Zombies? Pah, here are 7 truly scary school situations

There are times when teaching can be frightful… From homemade 'treats' to a parent's request for a 'quick chat', here are seven scenarios that will chill all teachers to the bone

Jennie Devine

The homework debate should go beyond good v bad

Halloween is here and no doubt we will all see our share of zombies, goblins and ghouls – even if it's via Zoom.

But none of these are that scary. Teachers know what real horror is. So if you want a tale of real fright

[Thunder crashes and lightning runs across the sky, illuminating two great gothic school gates, one hanging loose from its hinges and creaking in the darkness.]

…then read on, if you dare.

1. The fright of 'I made these for you myself'

When a student offers handmade food, this can strike terror into even the bravest educator.

Though given lovingly, these treats are often offered up by the child who has such an aversion to hygiene that they have tried to get out of washing hands for lunch by licking their own hands clean.

Eat these treats at your own peril!

2. The alarm of the dreadful present

There is a special stomach-turning dread experienced by teachers when unwrapping a gift – who knows what will be revealed in the box? 

Will it be chocolate like you have been hinting all year or will it be something more akin to the movie Seven

Most likely it will be something benign and standard-issue, but just occasionally it will be a foot-high porcelain figurine of three kittens playing with yarn. 

Convert your shock into a rictus grin as the sweet student looks on in joyful anticipation – and drop more hints about chocolate next year.

3. The horror of the ill student

The student is producing so much mucus she is leaving a snail-like trail of slime but she is "fine to come into school" in the words of her parents.

All you have to do is just check on her constantly, keep her in during breaks, ensure she avoids any physical activity, let her keep her jacket and 14 sweaters on inside, monitor her food intake, not let her out of your sight, tend to her every need and deal with the aftermath of her being sick into the classroom bin.

But other than that, she is in absolute tip-top condition and ready to learn about quadratic equations.

4. The terror of the parental chat

Behold the sinking feeling when the most combative/long-winded/difficult parent asks for a chat.

Perhaps their child did not do the homework because he didn’t understand it, despite your previous lessons, the examples in class, the close reading of the instructions and the interpretive dance the class created to explain the task. 

Maybe you have incorrectly marked their daughter’s work and the parent is willing to enlighten you as to why she should have received full marks though she only wrote 15 words of a 2,000-word essay. 

Or they want to discuss a comment about education on Mumsnet and would like to help you understand how you are teaching incorrectly. And could this chat be scheduled when it is convenient for them? Perhaps a Friday evening at 7:30?

5. The dread of social impropriety

Something innocent has been said that your adult brain cannot unhear. 

Though little Giulia has explained that she wrote the alliterative sentence “Naughty Nora nibbles Norman’s nuts” about her hamsters, there is a rising panic as you try not to burst out laughing.  

Or maybe the terror comes from your young writers who are trying out phonics and who constantly misspell the words "coke" or "cook" or "horse" and you end up with pieces with very different meanings.  

Or perhaps a student gives an answer that is so wrong and so unexpected that it catches you off guard: Mario states with confidence that time was invented in 1984. Alice helpfully offers that the next item in the pattern “2,4,6” is "apple". 

Either way, do not laugh. That way only madness lies… 

6. The ghost of disappearing objects

There is a spectre who lives inside schools and who survives on stationery and office supplies.

Though this poltergeist seems to largely feed on Post-it notes, it sometimes supplements its diet with favourite pens, plastic wallets, binders, paper and your stapler. 

These ghouls are also known to turn to devouring mugs in the staffroom. Your supplies are taken away to some other astral dimension though on occasion, they can mysteriously reappear in a child’s pencil case or on a colleague’s desk.

7. The curse of crashing technology

The lesson is fully prepared, amazing resources have been created and full interactive feedback has been built in throughout the session but then…the curse strikes. 

The computer decides to indulge in a much-needed update, the links are broken, the smartboard crashes, applications fail to open, speakers only broadcast at a volume barely perceptible to human hearing, and the ability to share the screen has disappeared. 

The fear is the same as that experienced by a character in a film who opens a window and comes face to half-decayed face with the approaching zombie horde.

Twenty faces stare at the now-sweating teacher who desperately tries every trick in the book, both "hitting the keys harder" and "turning it off and turning it on again", but to no avail. 

Faced with these horrors, it is no wonder that teachers are not concerned by the traditional manifestations of scary costumes. We know what true terror really is.

Jennie Devine has worked in international teaching for 18 years, most recently as a principal at a school in Italy

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