The Blackboard Jungle

days spent beating back the seeds of doubt

Thursday, December 09, 2004

Huseyin's a boy who's difficult to like. He truants regularly, is able to do the work, but prefers not to, upsets other students by throwing pellets of chewed paper at their heads as a vocation, with an unconcerned shrug walks out and disappears, frequently, distrusts teachers (with a native instinct even I have to admire), "doesn't care", repetitively, extends any reprimand with elongated insouciant "whys", and is prone to quite openly egging other students on to misbehave or lie.

He has a knowing, sardonic look that is beyond his years, too. I've seen it in other children over the years.

I can tell you're looking at me with a Dunblane fear in your eyes, now. Please don't worry.
On closer inspection, it's perceptibly a faked look, a camouflage for children who feel an urgent need to test boundaries, again and again and again.

But still, a look which I generally find untrustworthy in children, generally associated with the worst childish vice: liars; a response I feel I have to talk myself out of.
I'm not a Stasi member, I have no right to treat children unfairly, or judge them to be heinous for any particular facial tic. Thus I try to maintain a consistent, meticulous front of 'fair'.

I'm hyper conscious of my mild dislike of Huseyin. I carefully measure any replies, instructions or reprimands, till I've judged them scrupulously fair in relation to the other boys. I make sure I smile when speaking, and offer compliments and praise. Mostly, I'm relatively confident I achieve my aim: I behave rationally and fairly towards the child.

Three sample dialogues this week:
1. Huseyin was affronted that I brought in jelly tots for the class, and offered a handful to each child who'd worked hard (it's a bottom set class in an exam year, and momentum needs more than only academic reinforcement to be maintained). He loudly opined that he didn't want any sweets, that it was a bribe.
Yes, it's a bribe, I smiled.
Twenty minutes later, Huseyin has finished more work than in the preceding thirteen weeks. He looks defiantly at me, saying nothing. I casually walk behind him, and mutter, "and here are yours, Huseyin, okay?" as if he'd asked, as if he'd apologised, as if he hadn't challenged me and refused to back down.
The child takes the sweets.

2. Next lesson, Huseyin worked by his own volition, at half speed, and chatting throughout. A student had spotted me on the PC in the local store. Huseyin looks slyly at me and says he'd "heard" I'd been looking at porn.
James is alerted to a new idea. "Would you do that, miss, would you look at porn?"
A secret smile spreads across Huseyin's face. He's destabilised the lesson again.
Of course not, I smiled. Do you think a teacher would do that? In the local store?
Tommy protests: "but you could, miss. After all, you're an adult." His face wears an expression of reasoned debate, as if he's deduced the logical flaw in my reasoning.
No, Tommy, I don't think any teacher at this school would do that. Even if they are adults.
"Are you married, miss?" asks Huseyin. Again the sly look. Drawing the subject out? Or perhaps that's just his face.
None of your business, boys, let's get on with this project. I smile. Broadly.

3a. Penultimate week of the term and the class get a film as a treat for meeting their deadlines. Huseyin isn't happy - the film requires ten minutes of listening to understand the plot. White Fang is a cutesy puppy movie, essentially, I know my audience, and know they'll settle to it once the first bump is over. Huseyin begins to throw pellets.
After a calm, modulated reprimand, I give Huseyin and some other boys permission to go to Learning Support to do some internet research for his project, facing immediate deadline. He takes the slip silently, not thanking me, but not throwing things or loudly 'not caring', either.
I think I'm doing okay, but it turns out I *AM* the Stasi. Look at the levels of cold manipulation in the next dialogue that occurred, and see just which direction they're consistently coming from.
3b. Thirty minutes on, and Huseyin slinks back into the room, alone. He sits quietly at the back. I whisper to him a question. (no audience means no showboating)
"I got sent out of Learning Support."
Why? Did something happen? (no-blame statement)
"Nothing! I did nothing! She just said 'I'm keeping my eye on you'! For nothing!"
Do you know that teacher from another time? (inviting elaboration, but allowing grunt responses)
"No! I never saw her before! She didn't tell off no other boys, too, just me."
Gosh, really? That's very odd. Did she think you were someone else? (allow leeway for student to be partially exonerated, to prompt full confession)
"No! All I did was go on the computer games."
Did something happen? (Doubtful tone, non-judgemental stance)
"She didn't tell none of them off. Alls I said was 'why'?"
Ohhh. So it was just you. Just your reputation, then? It's not particularly nice if you have a reputation, is it? (eventually bring the dialogue back around to moral choices, non-threateningly)
"Yeah... !"
Did you have an overdue book? (backtrack, and remind him of privileges)
"Well, and I did swear at her a bit. Just told her to fuck off. That's all!"
Oh. I see.
Sorry. At that point, I really couldn't stop myself from giggling, and had to turn away.
Injured innocence always humanises them in the end.