The fog clears and here we are.
I have a warm welcome at this school on the coast. I’ve seen the town on the TV and, although never having visited it before, I feel an affinity to it. It’s a place of struggle and warmth, feud and family. That’s what Channel 5 has said, anyway.
The headteacher is a great bloke, gently guiding his staff through the trials and tribulations of working at the sharp end of primary education. He is enthusiastic about the day and so am I. Before long, there are 30 children,15 staff and someone from the council watching. The lad from the council has gelled hair and the looks of a football player ready to do a photoshoot. I’m not sure he’s going to understand what’s happening today.
We are doing a session on conservation. It’s a well-worn path for me, but the children are buzzing, and we construct a community living its life at the base of some mountains by the shores of a mighty river. How do we go about constructing a community? We draw it. We talk about its laws. We share the jobs and responsibilities that need to be addressed for us to function. We talk about getting along and existing in a tolerant community.
Zac, with black hair and darting eyes, has been hard work and the headteacher has tipped me a nod. Zac’s got a lot on and this might not be for him. We are considering the functions of building in our community. We have houses and a market so far.
I ask a question that brings everything into focus for me. And for Zac. And for everyone.
"Where do we learn?" I ask the class, who sit over their sketches and town designs.
Straight away, and surprisingly, Zac responds: "We got a school. A building."
(I hear the starter pistol fire as I choose to run with this boy’s idea).
"Nice one Zac. If we have a school in our community, what do we learn in it?"
There’s a gentle silence as all the kids ponder this but we all know it’s for Zac to sort out. So we all look at him.
I notice the head staring, gently nodding at Zac, willing him on. It’s a lovely thing. Zac clocks him, turns to me and says: "We do Bear Grylls."
And it’s my turn to nod. I know exactly what he means.
"Tell me more, Zac. If it’s today and I’m in school, what will I be learning about?"
The heart of a lion
Zac’s really warming up. He shrugs his shoulders and says, "Fishing".
Again, I nod. It’s just me and him now. This troubled little boy getting fired up by a community in our collective heads. "Fishing," I repeat.
"Where do we get hooks from?" I ask, kindly.
Without a beat, Zac responds: "From the claws of lions."
Before I can continue, he leaps out of his chair: "Do you want me to show you?"
A few of the teachers widen their eyes, and the head smiles.
"Absolutely," I proclaim. And I mean proclaim! We need more proclaiming in our classrooms. Stuff to get our teeth into. I can’t help it. I’m a YES man.
I can see some nervous glances amongst the grown-ups because Zac, bless him, has form.
I’ll do this in bullet points.
- Zac gets up and begins a piece of dramatic mime that uses all of the available space we have. The council footballer nearly gets taken out by Zac’s waving arms.
- Zac clearly depicts the pursuit, capture and strangulation of a mighty lion.
- Zac pulls out one of the lion’s claws and holds it aloft and in slow motion cheers himself like a ruddy gladiator.
The rest of the class go crazy. The teachers whoop and the head does that determined clapping that says "YES YES YES!"
The kids are all cheering Zac and his negative-Androcles vibe. He’s buzzing. A happy child lost in the moment of his great adventure.
And the fog descends.
Zac’s in a tough town. He’s fighting lions every day.