All they want to see is the money
"Nice bike, Sir!" There is no malice - just genuine bewilderment. How can I cut such a woeful figure? The heap, the clips, the QPR hat. My genteel poverty puzzles them.
"Ere Sir - you got any GCSEs?" "He's read more than you can lift," observes Dave Mania.
"Then why didn't you make something of yourself?" Dave is fiercely baffled. I can't easily explain to them why I spend my life cajoling hooligans to acquire pens and get literate, for peanuts. No one wants to teach.
So press gangs stalk Earls Court. The knackered and past it are solicited with "golden handcuffs" - and I'm up for auction in Tesco's - "Old git - grammar and the kings of England and the forward defensive. Dizzy spells. Good at shouting. Can recite Of Mice and Men in sleep."
Teachers are zooming down the census like QPR. We're commensurate with loanshark, clamper or cat thief. I have an image problem.
So the Government makes some videos. We're diplomats, shrinks, philosopher-kings - but still paupers. No dosh doesn't impress.
But you could do flash. A Cadillac purrs across the basketball court. Snoop Doggy Dogg booms out. I emerge from smoked windows. I'm in Armani and Prada and rings and shades. I have a clipboard and electronic register.
I've not just read more than you can lift - I'm wearing more than you can buy. And I don't get out of bed for less than a grand - more for A-level.
And I don't do workshops with frumps, and sugar paper in church halls. I network in jacuzzis in five-star hotels.
I go through the playground. The brothers are fighting.
"Tell 'im, Sir, he's got my pen!" "He's got your pen."
"When I grow up I want to be a teacher," says Dave. I zoom off in the Cadillac. Conspicuous consumption. That's what they want.
So give us the money.
Ian Whitwham teaches at a London comprehensive