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Another brick in the wall

| March 23, 2020 | 0 Comments

Among the legendary tales of epic conflicts – like cops vs robbers, cowboys vs Indians, Jedi vs Darths and Trump vs the Civilised World, classic teachers vs pupils tales are slowly disappearing.

Oh sure, there have been attempts, but these are mild, PC-regulated vanilla. A proper battle of the wits, with the kids approaching the conflict in the old-school combative spirit – that of an underhand, sniggering joy in leading the enemy (a teacher) into a well-laid trap – are very much things of the past. The reason, of course, is that the gap – the ‘great educational divide’ between teachers and pupils – has been bridged. Teachers and pupils find themselves, sometimes unexpectedly, on the same side. The Iron Curtain of teacher-authoritarian control has been parted and, as a consequence, the ‘pupil hordes at the gate’ no longer always behave like barbarians. Despite this coming together in the common noble cause of education, practical joke bullying – of teachers – does occasionally still occur… When first confronted by a large class of unknown children, the teacher is at a distinct disadvantage. As a professional educator, one of his most important tasks is to know each individual in his class. In the meantime, behind the cover of anonymity, one of the more enterprising tricks played is to ‘create a fictitious pupil in the class’. This can be done by using the ‘fake answer paper with a fictitious name handed in after the first assessment’. The new teacher happened to be Mr Richard, and the inevitable adolescent joy at converting his name into ‘Mr Dick’ was, as these things are, tasteless and deplorable. After the first standardised test, Mr Dick read out the marks of a pupil named John Thomas. Who did not exist. There was considerable hilarity – Mr Dick and John Thomas. Nobody in the class was sure who had done it, but it seemed a fine joke and the boys in the class played along. ‘He’s absent today, Sir.’ And so John Thomas became a class member, handing in some very poor homework, but was often absent. At this stage, the teacher’s inability to know who was or was not in his class remained confined to the classroom. However, it was revealed at a staff meeting – one of those with the agenda to identify and put in place remediation of so-called ‘weak’ academic pupils. Mr Richard, eager to show his care and concern for his pupils, named John Thomas as very weak, often absent, with a serious chance of failing. There was a silence. ‘John Thomas? There is no John Thomas in 8D,’ said the class teacher. After a brief moment of bafflement, and Mr Richard’s explanation of why the boy was on the roll, the staff realised what had happened. It is sad to report that there was laughter at Mr Richard’s expense. Indeed, the shameful hilarity was, at best, ill-concealed, especially from the ‘sports jocks’ corner. Mr Richard was mortified. Then the headmaster stood up. ‘We cannot condone this,’ he said, glaring at the sport jocks, who were still convulsed. ‘I shall find the culprit in the class and he will find himself in deep water, if not seeking a new school!’ There was a sudden silence from the jocks’ corner. Things, it seemed, had gone too far (as they do in these cases). ‘Er, headmaster,’ began the head of sport, ‘it was actually not a boy who faked a test to create a fictitious pupil. Um, I, er, did it. When I was invigilating the standardised tests. As a joke,’ he added, lamely. ‘Just a bit of fun…’ It would seem that the gap between pupils and some teachers is, indeed, not very big. And the distinction between practical jokes (what our parents termed ‘schoolboy pranks’) and plain bullying nastiness at the teacher’s expense is often in the eye of the beholder.

Bruce Pinnock taught for many years at St Alban’s College in Pretoria. He claims he was never the butt of a pupil prank.

Category: Autumn 2020

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