An ill wind blows

14th March 2014 at 00:00

The legendary American comedian WC Fields is reputed to have said, "Never work with animals or children." Those of us who ignored this advice and went on to become primary teachers (or zoo keepers) have learned the hard way. One minute you can have children (or animals) eating out of the palm of your hand, and the next minute they're eating you alive.

I hope this dark tale of Miss Majestic's assembly will therefore serve as a stark reminder to those who would become teachers, those who are teachers and most of all those who would judge teachers, that ours is a dangerous occupation. Disaster can strike anyone, anywhere, at any time. And when it does the consequences are not pretty.

Miss Majestic is no ordinary teacher: she is a giant among primary practitioners. Like Queen Elizabeth I, she is an object of adoration and worship to her students. With the capacity to confer favour and the authority to summarily punish, she sails through the school day. Her mere presence has the power to bring an immediate end to outbreaks of lawlessness, violence and swinging upside down on the monkey bars.

Teaching small children is frenetic - but not for Miss Majestic. While the majority of us paddle like ducks in a thunderstorm to keep our heads above water, squawk like herring gulls lost at sea and flap about like demented geese trying to beat the air into some semblance of order, Miss Majestic glides effortlessly like a white swan on a royal lake.

When she enters a classroom, children fall silent. When she glances down her regal nose, restless fingers put pencils down. When she raises her eyebrows, anyone thinking of doing the unthinkable thinks again. And when she deigns to bestow on children her glacial smile, their little faces light up with joy.

It is fair to say that no one is more suited to leading a school assembly than Miss Majestic. Her presence at the front of the hall is sufficient to impress upon the least intuitive child that this is not one of those school gatherings where any sort of whispering, giggling or poking the person in front will be tolerated.

Orderly assemblies are the holy grail of the primary teacher's art. There is nothing more satisfying than the sight of students sitting in neat rows with impeccably crossed legs and attentive faces. But what really impresses is when the leader of the assembly dares to give the children a minute to reflect in silence. This is the teaching equivalent of flying from a trapeze with no safety net.

It was in the middle of Miss Majestic's silence that Ryan chose to fart. Not one of those unobtrusive farts that might easily be overlooked, but a loudly reverberating one. In fact, on the scale of volcanic eruptions it would have been right up there with Krakatoa.

Miss Majestic was the only person in the entire assembly who didn't laugh, snort loudly or roll around on the floor. Not once during the ensuing five minutes of mayhem did she so much as grin. This is more than can be said for those of us in the staffroom at break time - at least, while she wasn't there.

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

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