Teacher's little pets

26th September 1997 at 01:00
Further Adventures of Morris Simpson

Monday: If I see one more cyber-pet in my classroom, it will be one too many. I have laid down the law on several occasions with every class under my jurisdiction, and most of them seem to have got the message that it is simply not on to distract themselves from academic endeavour by constantly pressing buttons on these electronic gizmos which seem to hold so much sway over their spare time activities.

Not so with 2N, alas. This motley assortment of supposedly mixed ability 14-year-olds seem to be under some mass hypnotic trance which insists that - whatever else they do - their Tamagotchis, Dinos, Aliens, Gigas and every other blessed assortment of electronic pets are kept fully fed, watered, cleaned up, and even educated by the simple expedient of pressing a button which allows them to "eat", "drink", and even "read a book", should their virtual thirst for learning require assuaging.

If only teaching their owners were as simple.

Anyway, I've made it quite clear that any further contravention of my discipline policy regarding cyber-pets will lead to severe punishment. You'd think, after four weeks of being told this, that they'd have got the message, but some children are really stupid.

Tuesday: Ms Lees' new uniform policy is proving difficult to enforce, especially among the senior pupils, for most of whom the notion of wearing anything to school other than a designer-label tracksuit top with matching trainers is completely alien. Except for Marlene Beveridge of 4C.

This little siren - who still harbours an unseemly grudge against me over what she deemed a sexual advance at last year's summer dance - has decided to take the new strictures on uniform to the limit. Therefore, among the assorted Adidas, Nike and Kappa garments which continue to form the bulk of apparel sported by the senior school, young Miss Beveridge has taken to dressing like something out of a St Trinians movie from the 1950s. Only with a shorter skirt. And a cyber-pet round her neck.

Her provocative attempts to elicit sexual admiration from her male peers are certainly having an effect: a loosened but thickly-knotted tie was having difficulty extending its length far beyond the third button of her tightly-stretched blouse during this morning's lesson on the war poets, and Brian Booth in the seat opposite her was clearly spending more of his time gazing at the girl's ample display of crossed thigh than at the literary outpourings of Siegfried Sassoon.

I took the matter up with Mr Pickup at lunch-time, but my elderly colleague advised me that there was little chance of recrimination since the girl was one of the few to be making an attempt to co-operate with the uniform policy. Coupled with this, his other suggestion that I "sit back and enjoy the view but keep your grubby hands to yourself", I found completely offensive. And I told him so.

Wednesday: I've decided to amend my discipline policy on cyber-pets, with 2N at least. Under the heading of "If You Can't Beat Them", I announced this morning that I would yield slightly in allowing class members to bring cyber-pets into class on the strict understanding that volume levels be turned right down and that "status checking" be limited to once every 10 minutes during written work, and not at all during oral interaction activities.

The more outrageous members of the class - Steven Austin, Graeme Farr and Damien Steele - couldn't have cared less, to be honest; they had already expressed every intention of bringing the wretched things into the class, no matter what punishments I might devise. But it was heartening to see the warmth of reaction demonstrated by those pupils for whom the threat of disciplinary reprisal still holds an element of fear. Such children are becoming rare. Lisa Charles and Kylie Donahue, in particular, were practically damp-eyed with gratitude. "Oh, thank you, sir," beamed Lisa. "That's ever so good of you. I won't need to get my dad to write a letter to you now" "A letter?" I queried. "What for, Lisa?" "Well, I think it's Crystal's 10th birthday tomorrow, " she explained, proffering me a pink lump of plastic with a key-ring attached. "And I couldn't possibly have missed wishing him many happy returns when the moment came, or he'd probably die from disappointment."

"And that's Crystal?" I enquired tentatively.

"Mmm," she beamed proudly at her battery-powered playmate. "He's sleeping just now, but he'll be so pleased that I can be with him for his birthday."

Good grief. And I thought I'd finished with anthropomorphic fallacies when I left university . . .

