Tuesday, October 26, 2010

LETTERS FROM THE BASEMENT...


I like to hit the ground running as a teacher and this is why for me, teaching starts as I step across the threshold. By the time I have reached my desk, I am in full swing trying, like any team leader, to gather the troops into my web so to speak. The desk, which is after all the only obstacle between me and the students, gets shunted to the side of the room where it remains for the rest of the year. I allow nothing to interfere. All this takes place in a matter of seconds with me talking, engaging the students the whole time. Meanwhile, I look round the room and clock, at a glance, those truly intelligent students who shine out like stars. You all know the look of the truly gifted; you know that steady gaze, the sparkle and the look of focus which comes with a high IQ. You clock them and they clock you; contact is made and you rush forwards together, whooping and cheering to the finish line, enjoying every minute and dragging the less fortunate along. You don’t know how time passes in the lessons and neither do they for a bond has been forged which is stronger than anything you have ever experienced. The biggest compliment to the teacher is when a student turns round and says “Where did the time go?” This is what it has always been like for me and I have become addicted to this feeling; I thrive on it and it leads me to excel in whatever I do in class. Teaching is, after all, team work “par exellance”.
It was with feelings of great anticipation for delights to come that I stepped across the threshold this year, and it took me a good ten seconds to realize the students were not with me. The energy wasn’t there; the atmosphere was soporific, dead if you like. “Hang on” a little voice in my head said, “This isn’t how it goes”. My eyes swept the room; there was not a glimmer of ANYTHING. The place was dead.
-“They are all retards” I said later.
- “I doubt they are anymore retarded than anyone else” responded my Dad who, at the ripe old age of 89, has become a cynic through and through. “Trepidation” he muttered, pencil poised. He was engrossed in his lifelong addiction, the crossword; and he doesn’t believe in pens.
-“They are all zombies or high” I screamed.
-“Yes they are all high; all 33 of them and you’ve been landed with the lot. Aren’t you being paranoid?” he inquired. “Hand me the dictionary” he continued.
Going back to those minutes immediately after I received that first shock, as I said, my gaze swept the room as I moved forwards to face the class at closer quarters and a familiar, heavy, sweet smell hit my nostrils which took me back years to the late 60’s and early 70’s. I picked out the source of the familiar aroma of weed in the second row: a girl with bright orange hair who I shall be calling Rock Chic. The stench of kebabs first thing in the morning I was familiar with; this was new.
-          “Air your clothes tonight and lose that gum” I said sharply.
She looked amused; I suppose she thought old fogies like me wouldn’t recognize the stuff but I was her age about 30 years ago so I have been there and done that. Rock Chick stuck a pair of talons with chipped red varnish in her mouth and removed the offending article beneath the gaze of a spellbound giant. My first reaction was “God! He is blind!” You see, he didn’t seem to have any pupils. His eyes looked well, white. I later realized they were pale grey and fortunately, he wasn’t blind. He was, however, built like a giant redwood tree; absolutely ginormous.  As is the norm in our school, the radiators were on full blast and the place was like the Gobi desert so I said “Could you get that window please?” The giant, who I shall be referring to as the Quarterback having discovered his passion in life, rose from his seat, and he rose and he rose until he towered above us all, reached out a paw and opened the window. Even Rock Chick looked interested. As all this was going on, I noticed someone in the corner furiously taking notes. “What the hell is he writing?” I thought. Nothing had really happened yet. Later on, when I glanced at the papers in front of him, I saw scribble that would put the Bronte sisters to shame. Charlotte, Emily, Ann and Branwell used, apparently, to write in this tiny, tiny scrawl so their father wouldn’t know they were writing fiction. The Recorder as I will be calling him is the same; with one difference though: Yours truly has to read the damn things. Sure enough, ever since, his essays have arrived all scrunched up in the top one tenth of the page; all 200 words. Whoever shares papers with me on the quarter exam is in for a nasty shock. I tried not to be fazed by all of this and got on with my pep talk where I outline how we are going to work, what we will be doing in class, what they will be doing at home and how they are supposed to work. Usually, this part of the proceedings goes relatively smoothly; after all what is there not to understand? Well, think again…I was interrupted, mid flow, by a cry of “I don’t understand”. I looked around and saw first an arm, then the owner of the said arm. “Lord” I said “A hobbit; a real live hobbit”. This young man, who I shall be referring to as Dr. Why, has become the albatross round my neck; he peppers every single lesson liberally with the above comment, and what is truly infuriating is that I don’t seem to be able to get through to him at all – after 35 years in the trenches; I want to die.
He is not the only albatross though: there are also the Furies, a gaggle of females who all talk at once no matter what I say. “Could you repeat that? Repeat that.. .Repeat that …” They chime at regular intervals. “Even computers crash when you ask them to do too much at once; one at a time” I beg; “ I am a mere mortal after all; cut me some slack” I continue. They don’t take a blind bit of notice though. Usually at about this point in the proceedings, another player joins in: “Could you write the rule on the board please?” He says. Those of you who have read my papers will know that I don’t believe in writing rules on the board; I believe in students drawing conclusions. I have always felt it was a far more effective way of learning. This bespectacled young man, who I shall call the Professor, comes from a French school where students aren’t taught but “learnt” Toad of Toad Hall fashion – that wonderful character out of the classic Wind in the Willows”.
-          “You give them the rules; either write them on the board or have a box or table, tell them to learn them or else and take 10 points off for every mistake the next day” said my daughter firmly. “We used to get -20 or -30; it never did us any harm and we never had any problems” she added.
-          “Weren’t things explained to you? Wouldn’t it have been better if you understood?” I insisted. You see this goes against everything I believe in.
-          “The proof of the pudding is in the eating; my French is excellent” she responded primly.”You’ll come round to my way of thinking” she added confidently.
I am not giving up without a fight though; so let the battle commence: next time it is the tenses and if I go down, I will go down fighting!

LETTERS FROM THE BASEMENT: THE QUAGMIRE
Past Tenses; take 52:
“It doesn’t make sense” said Dr. Why who was a civil engineer.
 No offense but it is my personal feeling that the profession is probably the most seriously challenged in terms of imagination. Certain crucial synapses seem never to have formed.
“I was going” he enunciated in Turkish where one uses continuous forms to tell stories. He had produced a narrative using the past continuous despite me moving heaven and earth to get them to see that one couldn’t.
“That’s not how we use the past continuous in English” I responded “Do you remember…”
“But it isn’t logical and logic is universal” he responded.
He was beginning to sound desperate and I can’t bear the sight of a student who is trying to understand and doesn’t seem to be able to; it gets me in the pit of my stomach. The penny just refused to drop; it is fascinating said “the intellectual me”, they are real slow learners; now what do we do? My musings were interrupted by the Professor who turned round to eye Dr Why belligerently and said:
“There is a lovely chart in Azar; why don’t you memorize it?
“She is going to grade you on it” said Smartypants
“If you had done all your workbook exercises, you wouldn’t be in such a pickle” said Teacherspet who had done all the homework, absorbed it like a sponge and produced a flawless narrative to boot.
The three of them, having found common ground, were now in league and rivaled the Furies.  We, meanwhile, continued to analyze errors and go over Teacherspet’s essay, which the whole class had copies of.
“Everything is important so I used the present perfect” said the Quarterback eyeing his essay which was now bespattered with red ink.
Smartypants, the Professor and Teacherspet all shook their heads.
“Memorize the charts; do as you are told, she is the one who is going to grade you; I did exactly what was asked” they said. I will leave you to work out which was which.
“It doesn’t matter how important it was; you can’t use the present perfect with past time words” I said for the umpteenth time.
 I was sorely tempted to tell him to write out “The story telling tense is the simple past” a hundred times for the following day but remembered a conversation I had had with my daughter the previous evening.
“You are going to have to get off your high horse and admit you are wrong” she said. My daughter considers it her mission in life to bring me down a peg or two. “You have an ego the size of a football pitch; do you good to realize that you don’t have all the answers” she said as she flounced out of the room. I have no idea who she takes after…
All this happened before they met the past perfect and it was love at first sight for some. Gone was the present perfect, in came the past perfect:
“It happened BEFORE” said Dreamy
This came, in case you were wondering, after a series of specially selected reading passages with perfect examples of the use of the past tenses, a series of carefully selected exercises done over two or three days and about three guided narratives.
“Everything happens before something; this is a story. Remember what we said…” I began
“Write it down” said the Recorder and everyone turned and stared; it was the first time he had spoken.
“You don’t need to; there are these lovely charts…” said guess who but nobody was listening.
One side of me is fascinated: we have never had slow learners before; this is a first. One side of me is, however, ready to tear my hair out knowing that our program was never designed for slow learners. I remember all the papers I have posted on this blog; maybe my daughter is right and I will have to eat humble pie. I am very obstinate by nature though and not a quitter. I am determined that summary writing and reading will go like a dream. I shall put my thinking cap on.
“Good!” said my daughter
“Don’t be impertinent” I snapped. She may be 27 but she is still my daughter.
“It will all be fine; you’ll see” said Mum; she was doing her thing. There was a time long, long ago when I believed that; those were the days…
LETTERS FROM THE BASEMENT: AN ANTICLIMAX
I woke up before the alarm clock as usual as if someone had poked me and leapt out of bed; there was no point lying in the dark fretting. As I wandered around on auto pilot getting ready, I kept muttering to myself – God is probably fed to the back teeth with my class – “Please let the penny drop the first time round and not the 50th; let them not think I am doing everything in my power to stop them learning” I added.
“Talking to yourself?” said my daughter as she bagged the bathroom with a smart swish of dressing gown and some fancy footwork. There is nothing like a silk dressing gown and an intimate knowledge of Latin dancing to get the upper hand. My dressing gown is no match for hers so I let it go.
 I fretted all the way to school and eventually stepped gingerly into the classroom. I am no coward but topic sentences? Thesis statements? Concluding statements? This was a class that took the best part of a week to stop fighting me over the present tenses. “It is going to be like negotiating a mine field” I said to myself and felt just like a recruit in WWI at the battle of The Somme. Irony of ironies though; it went swimmingly. The idea of stating what you are going to talk about, saying it and then saying what you have finished talking about appealed to something very basic in their mind sets.  Even  Dr. Why looked happy for once and the Recorder actually stopped writing to chew his pencil, which I am sure is a good sign. They liked it big time; I might have known. They looked positively HAPPY! We have got one thing right at least. It is summary writing next time and the Cornell method.  The Cornell method is completely logical and orderly; rather like Baroque music I have always thought so I have a good feeling about it. I will tell you how I got on next time.

SUMMARIES AND BAROQUE MUSIC? SHOSTOKOVICH MORE LIKE…
The technicalities of writing having gone so well the previous day, I bounced into class with a spring in my step quite confident that the Cornell method would go swimmingly.
-“We are going to learn how to write summaries” I beamed; “So the first thing I would like you to do is to get a sheet of paper and fold it lengthwise so” I added.
