Do you think you set the rules in your classroom? You don't. You set some of the rules in your classroom.
It's like Chicago in the 1920s. You are Eliot Ness and the students are the Mob bosses of the South Side. There are laws, and then there are the ways in which things are done. Alcohol is prohibited, yet behind peepholes and iron doors, flapper girls swirl in an illicit ocean of bootleg moonshine. You are the law and you say what goes, but the rackets carry on right under your nose. You can set all the rules you like; only if you are lucky will some of them be observed.
So here are the real rules: the student rules. No one is sure how the children know them or how they are formally transmitted (all my attempts to ambush these ceremonies have failed) - my theory is that when students pass notes in class, they're really passing around the rules. Now, with text messaging, the rules can hide on their phones. And with the internet, the rules have entered posterity: wherever they are cached, they are beyond the reach of adults. Perhaps they're similar to high sonic frequencies - for the over-25s, they simply don't exist.
Brave teachers have perished uncovering the few laws that you see here, but we have barely begun to crack the code. These are the protocols of sighing, the 10 commandments of "allow it". These are the student rules.
The rules of climate
- As the final day of term approaches, lessons must become more and more fun. Students should remind their teachers of this.
- Water is for throwing on unpopular students. Drinking it is not permitted.
- There is a temperature ceiling above which schools must shut. This varies from "a bit warm" to "the sun's out". In the event of a dispute, competitive eye-rolling can be used to settle the matter.
- The existence of a water fountain within five miles of the school permits repeated requests to visit it.
- Sixth-form lessons will be suspended for the duration of hot weather, cold weather or mild weather.
- Sixth formers must suggest that they do the lesson in the park, regardless of the weather.
- If the sun is at all visible, windows must be open. Students are permitted to smash them open if necessary, pulling all blinds from their fixings.
- Students who feel a bit warm are permitted to tell the teacher to stick their lessons up their arse.
- If a wasp appears in the classroom, students are required to re-enact World War Z in an attempt to save their lives.
- In the event of a fly in the classroom, the appropriate response is to role-play Brownian motion.
The rules of study
- "Swear down" is unarguable. It is the truth. Example: "Do you swear to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help you God?" "Swear down." "Case dismissed."
- If the teacher doesn't turn up for a detention or meeting within five minutes of the scheduled start time, students may leave.
- The number of chair legs that must remain on the floor at any given time is x - 2, where x is the total number of legs on the chair.
- If students miss a lesson because of illness, it is entirely the teacher's responsibility to make sure that they receive the work missed, otherwise it is the teacher's responsibility if students fail the exam. All loss of future earnings must be compensated.
- If homework has been done but left on the kitchen table, it still counts as handed in.
- Any lesson that takes place within two weeks of the end of term must be a DVD lesson.
- It is not possible for students to learn until they have applied make-up (girls) or Lynx (boys). This may be applied at their desks and may require the assistance of classmates.
- Entering the classroom five minutes after class has started and declaring "I'm not late!" removes the student's late mark in the register.
- It is perfectly acceptable to use the sinks in the science lab as a rubbish bin if the actual bin is further away than an arm's length, or if making the attempt isn't public or glorious enough.
- It is fine for the student to ask questions about the task before the teacher has finished explaining it. This will assist both the class and the teacher in their understanding of the student's personal needs.
- Students may ask a question that the teacher has just finished answering in response to another student's question.
- Students were not in class when the homework was issued, even if they were. Teachers who are foolish enough not to keep a register don't deserve to have homework returned.
- If the teacher says, "Hands up if you are unsure of what to do", the correct response is total silence. Then, 30 seconds later: "What do I have to do?"
- Students are permitted or required to self-hydrate autonomously, as long as the fluids are Red Bull, Lucozade, SunnyD or some other equally sugary goop.
- The Law of Categorical Innocence: if a classmate was talking at the same time as the student, it is logically unfair for the student to be rebuked if their classmate is not also addressed immediately.
- "Full sentences", far from requiring subjects, objects, nouns and verbs, actually require only one word, which doesn't even have to be capitalised.
- If it is the student's birthday, they don't have to do any work.
- If the student has had a bad day, they don't have to do any work.
- If the Moon is in the seventh house, or Jupiter aligns with Mars, they don't have to do any work.
- If someone is looking at the student, civil and criminal law is suspended for the duration of their vengeance.
The rules of uniform
- Uniforms must be pimped and customised to be as comfortable as possible. Uniforms may also be adjusted to make them less comfortable and less practical.
- Black trainers are the same as black shoes.
- In order to tuck a shirt in, it is not necessary for the trouser waistband to actually overlap the shirt tails. Rolling the shirt into a fabric tube is sufficient. Subsequent requests to tuck the shirt in should be met with a confident "It is tucked in".
- One earphone, threaded through a sleeve and secreted in a non-visible ear, is a perfectly acceptable way to generate the ambience required for top- flight work.
- Normal uniform standards cease to apply in public areas; any attempts to dispute this should be met with eye-rolling so ferocious that optic tethers split.
- Wearing earphones doesn't hurt anyone. Therefore, it is permitted.
The rules outside school
- Any member of the opposite sex seen close to a teacher outside school is a girlfriend or boyfriend.
- If students see a teacher outside school, with family or in normal clothes, they are required to point, laugh and exclaim. And the next day in class say, "I saw you in Asda", as if it is a crime.
- Littering is allowed if any other piece of litter is visible anywhere, no matter how small.
- Chewing gum placed under tables and chairs will instantly vanish for ever, transported by some form of wormhole to a place where it can do no harm.
- The correct greeting for someone the student hasn't seen since breaktime is to shriek like John Barrowman and embrace like Brian Blessed. For extended periods of separation such as summer holidays, the correct greeting also includes the Baywatch-style run-and-hug.
- The speed limit for travelling between lessons must never exceed that of mould forming on bread. Exceptions are allowed for overtaking, but only if it is followed by retracing one's steps pointlessly until the end of time.
- Faced with the question "Why are you out of lessons?", the correct answer is "I'm on my way now".
- If a teacher follows up with "Where are you going?", the correct answer is English, maths or science. Any other subject will generate suspicion that the student should be in English, maths or science.
- Students must never, under any circumstances, reveal exactly which room and lesson they should be in. Teacher names must never be given unless the teacher is a) infrequently in school and b) something to do with pastoral care. The interrogating teacher will presume that the parents of the student are breaking up and they are on their way to counselling.
- If the teacher does not know the student's name, then by law they have no right to ask anything of the student, and the student is under no obligation to reveal any information to them.
The rules of meeting new teachers
- If the teacher is new to the school, the current lesson automatically becomes a free lesson. Free lessons are defined as a paedocracy.
- If the teacher is new, the seating plan of the classroom must reflect social and peer groups, and chairs may be rearranged to reflect this.
- The other teacher always lets students do x, where x is anything they fancy. Make sure new teachers know this.
- New teachers cannot teach. Therefore, students don't have to behave in a way resembling civility. Let `em dangle.
- The new teacher must be asked if they have a boyfriend, girlfriend or gay lover within the first five minutes, in order to establish the conversational parameters in play going forward.
- Similarly, "What's your first name?" is a good way to break the ice with a new teacher. Teachers who do not reveal this level of information are "bare rude" and may be ignored for their lack of social skills.
- The student has forgotten their book. Actually, they haven't forgotten it: it was left at their mum's house and they are staying with their dad for a few days.
- The best way for students to ask for something they need is to state that they don't have it, then wait. The new teacher will understand the implicit notes of sorrow, admission of guilt, and please and thank you.