Again I faced the class and saw thirty pairs of yellow eyes.
I decided to give my name and get things started. The kids stared some more.
I asked them what they were reading. They said they were reading "Spring and Port Wine," which I gathered was on the national curriculum and no one seemed to like it. Since I hadn't heard of it, I had no opinion.
Once they realised I was not familiar with the book they started to tell me about it. This seemed like a constructive exercise and once I got them reading aloud I got my first taste of the depressing tale of council house living with a string of complaining characters who spoke mysterious talk of shillings, pence and kippers.
I found myself agreeing with the class; it was an extremely dull read.
At the end of the lesson I looked at the pile of books gathered up by a helpful young man and considered burning them.
I checked my pulse.
I was still alive.
A different class arrived and once again the staring started.
I introduced myself.
A kid who had a circle of what looked like lipstick around his mouth whispered, "Miss, you an American?"
"Hey, who's a bright boy then?"
"Have you ever seen a basketball game?"
"Sure," I said,
"Was it the Lakers?
His eyes were getting as big as plates.
"No it was the Mount Airy Bulldogs".
They were my small town basketball team from Maryland and the kid was not impressed. He inhaled defeatedly.
Another kid called Scott presented me with a “monitoring paper.”
"What you want me to do with this?" I asked.
He told me I was to watch him during class, record his behaviour during the lesson. I gave him a menacing look and wondered what crime he had committed. Had he poisoned his regular teacher? I took this job seriously and even when addressing some other kid, it was Scott who got my evil eye.
With this class the subject for discussion was the Tower of London and I soon discovered they were to go on a field trip to the monument. I asked them if I could go.
They said in unison, "No miss."
And they didn't seem to care whether I went or not.
"Crap!" I said. Another mistake.
I watched their eyes bulge out as my naughty word sent a wave of giggles around the room.
Halfway through discussing the ravens at the tower, all of a sudden ten kids waved their funny little blue books at me. What should I do with them? They told me I was supposed to correct their books as their real teacher does. I did as I was told and decided to correct their books. As I started, my eyes were open to a whole new kind of English language. Misspelt words, run-on sentences, no punctuation and no sense. These kids had invented gobbledygook for the millennium and I was depressed.
Thank God, the bell rang. I checked my pulse. Scott was the last to leave. He wanted me to sign his paper.
"What should I put down? "
I wrote, "The kid is OK."
At lunchtime I took a long walk and gathered my thoughts. They were not very good thoughts. I fantasised that I would abandon my task and go home to blissful unemployment. I felt inadequate and I felt alone. I even longed for the companionship of the job club, of all places. It was 12:30 already and I hadn't picked up a newspaper. And I had no idea of what was on TV.
I bought a cold sausage roll and ate it in a telephone box where I rang home, half expecting myself to answer. I sought reassurance from myself but there was nobody at home.
I pulled myself together and headed back to the school. For goodness sake I was thinking. It's only 7 hours of my life. A day in supply teaching won't kill me, or would it?
My next class turned out worse than I feared. They were older and meaner and I was of no consequence to them. To pass the time of day they were throwing each other against the room. My entrance did not phase them one bit.
To get their attention I got hold of the largest book I could find, which happened to be a Black's Encyclopaedia, and slammed it down on the desk from a great height. This had no effect. Were they tome deaf or what? I had been told that this would be an easy lesson. All I had to do was turn on the video and the class would watch Romeo and Juliet whilst I let my lunch digest and watch my cuticles grow. I knew that order would have been restored if I could only find the play button. As I fumbled I knew the kids were enjoying my discomfort. They knew how to work the video but they weren't telling. But then one kid took pity on me and got the thing going and like magic, order was restored. I settled down to relax but alas in no time at all Romeo and Juliet got down to some heavy petting provoking a chorus of giggles and worse.
When I was a kid I hated watching any serious kissing on TV in front of my family. I would look out at the corner of my eye at my father who would be looking out of the corner of his eye at my mother who would run to the kitchen to fetch cake. Everybody was embarrassed. When the kids starting yelling things like "Romeo's a tosser" and "Juliet, get your kit off!" alarms bells started ringing.
I looked out of the window for relief. There were pigeons everywhere making pigeon shit and a few white doves making dove shit. At that moment I wished I could fly.
Suddenly and before the film had ended the kids got up and ran for the door. Then the bell rang. My confidence withered, but I wasn't complaining because now it was all over. I found the off button on the video and waved goodbye to the pigeons. My seven hours had come to an end and I made my way to see the head of the English Department. I had to tell her the sad news that I had decided to quit. I found her office, her room laden with books and a very tired looking lady who acknowledged me with a simple nod. Since we hadn't been introduced I explained to her that I had been supply teaching in the Portakabin. She offered me her name, Mrs. Jones.
"Can you give us a few more days?" she said. She was begging me to come back!
By way of saying no I extrapolated about the lack of discipline, the bad spelling, the abuse I had taken and the sheer futility of the exercise and how it wasn't my cup of tea, and how I was just not cut out for it. She nodded once again, she offered sympathy, signed and told me in passing that I would be paid for my day's work in due course.
"How much?" I enquired.
"Between £80 and £100. Sorry it didn't work out," she said, turning her back on me and tidying her things as if the matter was settled.
"All right!" I said. "Maybe I will help you out for a few more days, since you are in a bind." She smiled. We decided that we should meet with the head of the school and let him know what was agreed.
We made our way along the corridor to a room where he was taking a class. Mrs Jones opened the door to his classroom unannounced. Simultaneously a small boy came hurtling toward me horizontally like a smart bomb. For some reason he had propelled himself at the door and since Mrs. Jones had inconveniently moved his target, the door, by opening it; I took the full force of the missile in the belly.
Other boy bombs were making their way to other targets and at the front of the room stood the embarrassed, red-veined face of the Head Teacher. He looked like he could use a drink. He cleared his throat and as a way of making an example of the kid who ran into me, he made them all wait in the hall in a queue.
He thanked me for agreeing to return for a few more days. But I was already sorry. In a strange pathetic way I missed the camaraderie of the Job Club. At the Job Club, somebody would talk to me. At this school I had been reduced to talking to pigeons and doves and seeking refuge in an empty phone box down the road.