'In schools, relationships aren’t straight lines'

The travelling teacher remembers an aspiring DJ who tested his limits and introduced him to a new genre of music...

Hywel Roberts

Relationships in schools_editorial

The fog clears and here we are.

The tech has arrived in school to make music and burn it to CD. It’s in the school and we all thought the kids would be buzzing. And we were right. Everyone was happy. Well, nearly. 

Scott Dunk hasn’t taken music in Year 10 for fear he’ll damage the sparkling equipment and it is decreed that he might best reach his potential in my media class. Ah, media studies. We have nothing, and we are happy. If there was an award for under-resourced departments, we would win it.

Scott has spent most of the first part of Year 10 telling me that he is one of Barnsley’s premier DJs. I’m not sure what that means. This is 2005 and when anyone mentions DJs to me, I’m still defaulting to Dave Lee Travis or Tony Blackburn – or Timmy Mallet, at a push. Fatboy Slim and Moby are not my default, I’m afraid. To be a DJ is still a crusty profession, it seems to me. And you don’t need GCSEs.

Scott Dunk doesn’t like school and he reminds me of this every lesson. And yet, he’s here all the time. I often wonder if he will ever get the flu. Or if someone might help him get it. Scott winds the other kids up some lessons and then is as nice as pie at other times. He is stoically consistent with his inconsistency. 

At the end of one lesson, he comes to me and asks me if he worked hard in his media studies, would he get a good pass? I look at him and launch into my tried and tested genuine one-to-one bit.

“You’re bright, Scott. You should walk it. You’ve just got to complete the work. It’s honestly as simple as that. If you fail media GCSE, people look at you funny in the street.”

“I’m going to do it, Sir.” He holds up a silver disc. “Here, let’s put this on.”

“What is it?” I ask.

“Some of my loops.” He beams at me and I retrieve the 10 quid CD player I’ve bought from Argos and fire the baby up.

We play it and it is loud, hectic, painful, joyous and, importantly, Scott’s. I feel like the awkward down-with-the-kids teacher I clearly am, and choose to stare intently at the floor as I listen – as if I were an expert, like Rick Rubin or something. 

The music stops, and he waits like an NQT for feedback. Eyes wide. Patient.

I look up at him and nod my head furiously.

“That is just great, Scott. Great Scott!!!” I laugh at my own play on words, now waiting for feedback from him. (Nothing, until…)

He breaks a smile and it’s a good one. He nods as well, following my lead. I’m frightened he’s going to high-five me because I’m no good at it and often miss. As teachers, we need more high-five training, but I’ll save that one for another day.

He says nothing, gets the CD from the player and happily mumbles a farewell about seeing me tomorrow. I feel good as I hope I’ve built a bridge to him. I hope tomorrow’s lesson goes well.

It doesn’t. Well, not really. Well, a bit. Well, this happens:

  1. Scott arrives late and I don’t make a fuss, just get him to sit down.
  2. Tyler Jones mumbles something and Scott's back is up immediately.
  3. I’ve been talking about the opening montage of Hellboy but now we’re in an escalation and I’m sure I hear the word "bellend". 
  4. I ask Scott to step outside and he flashes me a look of perceived injustice and he kicks a chair on exit. 
  5. I look at the floor. FFS. Scott Dunk is proper frustrating.

I give the kids some taskwork and step into the corridor where Scott sits on the floor.

“You make the place look untidy, Scott”. It’s my attempt at an olive branch. 

“Can I come back in yet?” he answers.

“Absolutely. What’s the point of you being out here? Thing is Scott, I need you to settle in. Don’t get wound up. We’ve got work to do. I really like you, but I can’t have this going on.” I feel like I’ve handled it well when he stands up.

“Oh,” he says, reaching into his pocket, “I made this for your son. You said he liked music.”

Scott Dunk hands me a CD. 

“He does. That’s really kind, Scott, I’ll make sure he gets it.”

I realise that Scott had been listening the last time when I said to him that I could be going to my son’s music concerts rather than marking his late homework. It was a throwaway comment designed to make him feel bad. It worked.

Thing is, my son is three months old. It was a behaviour strategy I learned on a course.

I took the CD and played it in my car. Not exactly lullaby material, that’s for sure.

And the fog descends.

Relationships aren’t straight lines. They’re up and down.

Hywel Roberts is a travelling teacher and curriculum imaginer. He tweets as @hywel_roberts. Read his back catalogue, and follow him on Facebook. 

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Hywel Roberts

Hywel Roberts

Hywel Roberts is a travelling teacher and curriculum imaginer

Find me on Twitter @hywel_roberts

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