Another brick in the wall

| November 16, 2012 | 0 Comments

By Bruce Pinnock

Breaking the news about their children to the parents happens at a blood-sport sacrificial ritual loosely termed Parents’ Evening.

On this occasion, teachers, like trench warfare soldiers going over the top into full-on machine-gun fire, are exposed to the brunt of a blame-game generation prepared to defend to the death their offspring’s inherited dysfunctional genes – and blame the teacher instead.

My first meeting was a truly memorable occasion, mainly because of Mr Titlebaum. We teachers were spread around the perimeter of the school hall (better for parents to take aim). Each teacher had the flimsy protection of a classroom desk, with a cardboard folded nameplate proclaiming who we were and what subject we taught. Parents lined up to see us, edging forward close enough to the table so that they could overhear what was said about the son of the parent at the front of the queue and think, “That could never be MY son.”

Mr Titlebaum was the teacher next to me. He taught maths. Mr Titlebaum was short and bespectacled and resembled a startled mouse. He was also sensitive about the pronunciation of his name. His nickname with the pupils was creatively – and unprintably – vulgar. This is because it rhymed with Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.

The first parents to come to his table were an odd couple. The husband had no neck, a shaven head and tattoos, and the wife was petite and refined. The conversation that ensued was loud and my queue (and Mr Titlebaum’s) listened with scarcely suppressed thrilled curiosity. It went like this:

Parent: “Mr Tit… Wat?”

Titlebaum: “Titlebaum – pronounced ‘tight-al-bow– um’. And you are Mr…?”

Parent (ignoring the question): “So, wat my son doing in mafs?”

Titlebaum (with no idea who parent or boy is): “Oh, Mr, er, um, he’s doing what I would say is, er, satisfactory. Yes, indeed, quite satisfactory.”

Parent: “Satisfackree? Wat you mean, satisfackree?”

Titlebaum: “Mr, er, um, your son, in fact, is actually doing rather well. Yes, indeed, now that I think of it” (nodding with nervous assurance), “he’s doing rather well.”

Parent: “Then why the (f-word) he get 4% for mafs?!”

Titlebaum (under pressure): “I don’t know! Perhaps because he’s unable to do mafs, er, maths?”

Parent: “He clever. Why you give him this mark?”

Titlebaum (cracking): “Not everyone can do maths! Could you do maths when you were at school?”

Parent (rising, enraged): “Youse teachers. You calling me and my son stoopid?”

Titlebaum (sliding out of his chair): “No, no, not at all! 4%? That’s better than zero!”

This, in hindsight, was a mistake. The dockworker lunged at him. With impressive speed, Mr Titlebaum darted out and took refuge behind his senior assistant’s table. Mrs Van, as she was universally known, a large woman of steel-grey hair and a demeanour that spoke of other encounters in which random dockworkers had come off worse, rose to protect him. She squared up, and quite frankly, though they looked evenly matched, my money was on her.

We watched in avid, oh-please-oh-please, anticipation. Who knows what fascinating altercation might have happened if the petite wife hadn’t intervened? With admirably deft co-ords, she used an over-arm swing to wield her handbag in an arc at her husband’s head. From my vantage point, safely under a desk, I could see this was the appropriate stroke to use, because there was a satisfyingly solid ‘thwock’ sound against his shaved head. Our theory afterwards was that she had an economy-size bottle of Chanel Number 5 – or a steel flask of gin – in the bag. He went down and was then hauled away, subdued.

Afterwards, I attempted to reassure Mr Titlebaum, suggesting he would be safe once the mark was raised. But it was no use. “The problem is,” he said gloomily, “I don’t know who the wretched boy is. And half of my class got 4% for that test. What if every parent attacks me?”

I saw his point. There was no teacher-protection programme. He resigned and left the profession and the country before the week was out.

Category: Summer 2012

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