The morning had not gone well in terms of meeting targets and ticking boxes. Even though objectives for each lesson were clearly written on the white board, and even though each student’s specific targets within those objectives had been set, it just hadn’t happened that way.
Googie had seen fit to greet Mrs. M. with a cheery, ‘Hello darling,’ as he entered the classroom, thus attracting an immediate reprimand – not a good start. Spud had ignored the social target of keeping his shoes on and stepped on a drawing pin which necessitated the removal of his sock as well. Simon was suppurating in the summer heat. All the windows and doors were open but the smell of broiled pupil was nonetheless oppressive. The door being open had invited several interruptions from wandering minstrels and bemused staff alike. Dino had forgotten to take his tablet again, so spent the lesson wandering around in various states of agitation, creating pandemonium wherever he passed. Jenna had PMT as usual – a chronic condition – and was sullenly hunched up in a chair, moaning audibly.
Directing Activities Related to Text – or to anything else, didn’t stand a chance. The only targets that had been hit were the rings on the magnetic dart board at break time, and Mrs. M. had lost that game too. She was determined to do better next lesson.
Today was the Summer Solstice. Mrs. M. always chose someone to be the sun and sit in the middle of the huge round table, and someone else to carry the globe, “Just like Atlas,” she said. Spud seemed a likely candidate as he was already bare-foot. The reference to Atlas had been enough to engender confusion in this select year nine group, but in the continuation of the lesson, such chasms of ignorance erupted, that by the end, they’d touched on myth, astronomy, astrology, science, spelling, etymology, geography, history, and ICT skills. None of these things were on the board as objectives. Most of them weren’t even on the curriculum. As a result, accountability was not being served.
Undaunted, Mrs. M. prepared to receive her next student. This ought to be easy; one student, one subject. That was a rare and welcome occurrence on her timetable. As she waited, she wrote up notes on what her students had not achieved in the previous two lessons. What they had achieved was not ‘measurable’. She looked over the top of her half-rimmed glasses at the clock and made a mental note – ten minutes late.
The girl who eventually entered the room had clearly been crying. Her cheeks were black with cheap mascara and she was sniveling as she wiped her nose on her sleeve. She was wearing anything but school uniform, and her trainers’ laces were stuffed down the inside of the designer footwear. She viewed the white haired teacher with a mixture of suspicion and contempt. The contempt was not real, but it was obligatory. The suspicion was heartfelt.
Mrs. M. didn’t look up. She was trying to assess her chances of speaking without causing further upset. The girl sat down at the opposite side of the huge round table. That was a good enough start.
“Nice to see you, Molly.”
“Grunt – sniff – swallow – grunt.”
“Why don’t you come round here, out of the draught?”
The student complied and Mrs. M. took a seat at one of the computers. Molly sat huddled over the table, arms folded and a studied back to the teacher.
“I’ve just boiled the kettle. Would you like a cup of tea? Or chocolate, maybe?” The chocolate did the trick. On the way to fetch it from the kitchen area, Mrs. M. peeked into the team co-coordinator’s office. She could use an angle on what was wrong with Molly. There was no one else around until lunch it seemed; no possibility of back-up. She sighed and carried the not too hot chocolate, into the classroom.
Mrs. M. was a little round granny of a woman, large bosomed and open hearted but shrewd. She was a little too young to retire, a little too old to change and, a little too, ‘experienced,’ to see the need. She knew better than to mention the tardy arrival or the tears. Molly’s first target had been to arrive on time.
Mrs. M. resumed her place at the computer.
“I’m not doing any work!” Molly warned, taking the first sip of chocolate.
Mrs. M. turned her chair. “Did I mention work?”
“No, but you were going to!”
“And you don’t feel like working because – you’re upset?”
“I’m not upset! Fuck off! It’s none of your business anyway so you can just fuck off!”
So, Molly wasn’t upset. This was just her normal state of being. Mrs. M. wondered how she would go about writing this entry in the student’s file. ‘Molly appeared to be upset,’- not very measurable. How you would make that measurable, she asked herself; perhaps sobs/min or tears in mls/second or expletives/session? Maybe she would write a paper.
Now that she had a fair idea of how upset Molly wasn’t, she turned her attention to the computer and maintained silence. She started up a new program of Math’s games that she’d been keeping for a ‘rainy day’. Despite the sunshine, a storm seemed imminent. Spooky music heralded the initializing of the program and a skeleton jangled its way to the centre of the screen and stopped. It was more than a good Goth could ignore. Molly turned her chair slightly.
“What’re you doing?”
“Oh, just having a look at this new program. I never get time, you know…”
‘One or Two Players?’ the screen asked.
Mrs. M. took a leap of faith and clicked two.
‘AA and BB.’
Levels of difficulty and Mathematical Strands; Probability, Decimals, Percentages, Measurement… appeared on the skeletal ribs. Mrs. M. chose those that would suit Molly’s ability and stretch her just a little.
Molly’s chair moved closer. She didn’t mind giving her opinion on a computer game; that wasn’t the same as doing work.
The ploy was perfect.
During the course of a few games, Molly divulged that her pet rabbit had died – and that her best friend Karen had said it was only a fucking rabbit and it wasn’t only a fucking rabbit – and her foster parents weren’t going to let her have another one – and the bruises on her arm were the result of her foster mother restraining her so that her foster father could bury the rabbit and she hated everybody.
The story didn’t quite have the ring of truth about it but as performances go, Cate Blanchett could’ve done no better and it was an improvement on, ‘fuck off’.
The bell went for lunch.
“You have to fill in my report, Miss,” demanded Molly throwing a scrunched up piece of blue paper onto the keyboard.
Mrs. M. read the targets supposedly agreed to by Molly:
• To arrive on time for lessons.
• To wear correct uniform.
• To speak appropriately to members of staff.
• To meet the work targets for each lesson.
Her heart sank as she filled it in honestly; three zeros and a one out of five. Molly stormed out in disgust. “YOU CAN FUCK OFF YOU OLD BITCH!” she screeched back in decibels hitherto unprecedented during the session but measurable, Mrs. M was sure, by all the passing students and staff, including the Special Educational Needs Coordinator returning to the area for her lunch.
“What was wrong with Molly?” asked the SENCo.
“Oh, she spun me some yarn about a dead rabbit,” replied Mrs. M.
“So it was nothing to do with spending the night in a police cell on a drugs charge, then?”
What was she supposed to do? Call the girl a liar to her face? Nominate her for a Golden Globe Award? The darts were flying thick and fast this morning. Why did Mrs. M. feel like there was a target on her back?
Mentally, Mrs. M. gave herself a ‘zero’. She was seriously thinking about fucking off.