leaving the room

Submitted into Contest #58 in response to: Write a story about someone feeling powerless.... view prompt



I recall my first term teaching at the Fitzhammond School with a mixture of anguish and self-assured satisfaction. The inner city school had a variety of kids from backgrounds ranging from good to bad or indifferent. Most of them looked permanently downcast. For the boys there, school had no wow factor: it was no fun. They solved this problem by temporarily creating mayhem in the classroom… my classroom usually.

I seemed powerless to command any kind of respectful behaviour.

Several teachers in the staff room had forewarned me that class 5C in particular would lead most teachers to the brink of suicide. They weren’t far wrong. During my first English Literature lesson things got a bit boisterous. I assured myself however, that it was only to be expected with a new teacher – and one that was not that much older than they were.

 I had pre- armed myself with the niceties of casual introductions and I thought it went well regardless of the fact that one lad appeared to have x-ray vision and was able to see through my blouse. However, by lesson three they were testing the waters with me. I guess they were pushing to see just how far I would go before being tipped over the edge. 

The worst day of all came at a period in my life where personal problems were constantly on my mind. I had just split from my fiancé and found going home to an empty house particularly trying after a long day at school.

I arrived in the class to find them all seated quietly. No one spoke, which I found unnerving to say the least. Then I turned around to be confronted by a sketch on the blackboard of what can only be described as two rabbits copulating. The room erupted with laughter. I thought it best to ignore the artwork and carry on with the lesson. I slowly removed my books to start the work that I had meticulously planned. However, someone decided that their joke hadn’t made enough of an impact on me. His arm shot up and began waving furiously in the air.

“Yes Philip,” I enquired casually, still ignoring the masterpiece behind me.

“Can you rub that off the board?” he snickered “It’s putting me off?”

I was not falling for that one so I calmly replied “Take out your book on The Tempest you are going to read to us today.”

“Not likely,” was the stern reply. “Not until you rub that off the board!”

I had previously enquired as to what was the best tack to take in a situation such as this. The normal procedure, I had been informed, was to send them out of the classroom. There was no alternative but to dismiss Philip from the class for the rest of the lesson. I cleared my throat and found my most imperious voice, “Philip Ryan, leave the room this instant and stand outside The Head’s office until this class is dismissed!” I waited with bated breath for the response.

I heaved a sigh of relief as he calmly slid his chair out from beneath the desk, brazenly stood up and sauntered towards the door. As he closed it with a thud, I just caught the tail end of the mumbled obscenities that had been hurled in my direction. There was a sharp intake of breath as the rest of the class sat silently awaiting my reaction. Unsure as to what to do next I thought it best to carry on as if nothing had happened.

“Right class,” I smiled demurely, “Did any of you watch the Dickens play last night?” This prompted another wave of laughter. I clapped my hands in some sort of misguided effort to control them, “Quiet please!” It was as if I had spoken to the wall. I tried again, more forcibly “Quiet please, unless you all want to leave the room and go to Mr. Humphries.”

 It seemed to have made an impact the second time round. I posed the question again, “Now did anyone see Dickens last night?”

“What the Dickens do you think?” reverberated from the back of the class “It was on the other side of The Simpsons.”

The laughter turned to almost hysteria. Had I not been so annoyed, his wit would probably have brought a smile to my face. However, at that moment I felt I had to set some sort of precedent if I hoped to gain any kind of respect. I had to bellow above the furore, “Mark Jacobs do you want to join Philip outside the Head’s room?” He began to mimic a rocking clown as he feigned side-splitting laughter. The set of bongo drums in my temples were beating so violently I thought my head might explode. I summoned my most irate expression and pointed towards the door.

 “Leave the room this instant and join Philip outside Mr. Humphries room,” I demanded. “I will not have my class disrupted like this.”

He sat bolt upright, eyes transfixed unflinchingly on my face. This was going to be a battle of wills. I shouted for a second time, “I said leave the room!” There was no charming this kid. I began to wonder who the victor actually was when he stood up, did some sort of Mandella salute and strutted triumphantly out of the room.

Phew that was a close one I thought as I managed to avoid wiping the droplets that had gathered on my top lip until my back was turned to the class.

By now I was wondering if I should check on the whereabouts of Philip but thought it best to leave sleeping dogs lie and continue.