If you have read my paper on summary writing – To Cut a Long Story Short – you will know what I was driving at. One anticipates problems later on in the proceedings when tackling summary writing, when one is deciding what is relevant and what isn’t, or when reorganizing information, but not at this stage. You’d think I would be used to it by now but I wasn’t. On gazing round the room, I saw that everyone had folded their papers across the middle. “They don’t trust the evidence of their own eyes and ears; interesting” said the intellectual me. The poor sod in class; i.e. me, was just opening her mouth to demonstrate once again when Smartypants whipped out a sheaf of papers and started folding them lengthwise and handing them out, looking frightfully pleased with himself.
-“I don’t need one” said Teacherspet who had not only folded his paper in the requisite way but added a title: Summaries, exercise one, and dated it. He was looking as pleased as punch. In front of him, he also had a series of felt tipped pens in primary colors, two pens and a ruler.
-“Oh for God’s sake” said Smartypants in disgust.
-  “Why do we have to fold the paper? Why can’t we draw a line down the middle?” inquired The Professor.
“Independent thought; how fascinating” said the intellectual me. Considering the scholastic nature of the French education system as described by my daughter, who should after all know what she is talking about, this came as a surprise(for those of you who don’t recall, The Professor is also the graduate of a French school). “Curiouser and curiouser” I said to myself, Alice-fashion.
-“I would have done the same” said my daughter later on that evening, and when I asked how independent thought could possibly be fostered by the French system she had the most bizarre explanation I have ever heard:
-“ There is so little sense ,so little reasoning behind anything and so little that is rational in French schools that students learn to reason, if you like, out of sheer desperation”  she explained. “You are just as bad as some of my teachers you know; so long as they have a narrow writing space what does it matter?”
I let that go too; explaining the reasoning about the paper would have taken so much longer than just telling students to do something. God! I don’t believe I just said that. What I mean is it sometimes saves time; most of the time, it is much easier to get the students to cooperate, if you do explain.  Going back to my daughter’s comment, you out there who are moving heaven and earth to teach students to think, you know the missing ingredient: desperation. Incidentally, all this had taken a good chunk out of the lesson and I was about ready to blow a gasket. We were finally set to go. The text we were working on was that lovely text about the dolphin “Winter” who lost her tail off the Associated Press website.
-“We put the subtitles down the left and very brief notes opposite; one word, two words, not more” I said and started to demonstrate. It was at this point that it suddenly hit me that I had forgotten all about my various aching joints and my new autoimmune problem. So those of you out there with similar afflictions, I will lend you the class anytime. I was interrupted, at this point by Dr Why:
-“Where are the subtitles? I don’t have any in my text!”
Superman, a quiet and painfully shy young chap who lives in a superman t-shirt and was being befriended by Metalchic (a young lady dressed in black from head to heel and makeup to match. She spooks me out slightly because she rattles as she walks  due to chains hanging about her person much like the Victorian ghosts of yore…) of all people, swiveled round to explain, much to my delight. This was the first time anything like this had happened! Pair work! I exclaimed to myself. This was all down to Metalchic to give her her due; she has taken our would-be superman under her wing since he’s been slapped down by Rockchick and is cultivating him. She and Rockchick have this silent feud going, which I pretend not to notice. Most of the time, they have Dreamy sitting between them but he has this tendency to wander off; literally! First, it is usually coffee to wake up, then, it is water, then, he washes his face and lastly, he disappears for a longer stretch. He isn’t all there when he is physically with us either. Rockchick tried it on with him, for the hell of it I suppose, but her efforts were wasted as Dreamy was on his own little planet somewhere. He seems to be completely immune to her wiles. He is jerked rudely back to life as we know it when I ask him a question, when it takes him a full two or three minutes to grasp what is going on.
-“You should give some warning beforehand” he said once and he was serious.
Getting back to the poor bloody dolphin, I proceeded to work with them compiling notes on the board and we ran in to our next problem:
-“Do you think we really need to know how much the dolphin weighed or can we leave it out?”I asked
“We can’t, we can’t we can’t” shrilled The Furies; “It is in the text!”
“- Our purpose is to shorten the text remember, so must we have every single piece of information that is written there?”
A short pause.
- “Yes, yes, yes” (to be fair each one only said Yes once but that was the effect)
- “No, that doesn’t mean it has to be in the summary” said the Professor who having come from a French school knew how to summarize and was getting slightly fed up with this process – at least I didn’t feel so alone anymore...  I find the success of the “Here’s the text, summarize or I keep failing you until you do” approach very hard to swallow or accept I must say, despite the fact that my daughter swears blind that it’s true – and, as I said, The Professor IS the only one in class who CAN summarize. So I am sure there is some other closely guarded secret I don’t know about.
For the next thirty to forty minutes, I attempted, unsuccessfully, to undo all that had been drummed into them up to that point: parroting is wrong, judging, evaluating, rephrasing and the like are in. They have this feeling that I am out to trick them or get them in some way and by the end of the lesson the place was like a Welsh rugby pitch – and I was the opposing team! No wonder I have joint problems – I have to fight a class of 33 for every inch of information I get into their heads…
We did, eventually, reach “an understanding” let us say, and moved on to the next problem: reorganizing the information. It was at this point that I noticed Teacherspet’s notes and my eyes nearly popped out of my head: everything was color coded in true nerd style. Notes about the accident were in red, the immediate reaction to the accident was in blue and all the solutions were in green.
-“I will just put the reds together first, followed by the blues and round it off with the greens” he told me with a supremely self satisfied smile.
My reaction was, I am afraid, automatic because I was in love. It brought back memories of color coded building blocks; in short ORDER. I swooped down on the notes and used them to demonstrate what I wanted them to do; they were soooo perfect I couldn’t help myself – and ignored the rising murmur of disgust in the class.
-“God they must hate him” said my daughter later on; “I’ve always wanted to throttle people like that” she added with feeling.
She was right; I may have been in love but I simply couldn’t ignore the look of disgust Smartypants and The Professor leveled at Teacherspet when I held him up as an example... If looks could kill… The pens did have some other repercussions though: The Recorder SPOKE once again:
-“That’s nice” he said
And that was the start of a beautiful friendship. The two now sit together and share pens; nothing else though, Teacherspet, in true nerd style, doesn’t “do” sharing; to the extent that he sits guard over his notes through the breaks and is in a continual tiz if he has to leave them unguarded for a while. Nevertheless, I can’t help feeling that The Recorder will benefit from the liaison – let’s be fair, he can’t very well get much worse... Next time, it’s reading, so if you want to know the mess we got into keep watching this space.
“HOW TO FIGHT” YOUR WAY THROUGH A READING TEXT
-“Your tea is getting tepid” said my daughter.
I was in a trance, nursing a cup of now definitely tepid tea turning over in my mind the events of the day before.
-“Your tea is getting cold is the cliché” I responded
-“ Tepid is different” said my daughter, “It means you’ve just missed your chance of enjoying the tea; it was drinkable a few minutes ago; rather like missing the bus and seeing it disappearing down the road” she added eyeing me with that “I-have-got-one-over-on-you look”.
-“We are out of tea in case you were wondering, but there are some of those vile tea bags should you feel so inclined. I am off; let you know if I’ll be back for dinner” she added and she was off.
 I went back to the playback of the previous day’s lesson.  I have even lost interest in my tea; I wonder if I am coming down with something? No matter, I have more pressing things to worry about. Dr Why’s desperate protest is still ringing in my ears:
-“First you said the reasons or support always follow the statement of an opinion, now you say that the reason comes first and the result comes afterwards. How am I going to know which reason is where?
What the hell do you say to a question like this? I was quite honestly lost for words – if only very briefly.
-“Now take a deep breath and just calm down” I said in what I hoped was a soothing voice “This is one of many schools in a small country on an insignificant planet in one of many solar systems in an ever expanding universe. Let’s get things into perspective. In the scheme of things, is there really any reason to get so worked up? I asked.
Surprisingly enough, he was completely taken a back and relaxed a little, which gave me the opportunity to go about pointing out the errors of his way. Basically, that a reading passage cannot be attacked like a foe and tackled in the same way math problems are; that there is basic logic as writers – excluding our students naturally – endeavor to develop a rational argument, concerning which questions may be put to readers – our students.
If you have read “How to Fight” which is now posted in the reading file, you will see his problem: the writer, out of pure spite according to my lot, has declined to use ANY of those much beloved transition words and relied simply on basic reasoning skills to get her argument across. This came as a nasty shock to my students who, to be fair, had been warned repeatedly that the average native speaker doesn’t have the emotional bond they themselves seem to have with transition words. It seems they hadn’t believed me; no surprises there then. All this, despite the fact that I skim the dratted words ever so briefly in class not to give them the wrong idea. The whole exercise didn’t start out too well either. Now if you check the reading file, you will see that I have a set of pre reading questions to start with.  So I walked into class as per usual and asked them when they had last had a fight with someone about something.
-“Yesterday; during training” said The Quarterback, “We gave him what’s what.”
-“Who?” I asked
-“He shouldn’t have been there so we learnt him” he went on sticking his chin out and nodding. “He had no business on the team but we got him in the scrum. Hooker, my ass. He won’t be “hooking” anything for at least three weeks” he added looking frightfully pleased with himself. This little ditty was followed by nudges and chuckles and slaps on the back from his cronies The Swimmer and The Gorilla.
-“Bastards” said Fancypants who was a very posh chap who lived in designer labels and glided about in a cloud of aftershave. He had taken up residence with The Furies who seemed to treat him with great adulation.
-“I don’t think that was what the teacher meant” said Teacherspet primly “When did you last have a verbal disagreement with someone?” he inquired.
-“Verbal?” said The Quarterback with genuine surprise “What’s the point in that? We dealt with it just fine.”
-“I never have arguments” said Smartypants, “It makes no sense. Much better to just manage the situation or the person as the case may be” he added with a charming smile.
-“I had the most God awful run in with my mom this morning” volunteered Rockchic; “She is so…. What is the word? There was this one word you used last week; what was it?” she asked
-“Have you any recollection which day I used it?” I asked but the penny didn’t drop.
-“Wednesday I think!” she said brightly, seriously expecting me to pop out with the word…
-“Was it one across or one down, and do we have any of the letters?” I asked with a perfectly straight face.
-“Stubborn, obstinate, pig-headed, obdurate” said a voice “Take your pick.”
I looked round to see Teacherspet reading the words out of this wonderful, chunky exercise book and one more thing: it was in color! I was flabbergasted! He had this book, you know the ones you use to write down telephone numbers and addresses so that he could have the words in alphabetical order; I quickly ascended to cloud nine and the class, the students everything just dropped away and there was only this dear little book and Teacherspet.  He had done something else: the nouns were in red, the verbs in blue, the adjectives in green and the adverbs in orange. I have never seen anything like it. Dazzled is the word I am looking for.
-“It saves trouble later” he explained, well pleased with my reaction
-“If he isn’t writing a dictionary!” said Smartypants with genuine disgust “We have our own budding Dr. Johnson” he added. You see we had just covered unit 6 in Sue O’Connell’s Focus on Advanced English where they brushed shoulders with the man.
