It is 6.30 in the morning and the week begins with a red light flashing in my dash.
It flashes, on and on, but it is a familiar warning, crying wolf on many occasions. It will clear soon. I pick up a colleague along the way and now the flashing is a solid howling red. I trust to the van’s proven form and think little of it.
Monday opens with Queen this week. My form’s well-informed choice for Artist of the Week. We open with Bohemian Rhapsody as they drip in from 8am onwards. A request for Sinatra next time comes in and is approved. Perhaps this group of 15 year olds hasn’t been entirely ruined by Simon Cowell, Garage and Ed Sheeran. At least two of these names I have to google before laying down in size 12 type.
By 9.10am, end of form time and beginning of Lesson 1, “Don’t Stop Me Now” has set the tone for the week ahead.
The tone is quickly snipped at break when my head of department shares an email with me. A complaint.
No one has ever shared a complaint with me.
Well maybe once.
Then: unhappy with the predicted C given. Probably unhappier still with the actual C achieved when the hurly burly was done at the year’s end.
Happy, was I, with my prophetic powers indeed.
Perhaps there are tens of complaints. Even hundreds. Who knows?
Perhaps I have been living in ignorance until now.
This new email has capital letters in it.
It’s also quite, quite long.
Point 1: A pupil has complained to mother that concentration in my lessons is a struggle because I tell too many stories. The email cites an anecdote one week old where I shared that I had made a steak dinner for my wife and visiting family.
Point 2: I used a haircut related joke in observation of the pupil’s single status a year ago.
These crimes are on record. Some of them in capital letters.
I remark to my head of department that just one week ago I had a conversation with this mother and the lack of homework from her dear child. I was genuinely pleased with the support offered when she told me Wi-Fi access would be sanctioned.
I remark that I am disappointed that the mother did not feel that she could take my capital crimes up more directly with me.
My head of department asks the name of the pupil and gathered colleagues sigh at utterance of this name. Momentarily I imagine myself a Hogwarts Professor eyeballing Tom Riddle, seeing trouble ahead.
Soon enough the truth of the matter bubbles up to the surface.
The evidence in the pot boils and bakes:
Exhibit A – a cajoled child
Exhibit B – a disappointed mother
Exhibit C – GCSE pressure afoot
Exhibit D – child’s poor learning attitude
Exhibit E – mother’s high expectations
Exhibit F – teacher who tells stories to break up sequences of learning and develop relationships, rapport and interaction
Exhibit G – teacher who uses bad haircut jokes too, too often
At no point do any of us question the validity of the complaint.
Do I use haircut jokes a lot? Yes. Yes, I do. I overuse them quite intentionally.
Does this develop relationships and interaction with pupils? Yes. Yes, it does. I even gave plus points to a Year 7 who rose to the challenge demonstrating thinking skills.
Do I acknowledge that some pupils just can’t handle spoken words about them? Yes. Yes, I do.
Is this pupil one of them?
This pupil is known to engage with banter, distract, disrupt, dissemble, fail to follow instruction and now is seated away from any distracting influences. The only pupil in the class to be seated away from peers.
Your Honour, I put to you that I am in fact a scape goat.
The crowds go wild.
Your Honour. I put to you that said pupil is just struggling and, instead of owning up to this, has constructed an excuse to mask the lack of progress made. Ever.
My head of department is a wise woman and sees clearly enough, putting my mind at ease. Despite this the complaint bothers me for the rest of the week up until the point that the van breaks down.
That warning light was not as vacuous as the capital complaint.
Smoke rises from my steering column as I pull in to pick up a colleague. I blow. The engine refuses to start. I call for roadside assistance and 30 minutes later I’m taken to the garage, the fault is diagnosed and the price gulped at.
All I can think for the rest of the day is whether I will have somewhere to sleep or not.
A former pupil stands in overalls across the counter and is on the job and, after a quick catch up, some part of me is glad of the opportunity to see how she is now doing despite my circumstances.
By the day’s end the van is fixed and better than new. I will sleep soundly tonight outside a friend’s bakery. I pull up at 9pm and I’m handed a pasty and, in the morning at 6.45am, we have coffee over a bacon and cheese puff pastry treat.
A day later the first of the new academic year’s half terms hit and so too does the urgency of the DIY list of to do’s. My wife, a teacher too, and I, both sigh seeking to collapse and concurrently complete the list of domestics at hand.
She and I are champions, none of the above will stop us now.