Friday was the end of the second week back at school. Being back at school has firmly put and end to philosophical posts about the meaning of life.
My Year 9 students came back from their summer holidays as Year 10 students. It was nice to see them. We started the year in the school hall. They all sat and listened as various people told them stuff. When it came to my turn there wasn’t really anything left to say so I said: “I’m glad you all came back better looking.”
Trouble starts early and lingers long. By the end of the second day one kid had already annoyed three teachers. I made the first call home of the year. The parent and I resumed our weary relationship, “whatever you think we should try,” she said.
People can’t be saved until they want to be, and if they don’t want to be they know the score. Teenagers have all pervading cycnism down pat when they want to, and when they want to they have wide-eyed idealism too. This boy doesn’t want to be saved, he wants to see what “being bad” means. He’s trying out the look.
Other students are trying to change their subjects. This is the first year that these students have been at school and had any choice. Most of the ones who come and want a change just want to be back with a friend or away from a particular teacher. You can tell them that they shouldn’t choose a subject because of a teacher, but it takes a very mature kind of fourteen year old to put up with a teacher they don’t like for a whole year just to do a subject. In the end I mostly let them change. Sometimes I worry that I’m altering the course of their life forever, but it’s only Year 10 – next year I’ll probably being doing that.
One girl comes in and wants to change ICT classes because the teacher shouted at her for no reason. This is my favourite student expression: “for no reason, Mister, he just told me to get out.” Then you say, “really? For no reason? You were just sitting there in complete silence doing your work and he told you to get out?” If the sudent hesitates at all at this point then you know that there was a reason. I don’t change the girl’s class. She grudgingly accepts this. On the way out of the office she says, “since my mother quit smoking everyone shouts at me.”
The girl who has alreay wagged half her lessons and been caught smoking once fails to show up to a detention. Her mum shows up at 4.00pm expecting to pick her daughter up. She’s pissed off with her daughter. She’s funny and quite good looking, expressive hands. I ask about her son who was trouble here and left. She sighs and lists all the dumb things he’s doing, “he thinks he can come round and grab some kai and just piss off again.” When she says “come around” she imitates him walking in the door, a sort of slouching, gangstar walk and she has it so exactly down pat that you can see the boy in the mum and mum in the boy.
You get that a lot. Another mum comes in (it’s almost always a mum to be honest) with her daughter who has been in A&E overnight after seeing what snorting a can of fly spray could do to her brain, and as the mother sits tensely explaining to me what it was like at 3am in A&E I can’t help seeing how similar the mother and daughter look, around the mouth and around the eyes. It’s funny because they are at war, but they are made of the same stuff.
The teaching is good though. My Year 13 students are doing Socrates. They find it hard but they are liking it. Mostly. Today we came to a real head scratcher: are there such things as universal morals or do people/Gods just make them up? My students were frustrated by this because there is no real answer. One of them mentioned women’s rights. Are all people to be treated equally because all people are to be treated equally, or do societies simply make their own judgements? As certain Muslim countries like to point out when the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is waved at them: “but you guys just made that list up, and nobody asked us.”
The juniors are tackling discrimination by looking at Afghanistan. I flagged all my old topics to look at something current. I’m glad I did. Simply starting the topic plunges you into a confused 14 year old view of the world that is a jumble of Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, 9-11, nuclear bombs, and the idea that all Muslims are terrorists. When you tell the class that Apiata and the SAS are in Afghanistan they seem surprised, even though it was just in the news, and he’s quite famous.
I am reading them a book about a girl growing up in Kabul when the Taliban were in charge. They are enjoying it. Some of them lie on the floor, or sit on the ground, but they listen. I know it sounds old fashioned, but I have come to the conclusion that sitting listening to a good story is something almost everyone responds to, and that stories teach a lot of quite hard things altogether.
Everyday I drive to work and back. The drive is about half and hour each way. I listen to National Radio. There has been a lot of talk about National Standards, but I can’t really make sense of it. A story floats up about the Law Commision report about drugs – treatment is important they say. Somebody responds that treatment centres are expensive to set up. It reminds me that the government decided to shut down a programme recently called something like turning point. It took young people with insane numbers of convictions and worked on them. Reports were glowing. It was shut to save money.
The boy in my office needs time and patience. Three strikes and you’re out is what a system says when it has run out of time and patience. The boy in my office still hasn’t got it and it’s strike fifteen. Who knows, attempt sixteen might catch him.