The sound of silence is music to my ears

12th March 2010 at 00:00

Monday morning, 7.35am, and the silence in the workroom is palpable. Our heads are bent over marking as we await the arrival of Miss N. We have read about the record-breaking lottery win and sit hopefully. It could be us. Fifteen in the syndicate managed by Miss N. In my head I see the navy blue BMW Z4 with cream leather interior, top down and me at the wheel.

7.45am prompt and as Miss N enters her face tells us what we knew in reality. No need to speak the words: it isn't us. Voicelessly we sigh and return to the tasks in hand.

8.50am and silence also reigns in the form room. The only movement is the synchronised nodding of heads as pupils share earphones plugged into iPods and phones or the scrolling of fingers on touch screens. The art of conversation doesn't stand a chance.

Morning break. I sit on the raised dais in the library like a hawk on its roost keeping watch over sixth formers who, in theory, are studying in silence. The word itself leaps off signs stuck on walls. Two boys become chatty and I do my best librarian "Ssshhh!" complete with finger to lips.

Then, without warning, they are on the floor wrestling one another. I break the silence rule and shout: "Off the floor right now!" When asked what they were doing they roll their eyes as only a misunderstood adolescent can and say: "Wrestling, Miss". "This is the Library," I hiss. "Yeah but we were wrestling silently". I point out that such an argument is irrelevant but this is countered by their assertion that although the signs request silence they do not say that wrestling is forbidden. Some pupils can be too clever for their own good.

In the classroom GCSEs loom ever nearer week by week, a mute landmark on the pupils' horizons. They file in reticently for the inevitable timed essay in the double period. Quietly seated, the only sounds are the clock ticking and the scratch of pens.

Lunchtime. Hundreds of pupils conversing in the dining hall. Dami hands me a piece of paper and then wordlessly moves away. It's another of his poems and I find a few moments of quietude to read his words, marvel at his skill and his boldness.

Afternoon registration. I face a collective stony silence when I ask the question: "OK, anyone got any idea what happened to the locks and doors in the boys' toilets?" All the locks taken off and the doors themselves missing. Clearly a collective act. No one's talking, at least not for now.

Nick is too quiet. I realise that he is asleep again. I wake him and ponder the recent research from the National Sleep Foundation that children today sleep less than those 30 years ago. I express concern for his well-being then am told not to fret; he's been up all night texting his girlfriend.

The end of the day. I position myself in the horror that is the Year 11 locker area. Certainly not a place of quietude, more like a wall of sound. I tune in to filter the innocent from the dangerous and hope to pick up an unguarded comment on the missing toilet doors and locks. Full on unbridledhormonaladolescence streams out as they clatter down stairs, prattling to one another and back out to the frantic pace of city life. The shifting sounds of the school day.

Julie Greenhough, English teacher at an independent school in London.

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