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4 of the most annoying student questions (and what I really want to reply)

The questions are the same every time, and your response always carefully redacted. What if you could say what was really on your mind?

Raised hands

In the years before I became a supply teacher when I had a regular teaching job, the single greatest cause of despair, frustration and stress was the never-ending litany of stupid things said to me by the school’s management. Another ill-conceived government directive to implement, a new way to analyse classroom data, a stern warning for marking the kids’ work in the wrong colour pen, and so on.

I worked out early on in my career that when given a pointless task to do, a task that was going to waste my time and have no meaningful impact on the students’ learning, the best response was to nod enthusiastically, agree to whatever ridiculous thing I was being asked to do, and then carry on as before, totally ignoring the request. Nine times out of ten this seemed to work. As I got older, wiser and increasingly cynical, I’d occasionally let the powers that be know just how stupid I thought their ideas were. It was around this time I decided a permeant post might no longer be the best place for me.

The students would often say daft things too of course, but here the strategy had to be a little different. Faced with yet another absurd question from a student, every teacher runs through an internal version of what they’d like to say, before giving the acceptable, redacted response. Here then, are some of the more irritating questions we all get asked on a daily basis, and what we’re really thinking but are too professional to say out loud.

Why are you picking on me? Everyone else is talking too

On the face of it this appears to be a reasonable point, as there are nearly always several culprits and it doesn’t seem fair to single out only one person. However, what I’m usually thinking is…

“It’s true, you’re not the only one talking, but you are relentless in your ability to avoid doing any work and to distract everybody else. You, far more than any other student in the class, probably the whole school, are irritating beyond belief and, I and doubtless everyone else in the room, wishes you would just, for a few seconds, shut the hell up.”

Sir, why do we get detention when we’re late but you’re late all the time and nothing happens?

Again, at first glance this seems like a perfectly reasonable comment. Afterall, shouldn’t we aim to apply the same standards to the staff as we insist on for the students? I’ll usually point out that being a teacher confers certain additional privileges but that these are tempered with the extra responsibilities we have. What I want to say is…

“I’m sometimes late because I’ve usually had to come from another lesson on the other side of the building, which overran today because I had to deal with students like you, who can’t just get on with their work without some kind of drama which I then have to deal with, and on my way here I had to break up a fight, then stop a bunch of other irritating students, like you, from trying to throw their water bottles onto the roof of the maths prefabs, and I then had to go back to the office to get the books for your lesson because I don’t have my own teaching room and have to wander round the school like a nomad. You on the other hand probably convinced that gullible supply teacher to let you out of your lesson five minutes early and only had to get here from the classroom next door. And you were still ten minutes late!”

Why do I have to do this work? It’s boring

Where do I start? There’s a childlike naivety in this question that’s almost charming in the way it seems to suggest the world should offer only fun and laughter. I usually trot out some old saw about never knowing when a piece of knowledge might be useful some day, but what I want to say is…

“Yes it’s boring. Some things are boring. Having to listen to the same dumbass questions from students like you every day is boring, but you know what? That’s life, kid. A lot of stuff you’re going to have to do when you’re a grown-up, including a good 75 per cent of your working life, will be dull. But you’re still going to have to do it. All we’re doing is preparing you for the mindless drudgery of your future. Suck it up.”

Can I go to the loo?

I pretty much always say yes to this request, as I firmly believe that not letting another human go for a wee when they need to is the mark of a tyrant. However, I know that for a certain type of student this request is never really about needing the loo, so I sometimes feel like adding…

“I know you don’t actually need the loo and you’re only asking to leave the room to avoid doing any work, but frankly I think everyone in the class, myself very much included, could do with a break from having to put up with you, so yes, please go to the loo. Don’t hurry back.”

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