Nine who drive you mad

10th January 2003 at 00:00
All human life is here. Stephanie Northen offers a strategy for coping with the cast list that crops up on every class list

Good teachers refuse to stereotype their pupils. They want the 30 individuals in front of them to grow up able to resist whatever toy, fashion or role society tries to sell them. That's the theory. In practice, it can seem as if your class is full of children wilfully typecasting themselves. Here are some of the classics.

The girly girl

Your hackles may rise at the powder-puff femininity on display here. A Barbie obsessive, she is vain, affected and a giggler. Her coloured pencils come in more shades of pink than Dulux has on its paint charts - though at least she hasn't given them names. She appears meek, but don't dare suggest she relinquish the Christmas angel role. Best friends are important: look for the girl with the generous doll budget. Boys are disgusting.

Coping strategy Role play: Barbie gets a job.

Mr Macho

This lad won't go to a girl's house if there is a risk that it might contain a Barbie. Muscles and machines are what count. Sitting still doesn't come into it. Playground activities involve fighting games, war games and, er, fighting games. Often combines interest in guns with great athleticism, so likely to be found upside down on climbing frame wielding sweatshirt (sorry, Kalashnikov) in threatening manner.

Coping strategy Structured and exhausting playtime activities such as Action Man learns to juggle or Superman skipping.

Polly PMT

This child generates vast quantities of classroom PMT or Please Miss Tension. She's always at your elbow offering to help. "Please Miss, shall I give out the maths sheets?" she says, when you've just wound up the numeracy hour. "Please Miss, I think Kathy is a bit unhappy, shall I cheer her up?" Resist pointing out Kathy is unhappy because she sits next to the class creep. Polly is infuriating because you doubt her altruism and that makes you feel bad. But not half as bad as when you finally bite her head off. Those big blue eyes go all misty and she says "But I was only trying to help".

Coping strategy "The gerbil's got diarrhoea and I was wondering if you could give a hand cleaning the cage."

The maverick

Clever and independent-minded, the maverick isn't the child you'll be sending to the headteacher. He is polite, aloof, and does good work - it's just that it's not the work that you asked him to do. Obstinately non-conformist, he won't tell you the answer and he won't tell you why he won't tell you either.

He may drive you mad as you mourn this perverse waste of talent, but don't worry. Mavericks have great self-confidence which tends to see them right in the end.

Coping strategies Counter individuality with communal responsibility. Suggest he looks after the reception class at lunchtime.

Drama queen

All the classroom's a stage for this girl. With a range of facial expressions to rival Dawn French, she's a past mistress at getting everything out of proportion. She plays to the crowd, alert to any developing drama and keen to tap the shallowest emotional well. She'll tell you, as she earnestly gazes into your eyes, that she saw a snowdrop today.

"I just lurve spring, don't you?" Or she'll weep over your lesson plan because her Australian cousin's pet goldfish died yesterday.

"I never met him. And now it's too late."

Coping strategy Expressive activities such as drawing, writing, music, acting - preferably somewhere other than in your class.

The collector

This boy is well-endowed with that deep masculine need to collect and order. It is the trainspotting mentality. His desk is a mess, but his brain is a fantastical filing cabinet filled with facts. Half-magpie, half-computer on legs, his imagination is fired by anything described as the biggest, the longest, the rarest, the smallest, the furthest - including, alas, the dullest. He has tremendous RAM, but no off button. You probably feel he needs protecting from teasing as he clears his throat and prepares to tell the class the value of pi to the 100th place.

Coping strategy Get him interested in football - in our strange society, the accumulation of sporting trivia is seen as perfectly normal.

Loopy Loo

For most children, school toilets are to be avoided and urgent messages from their bladder have to be ignored. This girl, however, always needs to go. It is an attention-seeking trait that often combines nicely with hypochondria. Asked why her left nostril hurts, or whether you think she has just broken her metatarsus, can leave you feeling in need of paramedical inset.

Coping strategy A quiet word with her parents might unearth some real anxiety. Leave potty-training history out of it, though. You don't really want to know.

Private Pike

A hill of wool shuffles across the playground. Unwind the scarves and remove the hand-knitted bobble hat and you find the perspiring face of the child you have nicknamed Private Pike. The overdressed, overprotected son of a woman who fusses. Told so often that he's delicate and sickly, he's started to look like an aetiolated Busy Lizzie under serious weevil attack.

Coping strategy Classroom project on the immune system plus a few relevant leaflets home.

The ginger-haired fat boy

There was such a lad in my class at school. He died young of a drugs overdose. Perhaps partly, this was a result of feeling he always had to put on an act. He always had to party the longest, drink the most, be best at computer games, and be first to try serious drugs. Maybe he was conscious of being a "type", which just shows how dangerous making superficial judgments about people can be.Coping strategy Don't stereotype.

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