Buzzing young minds

30th September 2005 at 01:00
Nathan was the first to offer to kill the classroom intruder. Jodie and Laura had already dived under their desks. Lucy with the multiple allergies had tucked herself into a ball and appeared to be wailing. Helen wanted to try to mediate, but then she always wants to find a peaceful way out, which saves everyone's face.

It was supposed to be one of those early-term, energy-infused lessons on "Who had the best claim to the throne of England in 1066?" but I was usurped by a September wasp. I made some characteristically terrible joke about it marking the start of the Battle of "Heh!Stings!" but minds were focused elsewhere.

Wasps are no one's favourite companion but as a teacher I have additional reasons for loathing them. I always associate their gradual control of the nation's air space in late August with the end of another balmy, carefree summer holiday. This summer was no different. A final pub-garden lunch with fellow teachers became a portentous scene of cursing and much arm-waving.

Previously relaxed and refreshed educators found themselves using the bar snack menu to bat away their relentless tormentors. The constant hum and threat of low-level disruption did at least help to return our holiday heads back to the idea of teaching again but I'm not sure we really needed it. One friend even became convinced that a wasp was repeatedly taunting him with "Termmmm!"

And then the spiteful little beasts had the nerve to follow us into our classes too. When a semblance of order appeared to have been established in those crucial opening few days our eyes would fall on vespa vulgaris, in my case taking off from the overhead projector. Then you can take either Nathan or Helen's approach - to kill or to try to usher it out. New teachers often opt for Helen's. You open every window and door but unfortunately most classroom wasps are slow to take the hint. When they finally appear to have got the message they dip back into the room again and start zapping the handful of pupils still keeping a cool and mature head. Many things soon go out of the window - group work on William of Normandy's claim to the throne, for instance - but the wasp is usually the very last to leave. No, I am afraid there is no alternative here but to raise your new, glinting mark-book dramatically into the air and to bring it down on the insect with speed and ferocity. You silence the class and your book will bear witness to perhaps your first piece of marking of the term.

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