A faint hum of despair permeates the overheated classroom, along with the fetid aroma of the lunchtime feast of Pringles and KitKats. I continue my performing monkey routine at the front of the class, with only the faintest murmurings of interest rising from the apparently inert forms before me.
“We will be working on this for the next fortnight,” I say. Fortnight, fortnight, fortnight. The word hangs in the air and I smile nervously as there is a perceptible shift in the atmosphere.
The word begins to settle into the students' adolescent ears. Their heads snap round like those of hungry velociraptors sighting a tethered goat. They circle. Their eyes narrow. “Fortnite? Fortnite? Did Miss just say… Fortnite?”
Chaos erupts as I am quickly immersed in an alternative reality. My desperate attempt to rouse the class from their Friday afternoon slumber have rapidly become a quest to tame the beast, with even the quietest and most compliant student suddenly wielding an imaginary weapon in their hand, flailing wildly at their neighbour.
Any mention of, allusion to, or, in fact, any reference at all, to the online phenomenon brings unimaginable levels of chaos. All possible mentions must be shut down immediately, should I require there be any actual progress in my lessons. Year 8 boys are especially fond of the game and now no detention can be attended, homework completed or club joined for fear of missing out on “Fortnite time”. A single word can derail their learning, and their focus is always brief, as long as their heads are filled with last night’s adventures.
I hate it. I loathe it. Having seen the Battle Royale nature of it, I am morally opposed to it; although I must admit it is a tempting metaphor to reach for in the classroom sometimes.
Online, I hear that some teachers are giving in to the unrelenting pressure and adapting schemes of work to build on this love of the game, and my heart sinks a little. I avoided the craze for building Pokemon Go into my lessons; I didn’t Dab my way to lesson observation glory; and none of my students wrote their descriptive writing pieces about bottle flipping. Surely I can make it through the last few weeks of term without succumbing to the siren call of fads and fashion? And yet…
The isolated boy who barely writes a word hands over a beautifully presented explanation of why I should play Fortnite, demonstrating an array of persuasive writing techniques so powerful that I almost want to log in. Another hands in a set of tips and rules which he has clearly laboured over.
I am not one for grasping on to the latest craze at the detriment of your Dickens or Shakespeare, but maybe a nod to the zeitgeist is not always such a bad thing. I still have to avoid the word, or any that could be misheard as it, but as the long term crawls its way to the end, maybe Fortnite isn’t so completely terrible after all.
Zoe Enser is an English teacher and director of improvements at Seahaven Academy in East Sussex. She tweets @GreeboRunner