-“Nice” said The Recorder reaching out a paw but the book was snatched immediately and stashed away out of everyone’s reach.
Thinking back, although the pre reading questions developed a mind of their own and the whole discussion went off at a tangent, we did manage to cover the main points the text emphasizes that most arguments are about trivia which you would do better not to fight over ( Smartypants), that they get very offensive and don’t get resolved ( Rockchic) and that violence is a no- no. So keep your eye on the ball; you may not be as off track as you think. I was well chuffed.
Next came the text itself… Cast your eye if you will over the first brilliant paragraph of the text by Kathleen McGowan titled How to Fight (psychologytoday.com) and you will see the first hurdle: “When you get down to it, most arguments follow a pattern that is all too familiar. Boiled down, the essence of many quarrels goes something like this: I’m right and you are wrong. And I absolutely, positively will not back down or change the subject until you admit it” My question concerns that last it; a reference in short.
-“The subject” The Furies all chorused and Dr Why nodded. It was so simple really: you clock it, wiz back, pinpoint the noun and hey presto…
-“Nope” I said; “What is it that you have to admit?” I asked
We went round in circles for a bit, Dr Why drew some surprising but obviously grossly exaggerated parallels to Kafka’s Castle but we got there eventually.
-“You must understand that you can’t answer reading questions without reading” I said in my most Alice in Wonderlandish tone of voice. They were still fighting me on that though. I will get them on the next question I thought to myself. Let me quote another section of the text: “They start over something small and dumb: He forgot to pick up the milk on the way home. She criticized him in front of his mother…” My question concerns guessing the meaning of the word dumb. That flummoxed them too.
-“It doesn’t say” they chimed
-“It has some damn good pointers; all it doesn’t do is spell it out. ” I responded
After asking them to provide examples of their own and Smartypants saying they were all a bunch of idiots they had that light-bulb moment: they looked up at me with expressions of pure joy “Stupid!” they yelled.
The text is chockablock with references and vocabulary like this and is every reading teacher’s dream. I owe thanks to the author. Next time, hopefully, they will condescend to read rather than skim everything.
-“Ever the optimist” said my daughter “If you really believe that, you are a lot more naïve than I thought” she added as she added another coat of red nail varnish to her nails…

THE BIRDS AND THE BEES; SINGULAR AND PLURAL
-“Bes, bes, bes” said The Furies in unison as per usual.
-“Bes! Bes! Bes!”  I exclaimed, aghast and I felt this vice close round my heart. “I am going to die; I am having a heart attack” I thought to myself and remembered a conversation I had had with my daughter one bleak morning while nursing a cup of tea as usual.
-“I want to die in class” I had observed dreamily
-“Rather you than me” my daughter had responded as she flew out the door in a flurry of raincoat, satchel and lots of hair en route to a French literature exam.
What I hadn’t realized at the time was that He was listening; it seemed that I was going to get my wish. “He does choose the oddest wishes to fulfill but there you go” I thought as the room swam before my eyes. We were doing a singular- plural exercise. The sentence concerned Picasso’s works and the students needed to put the verb in brackets – be, in this case – into in to its correct form – is or are.  So you see the reason for my chagrin. Picasso’s works bes… I ask you. Isn’t that enough to give anyone a coronary?
-“There are two” observed the Quarterback, nodding.
-“ There are a good many more than two” I responded crossly and before I could say anything else, Rockchic let out this scream in a voice that would shatter glass in the words of Professor Higgins and hurled herself at Dreamy who was sitting next to her as usual. The latter was woken from his reverie with a start, and jerked to attention trying to grasp what was going on. He disengaged himself from Rockchic who was clinging to him like a limpet and looked up at me:
-“Could I have the question again please?” he asked politely
-“Stop screaming like a banshee; what a way to carry on! This isn’t a circus!” I snapped
It was at this point that I reached for my glasses which I usually discard when I have to keep referring to notes. You see, I am short sighted and like all middle aged people with the affliction, can read very well by just removing my specs. It was then that I saw two most enormous bumble bees buzzing into all the windows in turn and getting very pissed. They had flown in the open window as they frequently do in the basement and had become temporarily disoriented.
-“Oh bees” I said happily as my heart rate plummeted back to 60. I haven’t felt so relieved for a long time…  It was “b” plus two e’s not one and an “s”. A letter of the alphabet has never given me such joy!  After dealing with this airborne relative of the creepy-crawlies, we got back to the matter in hand: singulars and plurals. I had been stealing myself for a tough day but to my utter astonishment, everything was as easy as pie. There was never a murmur as I went over the rules; they poured over their photocopies and settled down to the exercise that followed in a mood -dare I say -close to euphoria? I was left wondering what to make of it all but my daughter set me straight:
-“They don’t have to think when doing things like that” she explained; “They are on familiar territory: memorize and accept the rule; then apply it to the exercise. It is what they have done all their lives. These are the plodders; you can forget about those bright sparks you used to have. The new system won’t be producing them.” She explained with her mouth full of toast.  “Got to run; things to do, places to be, a life to lead.” She added and she was off. We always seem to have hurried conversations with my daughter as she is flying out the door, I have noticed.
Did she have a point? It would seem so… In that case, what is the reason for the hearty dislike they have developed for their vocabulary book? Surely that fits into the same category as nouns… It seems not though because hate it they do I am told – by my partner in crime. This does sometimes happen: you have this all round perfect piece of material, you walk into class and it falls flat. The disappointment you feel is very real; you push, you plead, you cajole until you are blue in the face and you finally start wishing you had a machine gun to mow them all down with. Yes? Well no actually; if something just won’t go, you can keep trying to ram it down their throats until the cows come home; it is not going to work. The students’ hatred of the material will spill over onto the lesson, to other material you may give them and to you. So although it may be a wrench, you have to accept defeat with good grace, tuck the material away and produce an alternative. There is more than one way to skin a cat after all! When you are teaching vocabulary, you have this only commonsense option; there are endless sources of vocabulary after all. When you are doing things like pronouns, you don’t! So all you grammar teachers out there; forget about all that commonsense advice you were given in teacher training college; just suck it up and get on with it. You can sugar coat things of course but pronouns? How, in heaven’s name, do you doll up a pronoun? My lot, you will be interested to know, is besotted with reflexive pronouns. They want to do everything “to themselves”. They are driving me to distraction; I will tell you all about it next time.
Incidentally, the test we just had has gone somewhat better than I expected so there is an ever so faint light at the end of the tunnel. Teacherspet dropped one point for spelling on the grammar section and has been practically suicidal ever since. This was compounded by the fact that he caught the flu off The Recorder who has no concept of personal space and had to miss a whole day of school. He arrived the next day looking decidedly feverish and set about trying to get the class notes. During the process, he had arguments with practically everyone in class and only retreated when The Quarterback growled “Shut it or I’ll shut it for you”. The Recorder did offer Teacherspet his notes to be fair but the writing being so tiny, they were unreadable. Teacherspet was practically in tears at the end of it all and I couldn’t help feeling sorry for him.
I have just realized that the modals are looming on the horizon! Must have? Couldn’t have? I need a stiff drink…
GUESS WHO IS COMING TO VISIT!
“Now we are going to have a new teacher in class tomorrow who will be observing how we work” I announced.
“Really? Why?” asked Dr. Why
“Good question” said Smartypants. “Do we really have to have company; it is going to take a hell of a lot of organizing” he added after some thought.
That is when the penny dropped for everyone. An hour in my class would send the new recruit running for the hills without a backward glance. One can’t very well say “Look I have no problem with listeners but you might find my class ever so slightly off-putting”. My thoughts were interrupted by Smartypants and Fancypants who had been conferring across the length of the room. One thing my lot DON’T have is inhibitions. Those of you who claim to like noisy classrooms arguing that they are proof of intellectual activity, come visit me.
“We’ll put her in the front next to Teacherspet who can dazzle her with all his paraphernalia” he said
“Oh no we won’t” said Teacherspet; “She might walk off with my vocabulary book”
“You’ll do as you’re told otherwise I’ll rip that book up and feed it to you and you won’t be able to eat or speak for a week” said The Gorilla
“We’ll put Fancypants at one end of the row, and he can wear that white shirt of his whose collar stands up at the back with his leather jacket” said Smartpants completely ignoring this exchange.
“Leave me to decide what to wear; you are hardly in a position to give me fashion tips” responded Fancypants with a scornful look in Smartypants’ direction. Smartypants and The Quarterback were some of those people who believed men should smell like men; “au naturelle” so to speak. Very different from Fancypants who must be spending a small fortune on aftershave and hair gel.
“Then there are The Furies” Metalchic reminded us.
“Oh that’s easy; we’ll split them up” said The Professor.
“Yea and have them all yelling from all four corners of the room, quadraphonic; I don’t think so” said The Quarterback
“We can sit Dreamy between them; he’s enough to take the chatter out of a monkey” said Metalchic.
“That leaves us with our biggest problem” said Rockchic and everyone turned to look at Dr Why.
“What?” said Dr Why who was beginning to have dreadful forebodings of trials to come.
“We’ll have him between me and The Swimmer” said The Quarterback; “You will neither see nor hear him I promise” he added with a knowing look at The Swimmer.
“What are you going to do to him?” I asked worriedly; “I can’t condone anything underhand” I added wagging my finger.
“Bless you miss; the very idea… We ain’t going to hurt him; just sort of subdue him. Don’t you worry at all. We have had lots of practice” he said rubbing his mitts.
“And The Gorilla can sit behind Teacherspet to sort of keep an eye on things” he added.” All set I think” he said looking up at me “Would have been good to have trial run but you can’t have everything” he said.
We weren’t to know it but we did get our chance for a trial run the very next day when we were roped in to go and listen to a foreign expert talk about how to learn vocabulary.
“Why don’t we let Teacherspet talk to him?” “Why? Why? Why?” chorused you know who but I naturally ignored them.
“Right” said The Quarterback; “On your marks, get set, go” he said with a tone of authority and they were all out of the room like a shot en route to the auditorium. Dr Why was grabbed by The Swimmer and The Quarterback and sort of airlifted and transported much to his fury. I couldn’t help admiring him: for such a small person he had a lot of spunk.
“Short people learn to get over any problems they have with their height and develop a personality to make up for their stature. They usually end up with personalities enough for two” observed my daughter later that day.
She was right. Dr Why was transported in a sort of noisy scrum so nobody else really understood what was happening. I went off to get some tea and when I later joined them in the auditorium, they were all at their posts with Metalchick and Rockchic covering the flanks. Throughout the talk, which by the way didn’t apply to our lot one little bit, I kept looking round to where The Quarterback and Swimmer were sitting and wondering what they had done with Dr. Why.
“If they’d killed him, you would be in a pretty pickle” said my daughter eyeing me with glee.
“Where is he?”I hissed at an opportune moment.
