Friday, September 9, 2011

The trials and glories of Class 3Z

The trials and glories of Class 3Z

Looking back thirty years

Seaview Comprehensive School. It is Friday, and the final lesson of the day. In fact it is also the last day of the summer term. Only a few classes are taking place in the annex at this particular time and the building is quiet and almost eerie. I sit in the sanctuary of the staff room thinking about my final art lesson for the dreaded 3Z — that is a class of third year boys, aged thirteen to fourteen, most of whom have a reputation for bad behaviour.

It is rather unfortunate that the school has been divided in the way it has: the first letters of the alphabet for ex-grammar school children, and the lower letters of the alphabet for ex-secondary school children. The present first year intake has fully Comprehensive schooling, at least so we are told, but we all know that class setting divides the brighter from the less so, at least for all academic subjects. Some parents are not pleased. They may have been promised that children already attending grammar school will continue in their groups until leaving but their siblings have to follow the Comprehensive path to achieve any glittering prizes of success. But the ex-secondary children are not happy with the move either. Having listened to them I know many fear rejection. Unfortunately, in some cases, they have been proved right.

My thinking is that the ex-secondary schoolchildren have a raw deal. Having heard what some ex-grammar-school teachers think of them, I tend to side with the kids. I taught at the secondary school in question and am aware of the problem children, but many are from difficult homes. It so happens, I was a junior-school teacher a few years ago and know about the backgrounds of quite a few of the youngsters. But I did not know any of the boys of 3Z when I started teaching them, so we had to get to know one another. That has not been easy.

To attend their art lesson, they have to walk across the playing fields from the main buildings. The annex is single story, part of which is built on a hill, a long corridor with a number of short flights of stairs take you around bends and up to the top two classrooms, one of which is my art room, the only one occupied on most days of the week. With no one to restrain them, quite often the boys fight on their way over. They have also been known to pick and eat the ‘magic mushrooms’ growing in the outer field. The first task is to get the boys settled and motivated, not easy for their last lesson of the day and week. And now it will be their last lesson of the year and also with me. I admit, part of me hopes they will all clear off home! Well, one thing for sure, I must be well prepared for their arrival.

Over the year, I discovered that, once they had been taught the basics, it was better to allow them complete freedom of choice with me assisting where necessary, even if it was copying a picture of a semi-nude girl astride a motor bike! The boy had been surprised I had allowed him to do it, but I am delighted with the fantastic job he’d done. There will be no choice today. I have the room set out with single desks, papers and pencils. Easy to prepare, easy to clear up.

I hear the boys running up the steps, at least they are not fighting. I stand up as they enter the room, ready to count them and check them off in my register. I am also ready for any last day funny business. But something odd is happening. They all enter the room and sit down in silence, cross their arms and look at me. What’s more, every boy is present — present and silent. No shuffling, muttering, or even day-dreaming. I have their complete attention. They are all looking straight at me with sealed lips. What is going on? I ask them that very question.

No answer.

I repeat the question.

The largest boy in the class, a usually quiet pupil who appears to have quite a lot of respect from the rest of the class, decides to answer my question.

“Well, this is our last lesson with you, Miss. So we all decided to be well-behaved.’ He looks around the desks at the rest of the boys and adds with a clenched fist, “Or else!”

I am deeply moved.

They prove to be as good as their word.

During this quiet lesson, I see a note being passed around with a whisper to each person. I hope it is not going to be something to spoil their impeccable behaviour. Then a lad comes forward and says, “I expect you will throw it away but we all want you to have this.”

I open the folded note. Each person has written his name. I am deeply touched. What a way to end the last day of term.

I say, “You have given me the best present ever. I will always keep this gift. Thank you.”

Their beaming smiles tell me that maybe my teaching skills are not too bad. Surely something has been achieved with them?

Every so often I come across that list of names and, with a warm glow, wonder what has become of each boy.