The dark side of the whiteboard - Name-calling ... if only I could

24th September 2010 at 01:00

I have a terrible memory. Three weeks in and I can still only remember the names of the pupils who occupy the four corner desks, the dyspraxic kids who are spattered in ink and the girl in Year 10 with irritable bowel syndrome and a note.

It doesn't help that all the girls in Year 9 are called Rebecca and half the boys in the school are Jack. In the naming ritual, whatever happened to individuality and derring do? It obviously gets sucked out of mothers in the delivery room along with the placenta and their desire for adventurous sex. You go into labour believing that you are giving birth to Thor and you come home and baptise him John. Then you pop into BHS for a winceyette nightie and a Teasmade. Is it any wonder that my husband left? At least we can rely on the hippies to liven up our registers: Sky, Scout, Freya and Kai were all conceived at Glastonbury by parents who can handle three Rizlas. As indeed can their children, in the precinct, after dark.

In order to commit kids' names to memory, I often resort to visual aids. My planner is awash with letters and symbols that I will have to keep under wraps at parents' evenings. Three exclamation marks and an emoticon resembling Munch's The Scream is not how Mr and Mrs Baxter want their darling Bethany to be remembered, so if you are going to record unpleasant observations, remember to encrypt them using the Enigma code.

Tribal allegiances are another useful way of remembering who's who, as they give you a cultural hook to hang the kid's face on. In my school, we are down to four main tribes: the emos (who have just completed a management takeover of the goths to become the school's market leader in existential despair), the charvas (broadly anyone who eats haslet), the spice boys (snug-fitting v-neck tops and tight jeans, a look favoured by the young Joe Orton) and, of course, swots (anyone who has perfect attendance, full school uniform and a library card).

Of all of these tribes, the kids that I first commit to memory are the emos, the ones with pink eyeshadow, fingerless gloves and XXL black fringes and hearts. They have grown out of playing with dolls and are toying around with despair instead. It's a poignant rite of passage - they complete this virtual course in misery before leaving school, getting married and experiencing the real thing. And we help them along by giving them Sylvia Plath, Romeo and Juliet and Willy Loman to add to the chirpy company of Curtis and Cobain in their suicides' hall of fame.

It should probably worry us that suicide appears so attractive to young people. The writer Paul Morley described suicide in a recent RSC Romeo and Juliet programme as "(shimmering) in the distance as a kind of mischievous, tantalising friend", and you only have to think of Bridgend to recognise its omnipotence. I understand its allure. When I was a student I gained a lurid respect among my peers because my mother had attempted suicide. In terms of kudos it kicked divorce into touch. Years later when she did it for real, I only felt the terrible, senseless loss. So study your emos, remember their names, and help them learn to love life.

Anne Thrope (Ms) is a secondary teacher in the North of England.

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