The Quarterback pointed down towards the floor with a large finger but I couldn’t see a thing. Luckily, our speaker who was explaining various ways of learning words had got into the advantages of color coding when Smartypants and Fancypants yanked the vocabulary book away from a tearful Teacherspet and shoved it towards the speaker. I could see the latter glaze over with sheer joy as if The Pearly Gates had been thrown open before him by St. Peter himself. The only difference was that the speaker used yellow for one of his categories and Teacherspet used orange.
“Yellow is good too” said Teacherspet in a conciliatory voice
Then The Professor, who was playing backup and was rummaging around in Teacherspet’s satchel, pulled out his vocabulary cards which he now brandished under the speakers nose.   All was going well… It was at this point that I caught a glimpse of Dr.Why’s hand and heard a squeak but he was quickly “subdued” again. When the talk finally wound to an end I must say we were all thankful because our students, the intermediate group anyway, learn vocabulary through sheer volume of reading and it is abstract words they mostly learn. Hence, a lot of what was said didn’t really apply, but my lot had the whale of a time playing strategy games and funnily enough, team building and bonding. When it was all over, they all got up together.
“We are going to lunch; we are going to treat Teacherspet and Dr Why” The Professor explained
It was then that I caught a glimpse of a much disheveled Dr Why.
“Oh he’s OK. Aren’t you mate? said The Quarterback giving poor Dr Why what he thought was a friendly pat which sent the latter flying across the room. Luckily, he was caught by The Gorilla and The Swimmer who straightened him up and dusted him down.
“It’s my favorite today” explained The Quarterback “Meatballs” And they were off.
Looking back, I don’t think things went too badly. They have become friends, accepted each other and are doing things together. Maybe this bodes well for the future…

MUST HAVE OR MUSTN’T HAVE; THAT IS THE QUESTION (PART ONE)
“There are things I have to do and things I don’t have to do and that about sums it up” said The Quarterback after some thought.
“You can’t mean that; what about when you think back on the past about things you could have done differently?” I asked
“Why would I do that?” asked The Quarterback with genuine surprise;”If I have to do it, I do it and if I don’t have to do it, I don’t; being sorry doesn’t come into it.”
“There are things one doesn’t like to do but one does them if one has to” suggested The Swimmer.
“Yeah, I suppose so… I don’t always like what I have to do but I do it. And if I don’t have to do it, I don’t give it another thought” agreed The Quarterback
“So you three live in a lovely, simple, neat little world of two modals and one verb!” said The Professor scornfully. Being from a French school, shades of meaning had long ago become part of his psyche.
“Better than being inside your head you little prick!” said The Gorilla sticking his chin out at him.
“Language” I snapped crossly
“Sorry coach” said The Gorilla
“Sorry Miss! You are not on the pitch!” I retorted.
I sighed to myself; I had given up the idea of prefacing that wonderful little grammar related reading I have always used to introduce some of the modals – Useless Regrets – when we were all interrupted by Dreamy, of all people, who was not only really all there for once but seemed seriously worked up; i.e. his pulse seemed to have soared to 65.
“Have to, don’t have to; is that all you can think about! I am fed to the back teeth with people telling me what to do. They are always making us do something. You are kidding yourself if you think what you like comes into it. You are all slaves of the powers that be! Free will; forget it! Why should there be any obligation? People may do something or they may not; it is nobody’s business. And in retrospect, if they feel they should have acted differently that is nobody’s business either. We are even told what to feel! He cried passionately.
We were all speechless; even Smartypants who was never lost for words. We gaped at Dreamy.
“What’s crawled up his ass and died?” asked The Quarterback
“Language!” I bellowed; now seriously cross. “Where do you pick up such foul language? I never want to hear you speaking like that again”
“Sorry, forgot there were ladies present” conceded The Quarterback
“You are in class for pity’s sake!” I snapped “And answer my question! Where did you learn that?” “Yeah… That too.” agreed The Quarterback “ And as for the remarks, on Two and a Half Men or The Big Bang Theory or possibly a game or a film… can’t remember. You did tell us to watch series and films you know” he replied
“It’s David Attenborough from now on” I said “and don’t raise your eyebrows at me; it isn’t as if you make a habit of doing as you are told!”
 “He’s not stoned that’s the problem.” interjected The Swimmer sagely
“I don’t have to be sober to feel something. We shouldn’t be made to feel guilty about everything: need to, should have, ought to have, needn’t have… Think about it. These feelings of guilt and regret are imposed on us. They brainwash us into feeling the way they want us to feel! I want my life to mean something!” cried Dreamy, now seriously agitated.
“Oh, go boil your head” said The Swimmer who was getting fed up with the whole thing
“Who are they?” I asked with interest. I hadn’t a clue who he was referring to; in fact, I very much doubt whether he had either. Dreamy just tapped his nose with his finger and looked at me knowingly but didn’t deign to answer.
“Does this mean we don’t have to learn all the modals?” asked Dr. Why hopefully.
“No, it most certainly does not” I retorted.”English grammar, including the modals, is a fact of life. It has evolved over centuries and you can’t pick and choose.”
“Besides, she’s going to grade you on them at some point so don’t be a little twerp” said Smartypants
“There’s this lovely chart in Azar where they are all tabulated” explained The Professor
“I have just completed my own version thank you very much” said Teacherspet smugly
And he had. Looking down, I saw a whole page neatly divided into sections and color coded: obligation, ability and necessity. It looked so beautiful, I wanted to cry.
“Did you do that at home?” I asked
“No, I’ve just been drawing conclusions from our little altercation” he explained
So things had slotted into place; quite by accident though… My lessons have developed a mind of their own and take off at tangents. They seem, however, to turn out OK; eventually.
“You’re losing it you know” said my daughter defiantly ”And do watch that tea… What is it with you and tepid tea? Why don’t you just get some ice tea and be done with it?”
“I hate ice tea” I retorted
“Yes, right. ” responded my daughter removing the cup of cold tea from my clasp. “Just face it” she added, “you can’t float above the class like some academic Colossus expecting things to happen by themselves. Take of the kid gloves! Get into the thick of things!”
I was opening my mouth to respond when I noticed the glint in her eyes and realized she was baiting me yet again – something she seems to get a kick out of incidentally.
“Haven’t you got somewhere you need to be?” I asked
“Yes, Amsterdam!” said my daughter gaily. “I will be staying on a houseboat in Amsterdam for a while and then it’s Paris. Got to see Jean Luc, and Pierre.  Be back on Monday. Behave yourself while I am gone” she said as she slipped into a pair of the highest red high heels I had ever seen in my life.
“Why don’t you wear something comfortable?” I asked eyeing them.
“There’s no such thing as comfortable shoes; there are attractive ones and unattractive ones.” she explained and was off.
I was left to musing about how I was going to cope with the rest of the modals.

 MODALS; TAKE A HUNDRED AND SOMETHING; I’VE LOST COUNT…
“Do you seriously believe that little green men came here of all places and made pictures of animals all over a field in South America” cried The Professor “Why would they? In this huge galaxy, why should they come here of all places? It is complete nonsense” he said folding his arms and looking belligerent.
We were trying to work our way through that wonderful text “Close Encounters” which contextualizes the past forms of modals but the discussion, as per usual, had taken off along an unforeseen path let us say.
“Why green? What is this obsession with green? They could be blue or red just as well” said Superman who was into these particular primary colours.
“It is hardly the point” I ventured
“It says here that this bloke Daniken or whatever his bleeding name is thought they were a landing strip. I would like to have whatever he had when he thought that one up” said The Dreamer wistfully.
“Magic mushrooms probably” said Rockchic “Must have been or how could anyone imagine someone landing an aircraft on a landing strip weaving its way round a field. They go in straight lines don’t they?” she went on
“ No they don’t” said The Swimmer and The Gorilla in unison” Not always anyway” they added poking The Quarterback and breaking  in to loud chuckles.
“The way he was weaving his way up to Taksim last night… Not a straight line in sight” they said now roaring with laughter and tears streaming down their faces.
“He had six beers” explained Fancypants with a shudder. He, I later found out, only ever had wine and the very best that there was to offer if he possibly could.
“It doesn’t end there; then these chaps go off to this God forsaken island in the middle of The Pacific to build giant statues” Didn’t anyone ever ask why? Humans do some pretty crazy things but this takes the biscuit” continued The Professor
He was referring to Easter Island which Daniken argued they visited to dabble in sculpture.
“And then, to top it all, they hop off to The Mediterranean to make a gift of some maps to old Piri Reis. Why him? Did he have some sort of rapport with them? Why would they think he needed maps? There was no internet in those days, so how did they communicate?”
“There would have been Google Earth” interjected Teacherspet matter-of-factly.
“Oh shut up! That is not the point! Anyhow, The Phoenicians had been buzzing up and down The Med. for years and presumably shared their knowledge with folk.”
“Why would they?” asked Teacherspet who never shared anything with anyone.
“It is plain stupid.  Some guy thinks this all up in a drunken stupor prints this stuff and makes a packet selling thousands of copies all round the world. It just won’t wash you know” said the Professor completely ignoring the interruption and glaring at us all.
“What you mean is that aliens couldn’t have built the statues, made the maps or constructed an air strip and there must be some other explanation” I ventured trying to steer the conversation back to the modals. There must be….” But I was interrupted by a terribly excited Dr Why.
“I don’t think there is even 1% possibility that that happened. It’s too bizarre … and then they just take off like that and disappear? It mustn’t have happened it just mustn’t have” said Dr Why “You don’t build air strips and statues for people, give them maps and then just disappear; it’s not right”
There was a sort of silence after that last crack as we tried to get to grips with the logic but we gave up pretty quickly.
“Google gives you maps and lets you get on with it” said Teacherspet whose complete lack of imagination finally got to The Quarterback who hurled his eraser at him. He was a good shot – not surprisingly – and it hit him on the head.
“Shut it” he growled “Or, I will!”
I, meanwhile, latched on to that negative form which had made me bristle.
“What you mean is it can’t have happened” I snapped “There is no such structure as mustn’t have as far as I am concerned”
“It is in the book” said Dr Why waving Azar at me, delighted that he had, so he thought, caught me out.
“It may be in the book but we won’t be using it” I responded flatly "In terms of meaning, there is only one negative form of must have and that is can’t have or couldn’t have. You can just ignore mustn’t have. Brits and all the Common Wealth countries have managed very well without for hundreds of years. I don’t intend to change that.”
“You said we can’t be selective about the modals and we have to learn the lot and…” but he was interrupted by Smartypants
“If she says it doesn’t exist, it doesn’t. You don’t argue with teachers; you accept and absorb” he explained whipping out his correction fluid with which he and The Professor proceeded to get rid of the offending structure. Both had come from French schools which surpass all other educational establishments in terms of instilling blind obedience. Dissent, students soon find out, is a capital crime; the culprit, much to be pitied. We did, after some effort, get through the questions and the exercise that followed and reached that inevitable grammar related writing. The task I had in mind was based on the story of this sixty year old man, Jack Foster, who is sent to some Central African country to set up a subsidiary for a big pharmaceutical company. He passes a rather hurried M.O.T in the UK and is shipped off to this place where he has to work in sweltering heat for about sixteen hours a day and naturally collapses.
