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Another brick in the wall

By Bruce Pinnock
I don’t know about you, but I have doubts about the the concept of reincarnation.
Imean, the sheer logistics of keeping track of who has been and whose turn it is to be reborn (and what as) casts doubt on its feasibility. I struggle to remember even simple (although critically important) issues, like which child is to have a turn at the car window, resulting in tantrum city on the back seat. How do you keep the peace when assigning rebirth turns for the entire world’s population? And it’s important.

Imagine accidentally sending Eugene Terre’Blanche back as Julius Malema’s lovechild? Then I met Ma’am Prymm. Ma’am Prymm is living proof that reincarnation is alive and well and thriving in every teacher’s common room in the world. She was (it’s not just me, everybody believes it) the original Tyrannosaurus rex in her previous life. And she rules in Classroom 12. Our meeting coincided with my immediate understanding that I was in trouble. As a floating teacher, I had been assigned to, among other rooms, Classroom 12. ‘Floating teacher’ is supposed to mean that you and your pupils use whichever classroom is free.

What it actually means is that you are very far down the food chain, and if you so much as leave the borrowed classroom with a chair out of line, your life will be short and you will be reincarnated as a subspecies in the insect world. But, if you allow a desk to be despoiled by graffiti? You will be coated in chocolate and thrown to the fat kids at Easter. There were two ‘newbies’ assigned to floating teacher hell: Mr Wickham and I. With extreme reluctance, Ma’am Prymm handed her classroom over. She looked me up and down, did not like what she saw, and said, “I will inspect it when I return.” Her steel-clasp of a mouth snapped closed while her beady eye froze me immoveable. In Room 12, I spent every second of teaching time on the lookout for the dreaded subversive graffiti artist.

But I was not confident: the class were ready to take this new teacher on. Sure enough, as they left, I was horrified to see not one, but two desks, covered in graffiti. Black marker and thick white Tippex vied with each other to display biologically improbable drawings and badly spelled offensive words. I was near panic. Ma’am T. rex’s arrival was imminent and would be signalled by the water in the vase on her desk starting to tremble. What to do? And then my innate cunning kicked in. I loaded the offending desks up and, looking left and right, seeing nobody, scurried along the corridor until I found the first empty classroom. I surreptitiously deposited the bespoiled furniture items, loaded up two clean ones and dashed back. I had just placed them when the door opened, slowly. I ducked down.

A head peered round, withdrew, then a body backed in – carrying two desks! It was Wickham! I watched him leave two besmirched desks, load up two clean ones and start out, before I rose and said “Ahem.” The height he leapt to – accompanied by a terrified “Aaagh!” – was most gratifying. It transpired we were in the same boat. In his case, Ma’am Diedrich, a reincarnation of the beast St George had seen off, would not only ‘e’, but ‘de’- masculate him if her virgin desks were deflowered. Then and there, we took a solemn vow not to swap desks from each other’s classes. We would judicially spread the offending ones widely and randomly elsewhere.

About the middle of term, the headmaster called an emergency staff meeting to address the problem of graffiti. He made mention that the new teachers seemed able to keep the desks in borrowed classrooms absolutely clean (Ma’am Prymm and Ma’am Diedrich had specifically attested to this fact). Why, he asked pointedly, were there so many graffiti-adorned desks among the rest of the staff? It was another of those gratifying moments teaching seldom affords you. 

Bruce Pinnock teaches at St Alban’s College

Category: Winter 2013

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