“Human speech is like a cracked kettle on which we tap crude rhythms for bears to dance to, while we long to make music that will melt the stars.”
― Gustave Flaubert, Madame Bovary
Flaubert was obviously no stranger to writing school reports. The gap between what we say and what we mean is often the loneliest, longest space. Language, properly used, should shatter Jericho with its precision and economy. Most of our speech is like the light from a fridge, weak and utilitarian, often unused. Lined up with care, and aim, it becomes a laser.
Oggi sarà una buona giornata. Io sono un vincitore. Sono fiducioso, felice e forte
James Bond: Can I borrow a match?
Bond's contact: I use a lighter.
Bond: Better still.
Contact: Until they go wrong.
James Bond, From Russia With Love
But sometimes, language is designed to obscure, confuse and exclude. Many Londoners have wondered what dark purpose is served by tannoy announcements that direct a cleaner to “platform two for a code three”. It turns out that every act of human detritus can be categorised by its code: one for a blood spillage, two for excrement, three for vomit, four for a spillage, five for broken glass and six for litter. There even exists, allegedly a dark seven for any other horror (Nazi trophies/UKIP pamphlets? Thinking hats?). Mr Sands is a name famously invoked when the PA wants to announce a fire or serious incident to staff without causing a stampede. James Bond posed as a salesman for Universal Exports, and established his MI6 chops by the exchange, above.
Proszę, przestań mnie bić
I didn't expect to find these kinds of secret codes in schools. But there they are, as controversial as custard on the surface, but concealing oceans of meaning beneath the cold skin. It shouldn't be surprising that teachers have to resort to crypto-languages. For a start, if we said what we really thought in the classroom, we'd be shaking fries at Burger King before you could throw chalk. God help us the day they invent loudspeakers driven by telepathy. Biting our collective tongue is practically on the job spec, as it is any role dealing with the public. People are easy to love in the abstract and much harder to embrace in person. Life is tough enough without going out of your way to give them the hump.
Mikä on oppimistyyliäsi?
Secondly, it seems that people will take offence no matter what you say. I remember school reports that could call a child lazy; try that today and you'll be clapped in irons and sent on an Inset called, “Inspiring your children all of the time until you're dead”. No one wants a return of the 'Why is your child a ****?' report card, but you learn in about five minutes that parents rarely want unvarnished truth or criticism without a spoonful of sugar and a cushion of compliments. So here they are, then: the invisible lemon ink of the staffroom; the Bible code of school reports; the Rosetta Stone, the key and the cipher of reintegration meetings.
Here is wisdom.
Parliamo school report
Julie is a lively child – I would willingly medicate your child with a tranq-dart. I would happily do time for this privilege
He contributes enthusiastically to class discussions – There is no thought formed in his mind, however anodyne or trivial, that isn't instantly verbalised, at the top of his voice.
John is a valuable member of the class – I have nothing to say whatsoever about your child. Look! Behind you! A bee!
Roseanne has potential to do very well in this subject – Roseanne is a human being.
Jessica can do very well in this subject if she tries – but she doesn't.
Billy needs to learn about boundaries – Billy will be on a special list in a locked drawer if he isn't careful. Please bandage his hands into mittens.
Rob always likes sitting at the front – I lock my bag and wallet in a drawer when I'm in this class.
Charlie sometimes lets himself down with his behaviour – Charlie is the nemesis of learning and calm. The days he bunks my lessons are a blessing.
Easily distracted – a mind like a hummingbird
Frequently off-task – barely aware he's in a lesson
Over confident – Calls me “boy” and “brah”
Struggles to settle at the beginning – walks into the classroom backwards, Twerking, before planning her weekend noisily on speakerphone
Lethargic – makes up for lost sleep in my lesson from last night's Call of Duty marathon.
Needs constant encouragement – I have to strap his hand to mine, and write his answers like a giant sweating puppet smelling of Lynx
Parliamo parents' evening
Ah, thanks for coming in. What's the surname again? – I have no idea who your child is. Please point on my list.
Great to see you – I cannot remember if we have met before. This seems safe.
How do you think you're doing in this subject? – I have no idea who you are. Tell me what I need to be saying.
What do you think you need to do to improve? – I have no idea who you are.
How are you doing in your other subjects? – You better not be doing better in them than mine.
What do you think of this subject? – I know you love it. Say something nice in front of your mum.
And you're Kristina's...? – I have no idea if you're her mother, sister or grandfather. What are you?
Ah, you're the elder brother? – See the name “Parents' evening?” There's a clue there.
I'll be brief – I have fifteen seconds to sum up your child's whole school experience.
I look forward to seeing a big improvement – I believe in magic wishing wells.
Parliamo staff meeting
I'm concerned that this new project doesn't have a firm enough evidence base – I wish to be dismissed.
Where are we going to find the time for this? – I wish to be dismissed.
That's really valuable – I will never do this.
Will this PowerPoint be available later on? – I would like to be promoted.
There will be time for questions later on – There will never be time for questions.
Haha, my PowerPoint on digitalising your classroom has frozen – I have no discernible grasp of irony
The research backs this up – I read a blog about this.
Please leave your feedback forms in the tray as you leave – I will compost your ideas without a second's hesitation because I have no interest in your opinion.
I won't read this slide out – I will read every word of this slide out.
I'm not claiming to be an expert on this – but I'm going to tell you how to do it.
I'd like you to work in groups for ten minutes – when I'm alone, I look in a mirror and cry.
Requires Improvement – Requires torture. The Guinness Institute have recorded this phrase as the ‘most versatile in the English language.’ The definition of improvement will vary between inspectors, headteachers with murder in their hearts, and the consultants paid to come in and look smug about your misery.
Inadequate – Have you considered a career in the leisure industries?
Children were engaged – Children were on tablets.
Students learned independently – Students learned despite, rather than because of, the teacher.
Students demonstrated thinking skills – The students were conscious, and had brain activity.
The teacher demonstrated unique randomised questioning – The teacher had lollipop sticks.
The teacher was too prescriptive – The teacher spoke.
The teacher failed to provide sufficient challenge – The students didn’t make posters.
The teacher needs to motivate students more through use of positive praise – The teacher told someone their work wasn’t very good.
The behaviour at times impeded the learning – The students laughed at me.
Parliamo Twitter/ Facebook
“Passionate about children” – I love children more than you do.
“Passionate about IT” – I own a Real Doll, and if I could enter the Matrix, I would.
“My class are inspirational” – I am inspirational.
“Passionate about inspiring children” – I love children more than you do and I am inspirational. Touch me.
“Loves inspiring” – I am insane. I believe I am Gandhi.
“Good luck to my class! LOL” – I am Facebook friends with my students and I have no idea how to alter my security settings.
“LOL!” I am dead inside and my face is a stony mask of misery. LOL!
“Please RT” – I am begging you here.
“Click ‘Like’ if you believe in children!” – If you don’t you must hate children. I’m serious.
“I’m trying to show my class how far social media reaches. Please RT!” – Nobody loves me.