Visits from the homework fairy
It was with grim determination, therefore, that I was able to issue a punishment exercise to Monaghan and one of his partners-in-crime, Kevin Elliott, upon discovering a lunchtime battle in Rockston Lane on my way back from the shops. Monaghan, clearly under maternal pressure, shrugged his shoulders and accepted the punishment without demur. Elliott, alas, responded with his usual string of vituperative obscenities, to which I responded with a doubling of the injunction. "No way!" he shouted at me. "Ye can gie me 500 lines if ye want, but ah'm no daein' them!" I pursed my lips angrily and said we'd see about that. I think he'll be frightened enough to concur.
Scott Black, my over-enthusiastic student, is not making himself terribly popular within the staffroom environment. Aside from his regular attempts to impart educational advice to our experienced staff, his ingratiating manner is beginning to get on everybody's nerves.
"Good morning everyone," he rubbed his hands together as he thrust himself into the midst of a coffee-table conversation about Scotland's chances in the forthcoming European football championships. "In case any of you don't know who I am, I'm Scott Black, the English student."
Pickup shuddered under his breath. "Oh we know that, Scott. We know that all right."
Scott didn't hear him. "I was just wondering what you all thought of this business about refusing to teach disruptive pupils?" he enquired, before proceeding to give his own opinion of recent events south of the border. "To my mind, it's quite appalling. Every child is entitled to an education, in my opinion, and these teachers who are threatening to strike if the authority insists upon reinstating a child with behavioural problems are guilty of a disgraceful abdication of professional responsibility. Wouldn't you agree?"
There was silence around the table. George Crumley had his mouth open in amazement, Simon Young was wide-eyed and speechless, while Pickup's fists were clenched so tightly, and his mouth and eyes screwed up so fiercely, I thought he was about to burst.
The silence was broken by Miss Tarbet of home economics, who up until then had taken little part in the conversation, she having left sporting interests behind on the lacrosse pitch so many years ago now.
Pointedly, she turned her back on Scott Black and turned to face Simon Young instead.
"Myself," she shrugged her shoulders,"I think if Scotland go with two wingers and a central defence strung out across the back, then they could just about get through to the second round."
Scott looked rather crestfallen, but I found it difficult to evince any sympathy for him. What a prat.
Steven Monaghan handed me his punishment exercise this morning, but of Kevin Elliott's there was little sign. I thanked Steven and assured him that I would pass on my satisfaction to his mother, whereupon he smiled and asked me to pass on his other punishments for the week to Messrs Pickup and Crumley, as well as Ms Honeypot and Mrs Harry.
I gulped as he passed over an enormous catalogue of paper. My colleagues seem to be taking his mother's urgings to heart, I thought, as I distributed the documents around the staffroom before thrusting my own punishment into the bin after a cursory check on line length and page quantity.
It was Mrs Harry who noticed the disparity between Steven's punishment exercises and the quality of his daily work. "Hang about," she squinted at the boy's offering, "this isn't Steven Monaghan's writing."
"Oh?" I queried. "How d'you know?"
"Well I can read what it says, for one thing," she said, "and it's completely different to the scrawl he usually produces in class." She filtered out Monaghan's jotter. "See?" she proffered the offending article. "More like a dog's breakfast than anything else."
I agreed: "They are different, aren't they?"
George Crumley was involved by now. "Mine's the same, Anne," he said, "yet the punishment's done in exactly the same script as all the homework he hands me, and we don't actually do much handwriting in class these days, so I hadn't noticed that."
"You're not telling me that's Steven Monaghan's writing," scoffed Pickup. "It's completely different to the classwork he does for me."
"And what about homework?" Mrs Harry asked.
"Dunno. Never give it," shrugged Pickup.
Monaghan was summoned to my guidance office.
"So tell me, Steven," I asked him severely. "Can you honestly tell me that you wrote this punishment exercise yourself?" I held up the slightly crumpled affair which I'd retrieved from the dustbin.
"Uh - no sir," he shook his head brightly, unaware of how seriously I viewed such a confession.
"And all of the other punishments? And all of these pieces of homework which have been written by somebody else?" I laid out a wealth of evidence.
"Not me, sir. I didn't do them." He seemed almost proud of the admission.
"Then who did do them, Steven?" I asked.
"I don't know sir," he protested innocently. "I leave the things in my bag at night, and when I come down in the morning they're all done. Homeworks, punishments, anything the teachers have told me to do."
I stared at him, unwilling to acknowledge the incredible implications of what he so clearly and honestly believed. Eventually, I decided against disabusing him of the notion that a latter-day educational tooth fairy had been at work and instead contacted his mother for an appointment on Friday afternoon.
Gail is growing ever more disillusioned with the primarysecondary liaison for which she is responsible at Rockston Primary, and she didn't tire of telling me about it over tea this evening.
The straw which broke the camel's back, so to speak, was her meeting this afternoon with Mr Crumley, arranged to effect a smooth transitional arrangement in the area of environmental studies, and for which my dedicated spouse had spent a lengthy set of evenings preparing personalised reports for each child in Primary 7. Crumley has never been terribly enthusiastic about the nature and detail of the 5-14 programme, it has to be admitted, but even Gail was shocked by his complete and utter ignorance of the key features and attainment targets for which he is supposed to assume responsibility once her pupils are handed over to our charge.
