When it comes to manners, is there a Hannibal inside you?

Introducing her students to the right manners is part of a teacher's pastoral care role, says Sarah Simons

Hannibal Lecter

Some days are crap. But I have a couple of tried and tested strategies to get through to bed time without brutally murdering anyone or dissolving into a pool of sadness.

One of them is to watch a comfort film. A comfort film has to have some depth and complexity. A new nuance I can notice even if I've already seen it 20 times and will probably see another 20 – how the delivery of a line affects the story, or a camera angle suggests character status, or even how an intake of breath alters the meaning of the dialogue. There must be characters I enjoy spending time with in situations so unfamiliar to me, that I am forced to depart my own circumstances and join theirs.


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The right time

Since our beautiful old dog left us a few months ago there have been quite a few crap days. But after much discussion we decided the time was right to get a new dog pal for me and my younger hound, Betty The Whippet – we are a two dog family. I’d scoured the adoption lists at local rescue shelters and set my heart on a scruffy one-eared former street dog who seemed like the perfect match for our gang. Sadly Betty had other ideas. The two dogs had such different play styles that the rescue people thought it could end in canine thuggery. They were right, it wasn't a good match, but that didn’t stop me pining for the dog that wasn’t ours to begin with.

It was early evening when we got home. I dragged a spare duvet downstairs, loaded a tray with snacks, and then my husband and I retreated to the sofa with my most reliable comfort film at the ready: Silence of the Lambs

I get such solace from Hannibal Lecter. He’s not just charismatic because he is written as an anti-hero psychopath, or because for all his savagery he has humour and charm, but because Anthony Hopkins plays him as though he’s taking part in a very complex panto audition.

A manners vigilante

And for the benefit of the tape m’lud, apart from that couple of unprovoked killings that are necessary for his escape, Hannibal mainly murders the rude. So y’know, fair enough. He simply edits out those who don't add to the existence he believes is his right. A life where academia and art in all its forms are held as lofty, untouchable truths. Essentially he is a pompous, manners vigilante and I’m all for that.

I think we all have a bit of Hannibal in us, albeit in a slightly diluted form. I bet you do. Every time you've sighed sharply at someone who breezes through a door you've held open without saying thank you. Every time you've hollered a passive aggressive, “YOU’RE WELCOME” at another driver who doesn't acknowledge that you’ve let them push in the traffic queue. Every time someone yawns without covering their mouth. Can you honestly say you don't want to fold your arms, slowly shake your head, and hiss “really?”

I have no trouble whatsoever in giving voice to my politeness-police tendencies when teaching straight-from-school-year-olds. As far as I'm concerned it’s part of my duty of pastoral care to help them develop a library of good manners with which to furnish their interactions. It’s a different story when teaching adults though. I can't give it the old "Eh! I don't want to see your breakfast" or a "Keeping you up, are we?" when a 35-year-old unhinges their jaw for a cavernous yawn. I’m still finding my way with the behaviour management area of the lifelong learning community.

Developing relationships

I hate talking to my adult students as anything but equals, but as relationships have developed and we know where we stand with each other, I can get away with being more direct without being rude or disrespectful. But it works both ways.

One of my students went to the wrong place when our group was shifted during the GCSE rooming Hokey Cokey that happened in colleges up and down the country this week. She burst into our room five minutes late, gobsmacked with shock. She told us that when she was trotting down the corridor towards our usual classroom, a teacher had bellowed “Where do you think you're going?” after her.

She was so startled by his tone that she was rattling with laughter. She admitted that it was only because the teacher was "well fit for an old bloke" that she didn’t retaliate with “And who do you think you're talking to?”. I’d have backed my student all the way. There's no need to speak to people like that. And let me tell you, should I ever learn the identity of my "well fit" colleague, I shall of course try to resist the urge to have him for dinner. With fava beans and a nice Chianti. Obvs.

Sarah Simons works in colleges and adult community education in the East Midlands and is the director of UKFEchat. She tweets @MrsSarahSimons

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