“Wus” said The Swimmer and The Gorilla nodded.
“He should have been home in his slippers doing the crossword and sipping cocoa” said Smartypants “Why the hell did he go to Africa anyway?”
“Probably because no one else would” responded Fancypants; “Nothing would induce me to go, boiling hot weather, malaria, AIDS, civil war, completely uncivilized people…” he added with a shudder.
“You’re a bloody racist! said Dreamy who was, once again, wide awake.
“Here we go” I thought. I have done this writing handout for years with what must be hundreds of students and it has always gone without a hitch. The story is full of examples of negligence on the part of the company: they have no infirmary or doctor on site; they transport poor Jack to the local hospital some miles away and then repatriate him to the UK during which journey he has to change planes several times… I mean the paragraph practically writes itself. My lot, however, were hooked on Jack. I might have known…
“He was an idiot; serves him right” said Rockchic “Old people should be made to retire to make way for young people anyway”
“Or sent to Africa” suggested Fancypants
I did, eventually, get them back on track, and yes, they did do the writing and used modals but the content was nothing like what I usually get for this handout. We got through it though and I left the class feeling rather like I was walking off a Welsh rugby pitch and headed for the staffroom.  There I was met by a colleague who began telling me all about her efforts to wean her toddler off breast feeding. The toddler, a little sweaty, has formed a strong attachment to the mode of feeding and has been taking a little persuading to substitute a beaker for the breast. Being a teacher, she was yelling at 70 decibels and demonstrating as best she could. You see we, as a breed, like to be thorough; if we are going to explain something, it is a whole body experience to guarantee comprehension, lack of which doesn’t bear thinking about.
“I explained to her that there was no milk left in my breasts” she said cupping that specific part of her anatomy. Another thing about we teachers is that we are completely, and I mean completely, uninhibited. It was at this point that I saw Teacherspet in the doorway. You must try and imagine what followed in slow motion: I rose from my seat gesturing to my colleague to postpone what she was saying – something she, naturally, failed to notice being in full flow – and made for the doorway where Teacherspet was rooted to the ground gaping like a goldfish. When I reached him, he muttered something I couldn’t quite catch and made a run for it. My colleague, meanwhile, went on with her story; she like all the rest of us teachers had not noticed the interruption. The level of single minded focus we are capable of is phenomenal; not like any other profession. This incident put a stop to my problems with must like magic. That was the end of it.
Looking back, I did manage to teach them though and we even had a guest one day. I wonder what she put in her notes? An argumentative and boisterous class probably…  I was just logging off when the phone rang and I heard a cheery voice I know well singing into the receiver:
“I am on top of the world, looking down on creation and the only ….”
“Hello love; I gather you are up The Eiffel Tower” I said rather flatly
“You don’t miss much do you?” she said with a chuckle; “I am getting a later plane so don’t wait up. Love you…” and she was gone
Now, I really must go and collect my scattered wits; it’s the conditionals next week… Enough to make anyone take to the bottle

ALL ABOUT THE ARRIVAL OF BLONDIE, THE DISLODGING OF RADIATORS AND THE CONDITIONALS…
“I would like to be Spartacus” said The Quarterback with determination.
“If he is going to be Spartacus, I would like to be Janice Joplin” yelled Metalchick
“The Spartacus you are thinking of is a character in a television series” I reminded The Quarterback “And when I said what historical figure would you like to have been, I wasn’t actually thinking of the likes of Janice Joplin” I told Metalchic.
“He is a historical figure!” protested The Quarterback “He is a gladiator and he has a lot of fun too; you know…” he said whereupon The Swimmer, The Gorilla and The Quarterback all started prodding each other and chuckling.
Never having watched the series, I hadn’t the faintest idea what they were talking about. I found out later that it was sex and fighting galore. Well that fits I suppose…
“If we are play acting, I would like to be Ramses II” interjected Fancypants who had just walked in; ten minutes late as was his habit. I have the feeling he likes to make a dramatic entry.
“Ramses? You? Do you realize the man was a warrior! said Smartypants aghast.
“Why not? I quite fancy the ancient Egyptian life style” replied Fancypants as he glided to his seat.
I was just opening my mouth to bring some sort of order to the discussion and get them writing when the door was thrown open without so much as a by your leave and Blondie made her entry in to our lives. She stood there framed in the doorway with this look of utter amazement on her face. That, I later found out, was something she couldn’t help as she had these huge, completely round china blue eyes. By round I mean round; you know like those dollies. Add to this the golden curls and that special treble I always associate with… Oh never mind; anyhow she stood there, mouth slightly open staring at us.
“I have come from Kilyos” she announced
“Yes, and?” I enquired
“I am in this class” she chirped
Her dulcet tones had our alpha male and his henchmen on high alert at once.
“Come and sit here” invited The Quarterback “I’ll help you settle in” he added
“Wait a minute, not so fast” I interrupted “Have you got a piece of paper from the admin to say you have been assigned to this class?” I asked.
“But I came from Kilyos” she said looking terribly confused
“You don’t need to go back to Kilyos to get the paper; upstairs will do” I said matter- of- factly. Dull normal if that I said to myself; this is all we need.
“I’ll help her” said The Quarterback rising from his seat
“Oh no, you won’t.” I snapped “She is quite capable of finding her way up the stairs” I turned to Blondie “Go on; scoot!” I said as she was still standing gaping at me with her china blue eyes open wide.
She did eventually return after what must have been an age and presented me with the document which placed her firmly in my class. We now cover the full spectrum in this class…
“Come and sit over here” I said indicating a seat beside Teacherspet
Teacherspet had his books on one seat and his satchel and coat on the other took up a total of three seats in the front row; a prerogative which thus far had gone unchallenged. He now glared at me with righteous indignation and such a look of absolute disgust that I relented and let her sit elsewhere. I sympathized with him I am ashamed to say…I wasn’t alone: the alpha female (Rockchic) had also clocked Blondie and was sharpening her claws ready for battle. “She will make mincemeat of her” I thought to myself. I sighed and made a mental note not to let things get out of hand; raging hormones were all I needed. I hope you people are beginning to sympathize with my plight…Blondie had taken her seat next to the radiator on which she placed her pencil box, a revolting Barbie pink thing  covered with cartoon characters. We were halfway through doing the writing task when the stupid thing had to go and fall behind the bloody radiator of all places.
“Oh!” squeaked Blondie
Before I could say a word, The Quarterback was on his feat “I’ll take look” he said peering behind the radiator. I doubt anyone has cleaned behind the radiators for years; there must be thirty years of rubbish and a wide variety of creepy crawlies behind there. I would have just left the wretched thing there but no, before I could say a word, The Quarterback took hold of the radiator and sort of yanked it. There was a horrible grating sound as the whole radiator started coming away from the wall.
“Watch it!” yelled The Swimmer “You’d best not pull any further”
“Don’t let go whatever you do” said Smartypants
“Of all the hair brained things to do; what possessed you? Are you completely mad?” I bellowed
“I’ll sort of hitch it up here” replied The Quarterback “How was I to know the thing was so flimsy?
There was this protruding hook like thing on the wall which he hung the radiator’s lose tail end on, leaving it still attached to the wall albeit at rather a strange angle.
“Good as new” he beamed “Now where is that dear little box?”
“Here” said Rockchic handing over a much bashed up box.
“How did that happen? I saw it drop to the ground; it seemed fine.” said The Quarterback in some surprise
“Can’t imagine” replied Rockchick eyeing her smart shinny leather boots and crossing her legs.
I did, eventually, manage to get them to do the writing task and yes, I got a wide variety of cartoon characters, characters out of series and video games. “He was in Dungeons and Dragons” The Gorilla told me. They did, to give them their due, use the correct conditionals though, which may surprise you. It surprised me as well but you see it was love at first sight with the conditionals rather like thesis statements and essay planning. They like rules with no exceptions and formulas that fit every situation. You have wish and if only following the same rules; there are no nasty surprises like with the modals, which they have developed a hearty dislike for. The penny dropped at once and it was all plain sailing; it sort of took the wind out of my sails but I mustn’t complain I suppose.
Anyhow, in the last block, I thought we would have some fun with some exercises I have where the students are asked what they would do in certain situations. Here is how it went:
Me: “What would you do if you were told you had a week to live?”
The Quarterback: “I would shoot Sabri.” This was followed by clapping and slaps on the back. Sabri, I gather, is a footballer who “Should be shot” according to half the class.
“I would go to Prada and shop until I dropped; it wouldn’t matter as I would be dead in a week” said Blondie
“ You never know, you may be able to shop until you drop at Prada one day”  growled The Quarterback in what he thought was his most “come hither” voice.
Me: “What would you have done if while you were having a drink and minding your own business in a bar, someone came up and grabbed your beer and drank it? (This comes out of a Sunday supplement where people recount various things that have happened to them which I use as teaching material)
The Quarterback: “I would have taken him by the collar lifted him clear off the ground and head-butted him. And then I would…
Rockchic:”I would have screamed and screamed and screamed until he got me a drink”
The Quarterback: “Like that would work”
Whereupon Rockchick let out this most frightful scream which seemed to go on and on… The lungs on that girl… I was speechless. Even Dreamy surfaced from the land of nod to see what was happening. The pitch was quite something. Even our computer tech, whose office is next to my class, peeped through the glass panel on the door to see what on earth was happening.
“That would work” nodded The Quarterback and everyone seemed to agree. He looked well impressed, much to Rockchic’s delight.
“Will you zip it! I yelled “What a racket really! Where do you think you are?” I was fuming; hopping with rage. They knew me well enough to see I was seriously pissed so Teacherspet took the stage after being prodded by Smartypants:
“I would have phoned the police” he said primly “It would be the most sensible thing to do”
“I wouldn’t have gone to the poxy bar in the first place” said Fancypants
“I would have gone up to him and…” Dr Why began but he was interrupted by the whole class who cried out in unison:
“ASKED HIM WHY!” they yelled, roaring with laughter.

Me, turning to Dreamy: "What would you have done?"

Smartypants, chuckling:"He wouldn't have noticed!"

Everyone roared with laughter and Dreamy shrugged; he obviously agreed so I gave up and movedon to another question.
Me: “What would you have done if you heard burglars downstairs in the night?”
The Quarterback: “I would have gone down picked him up by the collar and head-butted him and then I would have bashed him and then…”
Rockchic: “I would have screamed and screamed and screamed” she said “It’s always worked for me”
Teacherspet: “I would have phoned the police”
Dr Why: “I would have asked him why he was stealing my stuff”
Me: “Oh for heaven’s sake; use your imagination. You can’t react to every situation in exactly the same way”
The class looked mildly surprised
Me:” For instance, consider this situation: a man was taking a short cut to the car park through a restaurant and saw a man who he thought was his father having chips, peas and a steak in his usual seat and went over and helped himself to a chip. He then realized the man wasn’t his father.” What would you have done?
