further by enquiring as to whether they might partake of the bounty they had been so instrumental in procuring.

‘Don’t worry’ said the assistant head, addressing me directly, complete with a smile that I couldn’t decide as to whether it was sympathetic or malevolent… or both.

‘I think we can make use of these at the staff meeting’

The response was so low-key that it left me in place where I could only speculate as to the potential outcome, and imagine both positive and negative developments as distinct possibilities. From the school’s perspective, I could easily see the need to add a couple of items to the ‘any other business’ feature of the staff meeting agenda: the need to rearrange the ICT suites in such a way as prohibit access to unauthorised sites, and some sort of review regarding the extent to which the school employs and utilises supply staff.

Ruminating on the latter as I walked home that afternoon, I wondered what I might do, in the absence of further offers of temporary work. And although I didn’t settle upon anything immediately, given the speculative nature of the ruminations, I couldn’t escape the nagging feeling, by way of a cruel irony serving to underscore my plight that I might somehow end up working in a fast food emporium. But presumably, not in charge of the computer?

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About Kevin Precious: Talking Out Of School

Kevin Precious is a former RE Teacher turned stand-up comedian. He previously toured the country's arts centres and theatres with a school-themed show entitled 'Not Appropriate'. He is currently working on a show called 'Unholier Than Thou' which combines his career as an RE Teacher with his outlook as a non-believer. The plan is to take it to Edinburgh in 2018. If you wish to book him as a stand-up comic, host or for teacher-themed events, you can do so by contacting The Artists Partnership, the details of which are below. Kevin also promotes and hosts stand-up comedy nights at a variety of arts centres and theatres under the Barnstormers Comedy banner. Kevin Precious Website Booking Kevin: The Artists Partnership Barnstormers Comedy Website www.facebook.com/kevinpreciouscomedy
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