His admission to her that he would be a great deal happier if he could revert to giving an A to his best pupils and an E to his worst ones evinced little sympathy with her, and his patronising assumption that she spends most of her days on "teaching handicrafts and artwork", followed by a flippant reassurance that she "needn't worry about them once they got into Greenfield as they'll start learning some real geography then" caused Gail no uncertain fury.
Eventually, she broke. "I looked him in the eye, Morris, and I came straight out with it. 'Mr Crumley,' I asked. 'Are you really committed to 5-14?' And d'you know what he said?"
I shook my head.
"He said that Mr Tod - Mr Tod, your head teacher, mark you - had said to the principal teachers' meeting only last week - and I'm quoting here - that they needn't bother themselves too much about 5-14 until the primaries have got it all sorted out! Imagine! Can you actually imagine a secondary head teacher saying something like that?"
Alas I could. Especially if it was Mr Tod . . .
Kevin Elliott's mother has refused to condemn her son's appalling behaviour on Monday. Indeed, she seems almost to condone it by instructing him not to hand in the punishment exercise which I issued, as she delighted in telling me by telephone this afternoon.
Her case is built upon the somewhat flimsy legal pretext that the fight which I had occasion to stop was taking place outwith the school premises and did not therefore come under my jurisdiction. I sighed in disbelief as I put down the telephone, having agreed a compromise of Kevin sending a written apology to the neighbours into whose garden the pitched battle had unhappily strayed.
From the sublime to the ridiculous - or should it be the other way round, I thought to myself as I prepared to meet Mrs Monaghan (or the "homework fairy" as she has become known in the staffroom since Wednesday's revelations). She was upfront about the reasoning behind doing all of Steven's homework and punishments for him.
"Well he was never going to do them himself, Mr Simpson - now was he?" "But surely . . ."
"And I didn't want him getting into trouble again, now did I?" "Well, no, but wouldn't it . . .?" "Not with having promised him a holiday in Menorca if he did well in school this term."
"Oh that's nice," I said. "When's that? July?" "No, no," she explained brightly. "Next week. Hasn't Steven told you? For three weeks. I gave him a note to get work from all his teachers. For the beach, like. I thought that's why you wanted to see me, so I could check what books to take with me." She looked quite crestfallen. "Haven't you got it ready for him?" "But three weeks takes us almost to the end of term, Mrs Monaghan," I stuttered in confusion. "What about all the work he'll be missing?" "Well they don't do much at this time of year - do they, like?" "On the contrary, Mrs Monaghan, I can assure you that . . ."
"So have you got some work for him, then?" I shook my head angrily and decided to call the meeting to a premature conclusion before I broke a blood vessel. Curtly assuring the woman that I would be happy to provide a full diet of work for Steven - or herself, for that matter - upon their return to these shores, and that they could therefore busy themselves with it in the first weeks of the summer holiday proper - and I emphasised the word "proper", but to little effect, I suspect - unless they had another foreign jaunt in the offing.
"Aw no," she assured me. "It's much too expensive in July. That's why we're goin in June, see?" So my disposition was not of the sunniest for my afternoon lesson with 1S, observed for the final time this session by Scott Black. Whatever my mood, however, my treatment of him was reprehensible.
It was some 10 minutes into the lesson, and 1S were at their usual unpleasant best - or worst - for a Friday afternoon. Simon Alexander was belching loudly beneath the desk whenever the opportunity presented itself, Steven Monaghan was clearly high on the prospect of three weeks in Menorca, and Kevin Elliott was simply being - well, Kevin Elliott.
Having said that, I was mentally applauding myself upon having secured their attention with an impassioned introduction to our debate upon the pros and cons of capital punishment, always a good debating issue with 1st year. Suddenly, alas, the spell was broken. Kevin Elliott was just beginning an arm-farting attempt - no major problem, and an interruption I was about to quell - when Scott shouted out from the back of the classroom. "Actually, you should all listen a lot more carefully to Mr Simpson, 1S. It's clear from where I sit that he's put a lot of care and thought into preparing this lesson, and you should all be paying much closer attention." Whereupon he smiled at me to nauseating effect. And I froze in stupefaction.
"Mr Black," I eventually muttered between clenched and icy teeth. "I have been teaching for nearly 12 years. I have dealt with disruptive children for nearly all of those years. Sometimes I am successful. And sometimes I am not. But what I do not need, and never will need, is some jumped-up little oik from college who thinks he's seen it all, and done it all. So I'd thank you for keeping your slimy little remarks to yourself. OK?" In retrospect, this probably wasn't the kind of remark best suited to cementing our mentormentee relationship, but it certainly shut him up. He crumpled, went very red - and sat quietly for the rest of the lesson. As did 1S, all of whom - even Kevin Elliott - quite clearly approved of my remarks.
I wasn't particularly proud of myself, but perhaps it was good to let 1S see the tougher side of me. At least they'll know I can discipline someone properly.
Next month: the annual trip to Alton Towers - with more excitement on the bus than on the rides.