The Quarterback: “I would most definitely have head butted him and given him a bashing he wouldn’t have forgotten in a hurry. He would have been sitting in Dad’s seat wouldn’t he?”
Blondie looked seriously impressed; Teacherspet looked disgusted and I gave up all hope of having a discussion. They were, at least, using the conditionals correctly; thank God for small mercies. I was saved by the clock luckily.
“That was fun” said Smartypants looking sheepish
I was touched ; it wasn’t such a bad day I guess… Talk to you all next week.
ACHIEVEMENT TESTS AND THE IMPOSSIBILITY OF DEMOCRACY IN OUR LOCAL “HELL’S KITCHEN”…
Let me” said The Quarterback as he lunged forward.
“Oh no you don’t” growled The Gorilla knocking over a chair in his efforts to stop The Quarterback.
“If you go anywhere near it I’ll fucking kill you” hissed The Swimmer as he attacked from the right.
Seeing his chance, Dr Why threw himself forward trying to squeeze past under The Quarterback’s elbow. Now you must imagine the rest in slow motion; it actually took a couple of seconds: The Quarterback, having been in similar situations on numerous occasions though not perhaps in the classroom, got The Gorilla in the chest with his left elbow sending him reeling back while at the same time giving The Swimmer one mighty shove with his right elbow sending the latter staggering backwards towards Teacherspet’s seat.  Teacherspet, who occupied more seats than anyone else in class, had already collected his belongings and darted to the back of the room with a look of disgust.
All would have gone well as far as The Quarterback’s efforts to reach, wait for it, the plazma TV, if he hadn’t tripped over Dr Why who fell flat on his face. The Quarterback, having lost his balance, lunged forward, arms flailing, knocking me back into my seat and sending my glasses flying.
“That’s torn it” said Smartypants rushing forward
“Crickey” said The Quarterback who had recovered his balance
“Don’t you move miss; I’ll get you some tea” he said as he stepped back straight onto my glasses.”Oh shoot” he said “I really didn’t see them; they were just lying there, honest”
“She doesn’t drink tea; she has herbal tea” said Rockchic “I’ll get her some.”
“What shall I do with these?” she asked as she reached for my now useless glasses
I, meanwhile, had recovered my composure to some extent and donned my prescription sunglasses.
“I am speechless! Are you off your heads? Where do you think you are? On the pitch? This is a classroom and all I asked was for one of you to come and close the cabinet that houses the TV. And I was addressing Dreamy. I wouldn’t let any of you near it anyway; we’ve got the only free-floating radiator in the school and that’s enough.”
“But…” began The Quarterback
“There are no buts. From now on you don’t touch anything unless I specifically ask you. And as for you” I said turning to Dr Why who was looking sheepish “I am surprised at you!”
We had been watching The Rabbit Proof Fence as they had done a project on the stolen generations. We had been interrupting the film for discussions and it had all been going very well until we needed to get the cabinet shut; something I couldn’t do as I am not supposed to lift my arms on account of my tendonitis. Seeing Dreamy ambling towards the door for his mid block stroll, I had turned to him for help. He hadn’t noticed naturally, being in cuckoo land but everyone else had. Order was eventually restored to be broken again when I got their test papers out to look at: they all wanted to distribute them! Things were starting to get physical once again but this time I acted fast:
“Don’t you dare move any of you; we are going to do this in alphabetical order. Everyone will get a turn eventually.” I don’t know why I bother with some of the material I bring them; I have serious concerns about their mental ages. What’s more, I was planning to read Systems of Democracy with them later; it was mad. Meanwhile, Dr Why had stepped forward to distribute the papers being first on the class list. His look of triumph was quite something but he composed himself when he saw me glowering at him. The uproar started up again as soon as they had glanced at their papers. I sometimes wonder what my two neighbors think I get up to in class; they are both too polite to say anything of course.
“There are two lines; two! And one number! I can count you know! How am I to know whether that is one answer or two or whether one is a typo or even optional?” yelled The Quarterback looking absolutely livid.
“Read the directions; it says for the blanks where there is nothing given you select from the box and then you put it in its correct form and tack on the verb in its correct form and remember to keep track of what you used and not make things negative if there is no not and…” began Teacherspet but was interrupted in full flow by Smartypants
“As the only person in the class who got his head round them in the first five seconds,
 don’t you think there is something wrong with the test?” he said with a look of warning as he could see, in Elvis’ immortal words, that “the temperature was rising”.
“There is something wrong with him and I’ll straighten it in two ticks; no problem” growled The Gorilla.
“Just calm down and let’s be rational about this for one minute” I said “The directions are nice and detailed…”  I was going to go on and explain that if only they had read them quietly it would have been OK but then I had this sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach; you know the one you get when you know you are fighting a losing battle. Smartypants, who never missed much, clocked that fleeting expression on my face and responded with a lopsided grin:
“That’s just it; they are detailed. And long. Directions on tests need to be simple and straightforward if it’s something we’ve never seen before.”
“If you can’t focus long enough to read four lines you can’t blame test writers!” snapped Teacherspet who was the only one who couldn’t understand what the fuss was about.
“Zip it if you know what’s good for you” said Rockchic
“The proof of the pudding is in the eating” interjected Fancypants “Have you any idea how many people messed up the grammar section in the other classes despite having studied and despite knowing their stuff?
“I put modals everywhere and a few extras to be safe. You never know” explained Blondie eyes open wide but nobody responded
“What about all those passives that you missed?” I asked
“That was inexcusable” said The Professor to my surprise, I must say, and Smartypants and Fancypants agreed. Seeing my look of surprise, they explained:
“Teachers can’t resist killing two birds with one stone; the more birds the better in fact. You get to test a modal and the passive form -  there were obviously going to be loads of them. We should have expected them, that’s our bad.”
“Looking back, the test writer actually practiced some restraint; the number of active forms is quite remarkable” conceded Fancypants raising his eyebrows
“What about the writing? The ideal parent? I asked. “That should have been easy enough I should have thought.”
“There is no such thing!” said The Quarterback flatly;”Ideal parent? You must be joking! There are parents and there are those who aren’t saddled with kids… Why folks ever have kids beats me but that is neither here nor there.”
“There are ideals for everything; we wrote about teachers remember? I said
“Miss, we wrote because you told us to. All teachers are pretty much the same. And they all do the same things, the whole time - they can’t help it. That’s what makes such titles so forced” said The Gorilla shaking his head.
“You’ve come up with a few surprises” volunteered The Swimmer
“Plus, all the points we got were those stuffy personality traits that kids don’t get to see  anyway” said The Swimmer nodding.
“You’ve got to have kids I guess; it’s sort of expected ain’t it? But then you feed and clothe the little buggers and get on with your life” he went on.
“My mom used to turf me out in the morning and I never saw her again until bed time when I got a walloping for something or rather” said The Quarterback chuckling. “Imagine what it’d’ve been like if she had been around!”
“You’d ‘ve got an even bigger walloping that’s for sure” said The Swimmer
“Yeah, the ideal parent should not interfere in the kids’ life too much. You know, be there at dinner time and things but one can overdo parenting” agreed The Quarterback
“They’ve got to have money though” interjected Fancypants “Not much use if they don’t.”
“You think of parents as cash dispensers, or food dispensers. There is much more to it than that, surely” I protested.
“Not really” said Rockchic “Look at the families and kids today. They seem to be doing fine. And look at us; we’re OK” she said smiling, rather condescendingly I thought.
“Look at Teacherspet; he’s parentally challenged. They were both all over him from the word go and he’s a prick” she added
“Mom sometimes gets this bee in her bonnet about family bonding or spending quality time together. Every time we do, we have an all -mighty row. My Dad and my Mom do too come to think of it” explained Metalchic
“It’s a woman thing” said The Quarterback nodding sagely “Mom’s have it”
“It was the points what threw us see…” explained The Swimmer “Forced… Get my meaning?
“That threw us” I said helplessly. Their views on parenting were worrying to say the least: I remember thinking that love of kids or means and say the parent’s age should have been included among the points given but this view that parents were pretty superfluous most of the time had never occurred to me. Not being in the habit of giving up without a fight – being a double Capricorn – I did give it my best shot but although they seemed to listen politely, I don’t think I left much of an impression on them. They seem to have been turfed of to kindergarten at three, then to school after which they went to courses, grandparents or basketball and occasionally ran into their parents. I am horrified to have to admit that they seem very well adjusted. The only one who is really stuffy is Teacherspet whose parents were dentists and with him the whole time.
LATER THAT MORNING…
“Now we are going to read a fascinating classification called Systems of Democracy” I said and was just opening my mouth to initiate a discussion when I was interrupted as per usual:
“There is no such thing; there never has been and never will be. Sorry” said The Professor folding his arms defiantly.
“Got to agree and would have been absolute mayhem if there were” agreed Smartypants
“How can you say that? And Dr Why was on his feet having discovered latterly that that was the only way to command some attention. “People have given their lives to bring democracy; wars have been fought; people are still trying. Are you going to deny that?
“No, but they’re idiots. Fighting and dying for a system that has never, can never, exist” snapped The Professor
“There are those who give the orders or the directions and those who do as they’re told if they can understand the directions” said Metalchic pointedly
“People have got to be allowed to explain themselves, to be heard, to express a wish” spluttered Dr Why.
“Where would we be if everyone expressed their wishes? If we allowed you to talk too much for instance! growled The Gorilla.
“I believe in freedom of expression and freedom of thought” cried Dr Why passionately
Now, ever since Blondie arrived, we’d been having a little problem: every word I uttered was followed by a “could you explain that again? And then, by a “could you write it on the board?”  This from Blondie of course. I saw Fancypants catch his partner in crime Smartypants’ eye and say:
“Could we just change places with you Blondie? I think I’m coming down with something. It would be good to sit by the radiator.”
Blondie, who was a good natured girl, rose from her seat with alacrity and moved to the seat to Dr Why’s right. The latter was now sandwiched between The Furies and Blondie. Smartypants beamed and signed “Nice one!” to Fancypants who accepted the compliment. Suddenly, the penny dropped: our problems were solved. Dr Why spent the rest of the hour responding to Blondie and upholding his principles while we got on. It was a masterful move I must admit. We got on and read the first page of the text where direct democracy is discussed.
“J.J. got it right. What he didn’t get right was how dumb the whole thing is” said The Quarterback.  (J.J, by the way, is Jean Jacques Rousseau)
“It says here that issues today are too complex for people understand and that we are all too busy anyway” said The Professor “What is missing is the fact that they always were; it’s nothing new. Would Rome have been what it was if every Tom Dick or Harry voiced an opinion?” he inquired.
“Rome wasn’t a democracy” I said. We continued to work through the text, discussing issues and answering the questions with me putting up a valiant defense of democracy.
