Another brick in the wall

By Bruce Pinnock

Don’t get me wrong: as a teacher, I love children (and animals and world peace – but, unlike beauty contestants, I’m never asked about the last two).

It’s just that today’s children, like my cellphone, come with too many features that nobody knows how to use. So they’re easier to love if you ignore them until their batteries go flat.

Back in the day, anything remotely electronic came with just two features: an ON switch and an OFF switch. When the ON switch was pressed, it vacuumed your carpet and the worst it could do was suck up the net curtains or granny’s teeth in the bedside glass. Today, if you press the wrong one of 48 possible buttons, you end up with the entire pornographic collection of Hugh Hefner in high definition on your laptop screen so that all in the staffroom look at you in THAT way, as you frantically try every button before flinging the thing out the window.

It used to be that when either the ON or the OFF switch stopped working, you gave the thing a kick. (Children were very similar, except their OFF switch never worked and repeated kicking was frowned upon. Nowadays, however, children come with 48 features including a ‘snooze’ default setting.)

The school psychologist told me the new kid, Boris* (I swear I’m not making this up) was “left dominant” and “right distracted”, and a “kinesthesiastyle learner”. He “would have difficulty listening to instructions”. He was “slow”, but an “IT whizz-kid.” (She said it like I might be impressed. Every kid is an IT prodigy. They learn it in the womb.  When the gynaecologist has trouble focusing the scanning machine, he asks the foetus for help.)

He must sit at a desk “in the front”. I said the front was already taken by the entire class who also had trouble hearing instructions, and asked when she was going to find me a brain-dominant child who could be left in peace at the back.

She looked at me (in THAT way) and said (a little coldly, I thought) I must foster him because the other boys teased him. I thought I would foster Boris and, at the same time, build his confidence by calling him up to the blackboard to spell onomatopoeia. (Ha, ha – I’m kidding! No, of course, I didn’t do that. We don’t have blackboards. Or kids who can spell.)

What we do have are electronic SMARTboards and they have hundreds of features, none of which I know how to use – so I called him up in the hope he knew how to turn the bloody thing on. Being ‘slow’, he also moved slowly. In fact, he did not move at all, despite serious straining. It turned out that Harry (who sat behind him) had taken superglue (from a pencil ‘space’ case, which also contained 48 features) and glued the soles of his shoes to the floor.

Later, when Harry’s father came in, we contemplated Boris’s shoes, now devoid of child but still permanently fixed to the classroom floor. Harry’s father said: “I want to know why Harry came home without his shoes. He said you had confiscated them. Harry is high-spirited – you teachers need a sense of humour to deal with him.”

He took another look at the glued shoes. “Those aren’t his.” “True,” I said. “I gave Harry’s shoes to the new kid, Boris, whose shoes Harry superglued to the floor.”

Harry’s father’s eyes lit up. “Boys, you know… hilarious! Boris? No wonder they tease him,” he chuckled, before continuing jovially, “I wish we’d had superglue in my day…” But then he said, suddenly frowning: “Who’s going to buy Harry new ones? What will I tell his mother?” He leaned over confidingly: “You know how women are about these things… they cost over R300.”

Ah! I thought. There is a God and She has sent a Guardian Shrew to bring justice down on this man. “Oh,” I said innocently, “is she not going to be hilariously high-spirited about R300 shoes?” He gave me THAT look. We parted – him shoeless, me with restored humour for dealing with the Harrys of this world.

Now the shoes are a permanent fixture in my class. They are used to show boys what it feels like to be in somebody else’s. Although they cannot be used to walk two moons in before you can understand the other person, they do serve to indicate to the boy that the teacher is seriously peeved. Harry spends a lot of time in this fixed position. I’m thinking of having the shoes bronzed. With Harry in them.

Bruce Pinnock teaches at St Alban’s College.

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Category: Winter 2011

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