Talkback

3rd November 2000 at 00:00
The school year is still new. You're fresh and enthusiastic. You remain conscious in staff meetings. You don't bunk workshops. You're on nodding terms with targets and syllabuses.

You haven't yet binned all initiatives or shredded the development plan. And you've finally got to grips with the electronic register. Your expectations are grimly severe - and you will not smile until Christmas. Nothing can go wrong. Or can it?

Something lurks at this time. Worse than fire alarms, gang wars, mobiles, Ofsted or Dave Mania. An act of God before which classroom skills are as nought.

Like last month...

I am revisiting Of Mice and Men with Year 10. They are snoozing gently as I go into my best Beverley Hillbillies routine.

Then it happens.

A tiny single wasp suddenly visits us. Pandemonium. Girls screech and act like helicopters. They seem to be enacting The Birds. Ingrid Shriek tells us - screams at us - that it's a tarantula. The boys go macho and attack the weeny interloper with fists, texts, hats and syllabuses. To no avail.

Dave Mania finally traps it in a blind and squashes it to pulp. Cordelia goes wan and draws our attention to the animal's rights.

There is a lull. I mock their specious histrionics and stress that in 30 years of this lark I have never seen a pupil stung by a wasp. It doesn't happen. I question their manhood, allude to Russell Crowe - and concur with Cordelia's Buddhist tripe.

Then a second piece of bedlam zooms through an open window. A jubo wasp. Invasion of the Body Snatchers part two. It is zooming towards me.

I will show the class just how pathetic they are. Are they mice or men? I will be cool. Watch me. I will do what Robbie Robertson did in The Last Waltz. In mid-sentence he caught and killed a fly and carried on talking to Martin Scorsese. Awesome.

In mid-sentence I catch and kill the wasp and carry on reading to the class. And go white with pain. It is not a wasp. It is a jumbo bee - a prime, plump, poisonous fellow. My eyes water. My hand puffs up. It pulses with pain. I must not acknowledge this to class who are riveted with callous fascination.

"I bet that hurts, Sir." "Sir, are you all right?" I proceed with a stoic rendition. The class are puzzled by erratic inflexion, emphasis and imprecation.

"That must hurt though."

It does. Like piranhas.

"No, no, I'm fine."

I am saved by the bell.

I take my pregnant hand to the nurse who mutters of mortal wounds. She gives me a pill for poisons. I am carted off to St Charles's minor accidents unit. There's shots and pills and dressings and I must come back at Christmas if alive.

I just thought a fine gesture would restore order.

There's nothing your classroom skills can do about a wasp. Even less about a bee. It's havoc. They don't give you any strategies in your PGCE for these Acts of God. Still, invasions should cease by the end of this month.

ian whitwham Ian Whitwham teaches at a comprehensive in west London .


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