“This is good; this pluralism racket” said Rockchic “The most powerful country in the world has the most undemocratic democracy” she giggled
Pluralism went down very well as they thought it was honest compared to the republic which they thought was far better than direct democracy which was “dumb”.
“See? It’s always someone telling people what to do and there’s a lot of bickering in the process” said Smartypants. “Even pressure groups… There’s nothing democratic about it at all. If you’ve got the balls, you’re fine if not to hell with you”
“THEY are trying to CONTROL us!”  cried a voice
Dreamy had landed, metaphorically, on terra firma. Nobody asked him who he meant and if you think it’s the USA, think again. I am clueless. What we ultimately achieved was a truce where they agreed that democracy as we know it is better than having the likes of Blondie for instance at the helm. The latter was too busy having something explained to her by a long suffering Dr Why to notice the jibe.
“You’ve been very quiet” I said turning to Teacherspet
“You are a firm believer in democracy aren’t you?” he asked
“Very much so” I responded with a smile “Aren’t you?”
“Not anymore” he said “If there was a little less democracy in this class, we’d get more done in a much more orderly fashion. You have all been vilifying democracy; how else would you be able to carry on the way you do? It’s appalling. Voltaire had it right: some of the firmest critics of the system are in fact its firmest supporters”
“I think you will find he was referring to The Enlightenment” I said but had to agree he had a point. Or did he?
“Well, yes and no; your lot are certainly learning a hell of a lot about expressing themselves” said my daughter kindly.
“I don’t think they are learning that in class; it sort of comes naturally” I said shaking my head
“They pick up a lot, their grades are good and despite what you say, I think they sound happy. They’ve bonded; they’re a team” she added
Thinking back, I believe she is right. That is what I have got to believe at least. And now, I am off to get my glasses fixed; I can’t live in my sunglasses.
IF KITTEN GOES, I DO TOO!
“I kitten goes, I do too!” said The Gorilla looking mulish
“You can’t bring animals into class; as much as I like cats, there’s no way I am allowing a cat in class” I said trying to sound firm.
It was at this point that I saw a pair of green eyes peeping out at the world from The Gorilla’s pocket. He was wearing this gargantuan hoodie and the kitten was tucked up in the pocket. I think the word smug was coined by a cat and somehow conveyed to humans. Despite his age, the kitten looked, well, smug. He was just where he wanted to be and he was staying thank you very much. The Gorilla reached a paw into his pocket and got the wee creature out to show us. The kitten, being the master puppeteer, immediately gave a little squeak and looked sweet and kittenish.
“There, there” crooned The Gorilla in a deep bass “No one is going to hurt you. You are coming home with me”
“Isn’t she lovely? I am adopting her. She’s going to sleep on my bed and I am calling her Kitten” he said beaming at us.
I was suddenly reminded of giant pandas that give birth to these minute little cubs; I remember reading about them and how disproportionately small and helpless they are.
“You can’t call it kitten; it’s going to grow up into a cat whether you like it or not” said Metalchic matter-of-factly
“I can call her whatever I bloody well please” growled The Gorilla
“You’ll roll over and kill it” said Smartypants
“She’s going to have a cushion beside my pillow so I can see her when I wake up” said The Gorilla dreamily
“Besides she’s a he” said Rockchic pointing
The Gorilla glowered at her as he tucked the kitten away in his copious pocket; rather like a giant marsupial of some sort.
“It’s a kitten” he said with an air of finality.
I rather got the impression that he thinks kittens are sexless but it seemed best to let that one slide.  The kitten seemed to have dropped off – sensible animal – so I decided to let it stay as I had wasted quite enough time. I was about to present the text we were going to write a reaction essay on, “Anti-drugs Campaigner Barbara Harris Brings Crusade to Sterilize Addicts to UK” out of The Guardian when I noticed The Quarterback sprinkling little pieces of torn up post it over Rockchic’s orange hair.
“What do you think you are doing?” I said crossly “I never fancied being a kindergarten teacher and thanks to you lot, I now know why”
Rockchic, meanwhile , gave a little scream of horror and tried to shake the little bits of paper out of her hair but being sticky, the paper adhered to her hair making her look like a bride who had been sprinkled with confetti. It was at this point that I acted without thinking; as a good chess player, I should have seen what was coming. But I didn’t and there’s an end of it.
“You can jolly well pick every single piece out of her hair without pulling all her hair out!” I snapped
The Quarterback, having got his cue, fell to picking every little piece out with remarkable delicacy. He looked positively ecstatic. “He was planning that all along” I said to myself as the penny finally dropped; I could kick myself for falling for that one. At this point, he caught my eye and had the audacity to wink! I glowered; it was too late to do anything about it.
We did, eventually get round to the text; discussing the mission of this maverick Barbara Harris who wants to sterilize all addicts. She seems to have had more of a positive response than you would expect and at the end of our discussion I knew why:
“We should sterilize alcoholics too!” screamed The Furies
“And drug dealers” said Metalchic who I noticed was wearing a superman t-shirt. She now looked at me defiantly. Love was certainly in the air; you see Superman himself was not in class being sick and Metalchic was making a really grand gesture.
“There are some really horrible genetic diseases which might want to eliminate from the gene pool.” said Fancypants reflectively.
“How about mentally retarded people and gays?” I enquired trying to moderate my tone and keep my temper.
“Hadn’t thought of that; good idea…” said Smartypants
“Specially the retards!” said Dr Why who had had his fill of Blondie and her endless stream of queries.
I was aghast!
“Do you realize there is a name for this policy you are advocating?” I said trying to sound calm “Eugenics! And do you know who practiced it?”
“The Americans?” asked Rockchic
“The Nazis!” I snapped; I was absolutely livid. “How can you possibly advocate such a policy? I don’t believe you!”
 It was at this point I noticed the lopsided grin on The Quarterback’s face; they were having me on. All of them… I was hopping with rage…
“It was too good an opportunity to miss; sorry… It’s OK really, we would just sterilize retards none of the rest; honest!” and there were chuckles all round the class. Things did eventually calm down and we did read our second text: “Scary or Sensational? A Machine That Can Look into the Mind” also out of The Guardian. The plan was that we read both and they select one to write a reaction essay on. The text describes a new scientific breakthrough that has basically opened the doors to mind reading; scary or what? They made light of it at first as usual:
“I bet the inside of The Recorder’s head would be like an encyclopedia; you know neat and tidy, in alphabetical order and lots of minute writing!” said Smartypants
“I wonder what the inside of Blondie’s head would look like?” said Fancypants thoughtfully
“The inside of Teacherspet’s head would be color coded for sure” nodded The Quarterback
“There would be a thick haze in Dreamy’s head” laughed Rockchic
“Could you be serious for one minute and focus on the implications of the text?” I said. My patience was rapidly running out.
“They do actually read the texts and understand them” my daughter reminded me later “They also write reaction essays which are not at all bad. So look on the bright side… OK they want to joke around and have a little fun but so long as they do what you want them to do, does it matter?”
She was right of course; and the texts both went very well in retrospect. And yes, I am making progress with them… And no I don’t think I would be making quite so much progress if I took any other stance. I won’t be seeing any of them for seven days now which will give me time to plan the rest of my strategy- not that it seems to work once the ball gets rolling in class but still…
SHOULD THINGS THAT ARE FLYING THROUGH THE AIR BE ALLOWED TO FALL?
“Let’s take a shufty then; pass me that dictionary” said The Quarterback
I had turned to the board to start write down the plan we had been discussing.  “Now in the introduction, we need to start with something more general than…” But I lost my train of thought when I thought I saw something fly past; teachers, as you all know, have peripheral vision. I whipped round just in time to see Dr Why’s dictionary hurtling through the air rather like a boomerang – how did he manage to throw such a curve-dictionary?  I noticed with horror that The Quarterback had glazed over and was watching the dictionary like a hawk. Realizing he wasn’t going to be able to catch it, he hurled himself to the left catching the dictionary but also wacking The Swimmer in the eye with the zipper of his flapping hoodie.  The latter toppled off his seat in an effort to avoid The Quarterback and they both landed on the floor in a heap. This shenanigans was greeted by loud applause by the class and brought our computer technician trotting to the door as usual. Seeing me turn a deep shade of purple, The Quarterback tried to justify himself:
“I couldn’t let it fall to the ground” he protested
“Why the hell not?” I bellowed “And what happened to just asking someone for a dictionary!”
“I’d’ve given you mine; you only had to ask” said Teacherspet looking positively angelic
“Crawler” hissed The Quarterback
“He looks like a vampire!” shrieked Blondie who was a “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” fan and was now bending over The Swimmer who was sitting propped up against our floating radiator. There are two huge radiators and he had to go and fall against that one. Luckily, God took pity on us and we were spared a flood.
“Let’s see. Out of the way” said Metalchic eagerly
“Crickey Moses!” said Fancypants
 “Here let me…” said Rockchic descending upon the prostate Swimmer with wet tissue outstretched “Stop squirming or I’ll do the other eye’n all” she added
“Move back the lot of you” I said. I was still shaking with rage. After all these years and the reputation I have built up for myself, I have a troupe of monkeys – with a few silverbacks thrown in – to teach. I want to just scream and scream. Do you remember that wonderful scene in Cabaret where Lisa Minelli says how good it makes her to just scream? She does so in accompaniment to a passing freight train. That is how I felt.  This is also why I have developed this new quirky joint problem; I am positive. The Swimmer who, worryingly, was keeping absolutely mum was beginning to turn a sort of ugly grey but Smartypants, who had gone to the infirmary now returned with an excited nurse. I could guess what she was thinking as she swooped in looking positively ecstatic: “This makes a change from runny noses and in-growing toe nails”. All was well in the end and The Swimmer spent the rest of the week with an eye patch clowning around pretending to act out scenes from Pirates of The Caribbean. Johnny Depp would have taken him to court for defamation of character had he seen him. In case you were wondering, we got no work done at all but seeing I was livid, they did do the essay for homework.
FLYING THINGS: TAKE TWO
“Now have a look at this first sentence, and tell me which of those choices fits” I said eyeing The Professor
“Assuming that!” yelled Dr Why
“Considering that, considering that, considering that” chirped The Furies in unison
“Supposing that” screamed Rockchic leaping to her feet
“Supposing you kept quiet and let The Professor answer; this isn’t primary school” I snapped glaring at them. “And have the goodness to remain seated; I can hear you just as well sitting down” I could hardly avoid hearing them, they were all yelling so hard.
“You are going to get this ugly furrow across your forehead if you keep doing that” my daughter had warned; she was right of course so I did some quick breathing exercises and moved on to the next item:
“Only if” shouted Dr Why almost before the words had left my mouth
“Don’t be a prat; it’s if only” snapped Fancypants
“Read the damn thing. It’s even if” said the irate Smartypants waving the photocopy at him from across the room
“In case you hadn’t noticed, I was asking The Gorilla.” I said sarcastically but that was completely wasted on them naturally so I reverted to primary school mode:
“How do we speak in class? Anyone remember? First you lift your hand, then I ask you to speak and then you speak. I don’t want any more of this yelling.”
