The Blackboard Jungle

days spent beating back the seeds of doubt

Monday, March 14, 2005

Godwin decided to perform one of his 'specials' for me today: minutes after bouncing energetically into my final period class, he bounced energetically back towards the door again.
"I need to go .. get a .. hat ... yes, a hat ... from my sister! yes, a hat from my sister," he asked, just a tad unconvincingly.
Godwin's routine is an old one, and I tired of it sometime in late 2003. I raised a palm at chest height, left it wordless and flat in front of him, then added the Look of Death to my narrowed eyes.
"Okay!" he bounced, pinging up and down all the way back to his seat.

Two more fruitless tries at the hat story, and Godwin settled down into the lesson's main task of beating the luckless Jason about the head with his exercise book, and throwing small objects at girls.

It being the final lesson of the day, my general tactic is to try and get as many noisy children out of the room on errands as is humanly possible. This meant that at several points, the classroom door was left open to the corridor.

Big, fat, Godwin-sized mistake.
As I sat, thrashing aimlessly at the computerised register, a slight movement flickered in the corner of my eye. Looking up, I noticed Godwin's tiny behind wiggling across the floor.

He was slowly, silently, crawling out of the classroom.

Stunned, I watched until he reached the door.
As expected, he paused and turned to what he without the slightest shadow of a doubt perceives as his daily audience, waiting for recognition before his moment of exit.
Never mind the croaking, enfeebled husky voice: I leapt up and roared.

Brandishing the same clownishly broad grin he's waved merrily at me on - I calculate (regularly) - 560 different occasions since joining the school, Godwin leapt up high to beam at me a carefree, sing-song, "I'm sorry!"

"Get out. Get out now. You are banned from my sight. Banned from my classroom. Banned from my world!"
It's a mutual performance, you understand. I'm not really angry. He doesn't want out. We both know this. The twice daily matinee is entirely for the purpose of preventing others from mimicry. The pantomime crimes, and the grand guignol punishment. All for effect.
At a classroom near you, every few minutes. Thank you, ladeezngennulmen, and try the chicken.
After ten minutes, Godwin wanted in. I affirmed in serious voice that he must promise me something before he may be readmitted.

"I promise I'm sorry."

Wrong answer. Out you go. The ritual determines that the first three tries will all be the wrong answer, regardless of content. The object of the game, you see, is for him to pretend that he really does want back in.

Downcast and cursing, Godwin flounced out, and in five minutes tried again, radiating renewed bright optimism.

"I swear to you I want to come in and work."

No. Wrong answer.

A huge mock-affronted grin as he gets to flounce again.
The audience, working, relished their distance from the drama: "Worse luck, Godwin! You'll never get back in!"
Third time lucky?

He tried a different tack. This time, Godwin the consummate performer made his stage entrance on his knees. Raised the intended broad smiles from the front row.
"I swear to you on my soul that I will sit still, and be good, and do all my work."

Correct. You may enter. Godwin acted the conquering hero. He had beaten the odds, and returned to the land of milk and honey, the room where his audience sit. Waving his arms in a jubilant gesture of gladiatorial victory, he marched, ankles flicking high, to his seat at the back, seating himself down with authority, sure of his place.

"But, Godwin," I continued, in a quiet voice, "you do know what you've just promised me, don't you?"

"Yes miss!" Automatic teacher-deflecting yes-miss rays battered me into near-submission, ricocheted across the raised witheringlook shield, and were swallowed safely by my protective silver-space-suit of sarcasm.
"You do know that you promised on your - " pause to place hand over heart, " - eternal soul, don't you? That if you break your word after a promise like that, your soul will be lost for ever, and you'll suffer an afterlife lost in the fires of hell?"

Ours is a defiantly secular school. But a lie is a lie, and he'd just sworn to do some damn work for me.
"No! No, miss! I don't want to go to hell!" Rapid head shakes, accompanied by worried nod down at the open book, the raised pen, at all the clustered evidence that his eternal soul should be reprieved.

Disgusted, Toyo piped up. "You can't do that!" I kept my hand over my heart, and Godwin's hand unwittingly crept up to cover and protect his own, as he mugged fear, obediently projecting worriment.

"Teachers shouldn't be able to do that!"

Toyo was not going to let this one lie.
"You should give us detention," Toyo's voice resonated and rose as he continued in tones of the highest umbrage, "you should ring our parents, and write incident slips, but never, ever, ever should you get to damn our eternal souls. Teachers shouldn't be allowed to send our souls to the fire. That's just not right."

My head sank, defeated, to the still locked register, shoulders shaking in mystified, helpless laughter.
Laughing at the heavens-sweeping authority that children give us, without question, at the same time as the smalltime day to day banality of the authority they deny us.

Toyo spread his arms wide, looked expectantly to his audience.
Godwin didn't notice. Busily clutching his heart, he was doing his work as fast, as frenziedly as he can.