After a couple of seconds gathering my composure, I noticed an arm waving at the back of the room.

“Miss Miss,” he insisted.

 “Yes Paul.” I answered, praying that the lesson would commence without any more problems.

He stood up, to ensure his question was heard by the whole class, “Miss, I was wonderin’ if you had the hots for Sniffy cos I saw you in his car going home the other night?”

The snickers travelled round the room like a Chinese whisper. I felt my colour rise. “Sit down and be quiet,” I demanded “Or you too can leave the room.” At this rate I would have no class left to teach. The boy obediently slumped back into his seat with a self-satisfied grin on his face.

I had accepted a lift from Colin Pugh the chemistry teacher and, I suffocated a smile at the thought that he did sniff for the whole journey. I wondered what name this group of pubescent misfits had labelled me with.

“Ok the rest of you, now that Philip and Mark have left the room,” I continued, trying to get back on track, “We will do some reading of Maya Angelou.” I tried to sound authoritative and unperturbed by the incidents but inside I was quaking like the condemned man who was about to put his head in the noose. “I want you all to collect a book from the box here and each will read a piece of poetry.” There was a sudden whoosh as the whole class stood up in unison and rushed like a group of stampeding buffalo to the front. Each one grabbed a book and started reciting from it until the noise was unbearable. I grabbed a ruler and slapped it down furiously on the desk but to no avail. A second time was met with the same response. The desks were almost vibrating with the noise. I clasped my hands to my ears in desperation.

I could feel my whole body start to shake. I was on the point of walking myself, when one of them took pity on my predicament and yelled on the top of his voice “Shut it you lot, we’ve upset her now!” It was Shaun the suave Mr. Cool of the class. This lad, the rest of the boys looked up to. Suddenly there was silence, beautiful silence.

It was then I realised that these kids didn’t want any wandering through fields of daffodils or Romeo Romeo wherefore art thou bleedin’ Romeo. They wanted the cut and thrust of 21st century living. The only reason they succumbed to reading A Midsummer Night’s Dream was because someone had had a quick skim through it and spotted that the word ‘Bottom’ popped up several times. They soon lost interest when they discovered that the said ‘Bottom’ didn’t belong to a nymph like Angelina Jolie. Half of them probably though Shakespeare was a son of a Navaho Indian chief. They wanted to discuss the prowler in the nearby woods or how many kids got nicked that week. That was what pushed their buttons. Nevertheless, I knew that there were a few who genuinely wanted to learn.

That night I arrived home more exhausted than a cat that had just scoffed the Christmas turkey. I began to think about them. They weren’t really bad kids, just kids. Kids trapped in a nightmare where the brighter ones got to escape the yellow slime but the giant spider ate the rest.

By the time my next lesson with class 5C was due, I had developed a nervous tick at the mere mention of their name. I put on my bravest face and went into combat. The lesson started in the usual way - lots of noise and bravado from Philip Ryan. I placed my books on the desk and just stood and waited for them to settle. A couple of minutes later a timid voice squeaked from the back of the class, “Miss, Miss.”

“Yes Carl?” I sighed.

“There’s an Oliver Twist play on next week,” he announced proudly “That’s Dickens aint it?”

I gasped, at last someone was taking an interest, “You are right Carl” I complimented his astuteness. That’s when I got my inspiration “Why don’t we put on our own play of Oliver. I’m sure Mr. Humphries will let us use the gymnasium to perform in.”

There was a pregnant pause before Paul - the peeping Tom- also decided it might be a good idea. Perhaps he considered it a way of avoiding having to actually learn anything. I didn’t know nor did I care. “Yeah Miss,” he piped up, “And I can be the Artful Dodger.”

Wow, I thought they actually know some of the characters; perhaps they weren’t so stupid after all.

“Well ok boys if you are all up for it then I am too.” I had reached a turning point. “Maybe then we can move on to a Shakespeare play afterwards.” There was a lot of grunting at that point before someone – I don’t recall who – shouted out, “As long as nobody asks me to play Juliet.” The room burst into laughter but this time I was a part of it, not the butt of it. I knew then that I had cracked it. I had won them over.

Our play went superbly; even Philip who had become a more than willing participant played his part of Fagin like a true trooper.

They all took a bow and left the room to rapturous applause.

September 07, 2020 11:26

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