Going viral

14th February 2014 at 00:00

William's face is the colour of leftover cauliflower cheese and he is complaining of stomach ache. "I think he'd be better off at home," I tell his mother.

"If he's not ill enough for the doctor to give him antibiotics, he's not ill enough to have time off school," his mother says. I have an idea she is unhappy about the outcome of a recent medical consultation.

"But has the doctor said it's all right for him to come to school?" I ask.

"It's a 24-hour bug," she says. "According to the doctor, he doesn't even need antibiotics. That's according to the doctor."

"I see, but is he, according to the doctor, OK to come to school?" I persist. "You see, I'm worried about him infecting the other children."

Actually, I'm worried about him infecting me, but before I can persuade her to rethink her decision, William's mother has left. I think she's on a mission to spread the word about the decline in general practice.

It is a fact that the overuse of antibiotics has led to some strains of bacteria becoming resistant. Imagine your everyday antibiotic is a superhead sent in to turn around a school in difficulties. The first priority for him or her is to terrorise everybody - staff and children alike - to make sure the troublesome minority is well and truly zapped. But troublesome minorities are good at surviving. And, because what doesn't kill you makes you stronger, they return later, more determined than ever to increase disorder and drag down standards. Now an even tougher superhead is required.

It's a bit like clap a rhythm, blow a kiss, fold your arms and look this way. At the beginning of the year, this was how I got children to pay attention. "I clap a rhythm and you clap it back; I blow a kiss and you blow it back; I fold my arms and look at you, you fold your arms and look at me, OK?"

It worked like a dream for three weeks. By week four, a couple of children refused to clap. By week six, half a dozen children couldn't be bothered to even look at me.

Children are a lot like bacteria. They carry a biological threat and are quick to develop a resistance to the methods used to manage them. Stunning strategies to boost learning and promote exemplary behaviour flourish and die overnight. New ways have to be invented. Old ways have to be reinvented. The struggle continues on an almost daily basis.

My latest method for getting children to pay attention is to use my awooga. It is just one of the sounds on my hand-held sound effects machine. One awooga means stop what you are doing now, two means put down your pencil and fold your arms, three means look this way.

After a fortnight, my awooga is still going strong. And the good thing is that when the novelty eventually wears off, another 23 amazing sound effects are available at the press of a button. These range from terrified screams to disgusting bodily functions like the one I can hear now.

What sounds like a cat coughing up fur balls turns out to be William. It is good to note that a hint of colour has returned to his cheeks. Unfortunately, his entire table is now covered with something that looks like leftover cauliflower cheese.

Steve Eddison teaches at Arbourthorne Community Primary School in Sheffield, England.

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