Thursday: We held a little birthday party for Crystal this morning. It has to be admitted that it slowed up my lesson on the correct punctuation of direct speech ever so slightly, but I reckon we achieved a suitable balance. Lisa had brought in a little cake, and Kylie had got together with some of the other girls in 2N to produce a birthday banner - achieving the age of 10 years is no mean feat for a cyber-pet, by all accounts - and we rounded the whole thing off with a few choruses of "Happy Birthday". I concede that we may have a lost a little time in terms of academic progression, but I think ample compensation has been achieved in terms of the respect and affection which I should receive from the class in future.

An interesting contrast in pedagogic styles was revealed when Mr Pickup announced at lunch-time that he had "finally cracked" under the pressure of 2N's assorted electronic bleepings at their religious education lesson which followed the birthday party.

"Bloody hell, Morris," he bemoaned over a cheese roll. "There I was, trying to get them to conduct a meditative fantasy designed to make them think about their innermost beliefs, their creative spirituality, and their relationship with their Creator - if such a being exists - when what do I hear? 'Agh!' shouts Marie Weaver. 'Dino's done a huge poop! He's needin' cleaned up!' I nearly hit the roof, I can tell you, Morris."

"Hmph," I sympathised. "Did you tell her to switch it off?" "Did I hell! I confiscated it at once, along with two others, and I've locked them in my store cupboard."

I was aghast. "But they'll die!" "So?" "Well, they'll die," was my fairly limp reply. "It just . . . doesn't seem fair . . . that's all."

"Are you feeling all right, old son? So what, if they die? They just stick a pen up their backside to reset them when I give them back tomorrow."

"You're keeping them overnight?" I questioned in disbelief. "Won't their owners miss them?"

Pickup just stared at me and said nothing. He seemed genuinely bemused.

Friday: News of Mr Pickup's draconian measures with cyber-pets has spread swiftly, with the result that most of this morning's "open debate" lesson with 2N was taken up with issues of authority, punishment and reprisal. Or, as Damien Steele put it: "It's no ferr if an old fart like Pansy Pickup disnae like cyber-pets. He's nae power tae steal them aff of us! We know wur rights!"

Although hugely entertained to hear of Pickup's nickname with the junior school, I pointed out sternly that Mr Pickup had every authority to act as he had yesterday, even if I might privately feel that he could have handled the situation differently. They must have sensed my sympathy, however, because the next thing I knew, I was being asked to "baby-sit" an awesome collection of their pets while they attended their RE lesson later in the day.

"Oh, and maybe you could keep them in the afternoon, sir, as well," pleaded Lisa Charles. "It's really awkward to look after them in PE and home economics. "

To cut a long story short, I acquiesced. Thus it was that I found myself with 18 cyber-pets on my desk when the fifth year arrived, and every pet with a list of its essential requirements were it to remain alive and in the rudest of health. It was slightly difficult to teach 5(ii) about the Aristotelian elements of the tragic hero as personified in Macbeth, while at the same time "changing the nappy" of the latest addition to Kylie Donahue's growing electronic family, not to mention issuing some discipline to Graeme Farr's Harry the Hamster. But I think I got away with it.

Unfortunately, news of my baby-sitting service spread just about as rapidly as that of Pickup's alternative approach to cyber-pets, so this afternoon I was inundated with similar requests from a legion of anxious children. I refused most of them - you have to draw the line somewhere - but reckoned it safer to accept Marlene Beveridge's pet into my care lest she accuse me of any discriminatory policy after our previous disagreements.

"Uh - right, then, Marlene," I choked slightly at the end of my lesson with 4C, as she pressed her pet firmly into my hand and implored that I keep it "safe and warm until she returned". "What's it called?"

She stared deeply at me between heavily shaded eyelids and loosened her tie ever so slightly. "He's called Morris," she spoke huskily.

With which remark, she swung a mini-skirted hip, fluttered an eyebrow and sauntered out of the class, the cynosure of all male eyes in the classroom. Especially Brian Booth's. I swallowed hard and began to regret accepting the commission.

* Next month: Marlene Beveridge is distraught. Also, Greenfeld Academy has an in-service day. But the staff are revolting . . .

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