“If we raise our hands first, we don’t get to answer” explained Dr Why
“You each get a turn and the rest of the time you listen. Quietly! Understood? Now, have a look at the next item…” the words were hardly out of my mouth when off they went again and started getting quite het up about it too.
“SILENCE!” I yelled “What did I just say?” “What’s all this excitement about anyway? This isn’t a competition and you aren’t on TV.”
“But he didn’t answer” explained Rockchic
“Could that possibly be because I hadn’t finished speaking?” I asked “He never got the chance”
“But you asked a question” said Dr Why earnestly “We had to answer” he said and he was on his feet again.
“SIT!” I said angrily “You are not in court! And the next person who interrupts will end up in the corridor”
We did get through the exercise with continual warnings, wagging of fingers and frowns from me.
THINGS THAT ARE MEANT TO FLY BUT FALL FLAT
“Now the text we are going to read is called Conversation Patterns and Personality…” but I was interrupted as per usual. Most classes, you have to really prod them to speak; my lot can’t wait to chip in in the most uninhibited and unfruitful way and there is precious little I can do about it.
“I didn’t know there were patterns to conversations” said Metalchic
“That doesn’t really matter. We don’t have any and that’s a fact” said Rockchic
“What do you mean? Course we do” protested Dr Why
“You have to listen to have a conversation” explained Smartypants
“If you listened to everything, you’d never be able to speak” said Fancypants “Besides, you know what people are going to say anyhow so what’s the point? Once a dick head always a dick head”
“LANGUAGE” I shouted angrily “You are in class talking to your teacher!”
“That’s all right Miss, we see you as one of us now” beamed Smartypants
“Heaven forbid” I thought to myself. I was speechless.
“They meant it as a compliment you know” smiled my daughter
“Besides, there are too many of us to have a conversation” said The Professor
I was going to ask him what the hell he meant but gave up. So that was a roaring success. They did do the questions though and were terribly amused. The general feeling was that the man who asked the questions wouldn’t have a hope of getting a word in edgewise in our class and I tend to agree.
The next day it was Intelligence tests.
“You need to have a brain to take an intelligence test” said Rockchic eyeing Blondie maliciously
“In this class, it’s brain stems not the brain anyhow” said Teacherspet scornfully
“Watch it you!” said The Quarterback
“Or what? asked Teacherspet, who had a quiet little business going with his class notes and there was a test coming up. Nobody is incorruptible.
“You don’t need a test anyhow; you can tell a prat a mile away” said Metalchic
I sighed. As usual, they did buckle down and do the questions eventually.
THINGS THAT SHOULDN’T FALL FLAT…
It was towards the end of the lesson that The Gorilla raised a paw:
“Have you got some plaster?” he asked
“Cut yourself?” I asked “Here let me see” I looked at the thumb he extended which had this itsy bitsy little red spot on it. He had obviously pulled off a bit of skin…
“Don’t be a wus! You can hardly see it. Get on with your work” I snapped
I turned back to helping Fury2 but turned round again just in time to see The Gorilla who had tried to rise to his feet actually toppling over looking as white as a sheet.
“Watch it! You OK?” I said but The Quarterback, in true quarterback style, had got him. He lowered him into his seat and someone gave him some chocolate. We did find some plaster too.
“Lucky I caught him wasn’t it?” asked The Quarterback, eying me as pleased as punch – he evidently still hadn’t quite got over the scolding he got over the dictionary incident.
“I have finished volume two” said The Recorder and we all stared as he tucked his exercise book crammed with class notes away and took out a third one. I tried for a moment to understand what possible link the remark could have had with the conversation going on in class but gave up pretty quickly…
“Well he evidently thinks he’s the class scribe” laughed my daughter “I think you should all sign the book at the end of the year – or maybe you shouldn’t, that might upset him”  I don’t know I guess he is pretty harmless as nut jobs go but still…

POLITICS “BASEMENT” STYLE…
“How could a nation of people who lived on raw fish and half cooked vegetables have been a military superpower?” snorted The Quarterback
“They were though; ever heard of the samurai?” said Superman leaping to his feet and making swishing movements with his umbrella.
“Sit down Jacky Chan and stop waving that thing around. You are spraying everyone!” I said crossly
I was getting fed to the back teeth with telling them to sit down while talking and assuring them I could hear them just as well from a less elevated position but to no avail. We were reading that wonderful text out of The Economist called “The Last Emperors” all about 120 years of Chinese history. The task is, incidentally, posted in the reading files.
“Bitten off more than you can chew? Yet again?” said my daughter as she nibbled a bit of dry toast. “I’ll give it to you; you don’t give up.  But the Chinese revolution? What were you thinking of?”
You’re dropping crumbs everywhere” I snapped. She could have a point but I was damned if I would admit it. The toast was a good evasive tactic, which she didn’t fall for naturally; being an international relations major, evasive tactics were her forte.
“Yeah yeah…” she said looking smug
“The Chinese have pretty obnoxious eating habits if I recall” drawled Fancypants “Cats, dogs, insects, snakes… you name it they eat it. Except for cheese. It’s a travesty when you think of it.”
“What’s a travesty? Not eating cheese or eating all the rest?” asked Rockchic amused
“If they ate all that, they deserved everything they got. I hope the Japs smashed them” said The Quarterback
“They did at first but China was a pretty chaotic place and they got fed up and went home according to this text” said Smartypants
“Men are brutes who fight each other” volunteered Teacherspet
“That’s not quite how that goes; it’s homo homini lupus” I said
“Good though… There was this Doc Sunyatsen or whatever his bleeding name was. And then there was this Chang Kai Shek chappy who ran off and built an airport on an island somewhere. Then there was old Mao” said Smartypants approvingly
“Was he G.P? Was he a G.P? Was he a G.P? chorused the Furies
I swallowed hard, took a couple of deep breaths and put the record straight including the airport in Taipei and explained that the man didn’t actually build it but just upped sticks and moved to Taiwan when everything started going pear shaped..
“Leaving a sinking ship” nodded Metalchic who was a vegetarian and had taken a violent dislike to the Chinese cuisine and everything Chinese
“It wasn’t sinking though; not by a long chalk” said Teacherspet
“Why did this communism malarkey take so long to fail? It doesn’t make sense…” wondered Fancypants
“Got a point. The idiots put all the farmers to work building roads and things so that the rest starved. And they weren’t very nice to people… Killing millions and all that” said The Swimmer
“Everyone killed the Chinese then, there were the Japs, the doctor chappy and that airport guy. Weren’t exactly angels either. Then before that there were the opium wars ….They got a pretty raw deal rather like the Poles. They got bashed around quite a lot too” mused Smartypants
“Were they fighting over drugs?” asked Dreamy suddenly wide awake
“Wasn’t there a famine after the 1917 revolution too? What is it with communists and food management? Inquired The Gorilla
“You’ve got to eat well. Can’t do a bloody thing without nosh” said The Quarterback nodding sagely. Being a rugby player, he believed in 5000 calorie meals packed with protein. “People must’ve just got fed up and wanted a supermarket or two to shop at and put a stop to all these communal farms and things. I am not surprised the Japs got disgusted and went home. I’d’ve done the same”
That’s what I like to hear; a reasoned argument logically developed… It is at this point that your pulse reaches 160 and you feel like laying into them but you don’t. I did explain that the culinary aspect didn’t feature that highly among the reasons why communism came to an end and we did eventually get round to Deng who they thought “had his head screwed on right” compared to the others
“It went well” I protested later; “They read it, answered the questions and talked”
“You try; I’ll give you that” said my daughter kindly
POLITICS “BASEMENT” STYLE; TAKE TWO…
“I thought old Marx was one of the biggies; he doesn’t seem to have got much right in this Manifesto thingy” said Dr Why with surprise
“There were three social classes including a middle class, and international class solidarity, forget it. That was never going to happen for starters; I could have told him that” said Smartypants
“You can’t beat nationalism and that’s a fact” agreed Fancypants
“He had piles” chirped Blondie who seemed to have access to all possible gossip on every celebrity dead or alive “He used to sit in The British Museum and complain all the time” she nodded
“That’s hardly relevant; could we get back to the text please?” I said primly
“His wife called him Bear” she chirped taking no notice of me at all
“I am not surprised; he really needs a haircut in this picture. Perhaps she was trying to give him a hint” suggested Fancypants
“I would have just taken the scissors and given him a trim myself “ said Rockchic who was a great believer in “do-it-yourself”.
We were reading a wonderful text the task for which I have posted on this blog in the reading files called “The Strange Case of Karl and Adolph” off The Economist website which analyses the reasons for the popularity of totalitarian regimes at the time. It is a two page gem; well under normal circumstances.
“Why do you think they were so popular?” I asked as I wished to get them thinking before we actually read that portion of the text.
“They were depressed” ventured Dreamy
“You mean The Great Depression you dolt” laughed Rockchic
“That was when everyone lost their jobs and their money and things. I watched this Charlie Chaplin movie” interjected Fancypants
“They were hungry in other words” nodded The Quarterback sticking his chin out
“Besides, they’d just fought a war. Chaos you know. They were fed up” explained The Professor
They looked up at me delighted. They could see a pattern forming: the root of all evil; lack of food. It caused civil war in China and brought the communists to power. It brought totalitarian regimes to most of Europe and it was, in their view, culinary reservations that sent the Japs home in disgust. I had to burst that bubble naturally. Luckily, the text is a brilliant one and we did get there eventually.
“Europe was a dog’s ear!” cried the delighted Gorilla
“You mean pig’s dinner you berk” replied The Swimmer
“It’s a dog’s dinner and a pig’s ear if you insist on being so flippant about European history” said Teacherspet in disgust
“Crawler” the class chorused
We did get round to the state of other well established democracies in the day, and they were delighted to read that many had applications and laws that were, well, rather totalitarian to say the least.
“It says they believed in eugenics” said the delighted Rockchic “You were furious with us for supporting it and it seems we were not alone”. She was well chuffed.
“The fact that people believed in it then doesn’t make it right…” but I was interrupted as usual
“It means retards shouldn’t have kids” said Teacherspet eyeing the class pointedly
Luckily, there was a minor diversion at that point as Dreamy got to his feet for his mid-block jaunt and tripped over The Quarterback’s kit so nobody heard him.
We did get the text read eventually and they did fine with the questions but I have this feeling that they went away with their own takes on the period but still… They loved Mahatma Gandhi’s comments on European civilization that “it would be a good idea”.
“He had it right, but why stop at Europe?”  Inquired The Professor
“Who was he anyway?” asked Superman
“Google him and find out.” I called over my shoulder as I walked out of the room. That was the last lesson of the term and they have all been demobbed so we’ll be back again next term with more.
“As Samuel Becket said, try again, fail again, fail better.” I said to my daughter later on
“Try not; do or do not; Yoda” replied my daughter but I am not done with them yet so be seeing you…


























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