Number of times I’ve flipped the script on a class, you’d have thought I was a Japanese translator. But this one’s a toughie. ‘Interesting bunch,’ says Ms Blunderbuss. And as with ‘gentle reminder’, it’s one of those seemingly placid phrases with violent currents swirling beneath. I’m pretty sure it’s why those Persian emissaries were thrown down that well. The Spartans only had to take one look at the decree from Xerxes with its snotty subject heading: GENTLE REMINDER. Sadly, along with textbooks, the only thing lacking in the modern PFI-build is a good old-fashioned well. Whatever are we going to do with Carol from HR?
The boy I’m teaching is named Chamberlain Donahue. He wears Air Max trainers and has a meet-me-at McDonald’s haircut, though his expression tells me he hasn’t ordered a Happy Meal in quite some time.
‘Benchod!’ he shouts.
‘I don’t have any sisters,’ I reply. ‘Now siddown.’
Chamberlain is one of the most challenging White British Boys in all of Wormwood School. He’d been manage-moved twice in the past year. On both occasions, I’d brought in carrot cakes to celebrate. And now, he was back, insinuating incest in Punjabi.
‘Now,’ says the head. ‘We all know how tricky our White British Boys can be, don’t we?’ I’m sitting on a fold-down cinema chair but I wish I’d brought some popcorn for this one. The staff briefing has runover and Chamberlain’s walked in, as if on cue.
‘Yo, sorry I’m late yeah, basically…’
Miss Blunderbuss, who had fallen into such a deep sleep that her chin and sternum seemed in danger of fusing together, was roused. ‘How dare you!’ she shouted. Her adenoidal Canadian accent grew thick with rage. ‘This is a staff briefing for members of staff only!’
For members of the Senior Leadership Team, the phrase ‘member of staff’ is almost talismanic in its significance. Once uttered, the child’s eyes will become glassy… his knees weak. You blink, and the shirt that was billowing freely in the wind like a spinnaker is tucked back in. In rare cases, it can result in the spontaneous straightening of the ramen-noodle-like McDonald’s haircut.
But Chamberlain was immune. I leant forward, marveling at the scene. Miss Blunderbuss, the self-described ‘hatchet lady with a chainsaw,’ being felled on her own patch like this.
‘Sekkle down, bloodclart,’ he said. The behaviour entry would later describe ‘bloodclart’ as patois for ‘tampon or sanitary towel’. ‘Watch now, yeah,’ said Chamberlain, storming off. ‘Mandem’s gonna slap you up. Ya dun know.’
She seemed rattled. All the big names ran over. The Curriculum Coordinator for Key Stage 3. The Facilitator for Key Stage 4 Literacy. And even the Supercurricular Assistant-Deputy Commissioner for Learnacy in the Humanities. I’d type the rest out but I’m worried about Thesaurus.com issuing a ‘cease and desist’ notice. But trust me, the TLR Tycoons had been rumbled.
And here I am. Back in the Modern Foreign Languages block – because geography is all about exotic places, after all. I’m teaching Chamberlain about rivers. ‘Traction, Saltation, Solution, Suspension,’ I say. ‘Say it back to me.’ Chamberlain drivels back to me some distortions that sound vaguely offensive to people with learning disabilities. ‘OK, let’s leave that one,’ I say, double-taking at the ‘MFL’ banner in the corridor. Looks like the F and M have swapped places.
Miss Blunderbuss decides to give me a nobservation. Sorry about that – typo. She gives me an observation. In spite of Chamberlain’s many great leaps forward in my lesson, she’s critical that my books haven’t been purple-penned. ‘You have to understand, Sam,’ she says. ‘It’s so important for Key Stage 3 to reflect.’
‘And this is to be done in purple pen, right?’
‘Yo, miss,’ shouts Chamberlain. ‘Mr Elliott’s my guy, yeah. Sick teacher.’
‘That’s fine,’ she says. ‘But he needs to do purple pen.’
‘What the fuck?’ says Chamberlain. ‘Why?’
‘Watch your language!’
‘But he’s doing a good job. Ma brudda’s on a big man ting!’
‘Just leave it,’ I say, suppressing a smirk. ‘Thanks for the observation, Miss.’
Ahh, Rivers. Ironically, the driest subject in the entire textbook. Before my lessons, I’m sure Chamberlain thought fluvial processes was something to do with hocking up phlegm. So how did I do it? Pretty simple, really. As Mary Myatt puts it: fewer things, greater depth. I revise my subject using textbooks, flashcards, and retrieval practice. I don’t presume that because I’m a teacher I automatically know it all. So what if I have a degree? I need to know my subject better than all of my charges combined. And this is where Badmanism for Learning comes in.
It means you can walk into a lesson with just a board pen. It means firing out so many questions you almost need an interrogation lamp for setting the scene. And it means using only the simplest methods. My favourite being a quiz with eight questions displayed on a single PowerPoint slide. You have the answers animate in one-by-one and combine this with Doug Lemovian Cold Calling. Job done.
Now, who’s up for some carrot cake?