A Fist Full Of Pencils

Now then. Long long ago when Professor Green was still  in the infants, a friend of mine teaches in a secondary comprehensive school in West London. He is an alright kind of teacher: not brillliant, but not hopeless either. In fact, he keeps his classes in pretty good order, which is the type of thing Headteachers and senior teachers generally approve of, because it means less work for them. Moreover, he gets on pretty good with the kids and their parents too, and is thought of as a safe pair of hands when it comes to the teaching dodge, which is just as well as he is at it for well over a decade by now. Besides, he teaches Art so nobody gives a cuss anyway as long as no-one is throwing paint around or walking about the school looking like Coco the clown.

For six years my friend is a Sixth Form tutor. This means the kids it is his responsibilty to register and look after in what is known as ‘Pastoral Care’ are of the older variety and studying for important exams such as A level, AS level, GNVQ, NVQ and FA. On the whole these kids are much more mature than the younger ones and it is usually thought of as an easier ride than having to cope with hundreds of ankle-snappers. Although what with sorting out love-affairs, hungover students, what radio station to have on in the mornings and the ‘ghost writing’ of endless UCAS applications for university and colleges the kids have no intention of going to, I’m not so sure.

Well it seems that someone is looking a bit too closely at the allocation of teachers to form classes and they spot that our hero is generally having a fine time; whereas they could put any old dipstick in to look after a six form group it is so easy; and use him far more profitably ‘up the sharp end’ let’s say, as a form tutor to a band new crop of eager-faced, enthusiastic Year 7 students. (My friend says there is nothing to make his blood run cold such as eager-faced, enthusiastic year 7 students.)

In considering this state of affairs, it is evident that his relationship with these eager-faced, enthusiastic year 7 students could last as long as 5 years: until they reach year 11 and their GCSE examinations. He ponders a while about the year 11s he teaches and the year 11 forms he knows and how he will be blowed if he has such a shower of shi – apologies I was about to use an educational term there which not everone would have been familiar with; he will be blowed if he has such a group of disaffected and disobedient pupils in his form in 5 years time.

So he figures on training up his new class of eager-faced, enthusiastic crumb-chasers so that they know things like what is right, what is wrong, where to hang  their coats and bags, to always carry their homework diary (signed) and probably most of all: to stick together in the face of adversity. And how does he manage the latter in prticular? Well on their first day in their big school, they get to go around and have fun taster lessons in subjects like science and technology. You know the ones which use all the cool equipment and apparatus that you never ever see again all the time you are at school. After that they have something called ‘lunch’ then go to their form rooms with their new teachers for ‘a de-brief.’

It is at this point the pencils come out. Right. Who’s feeling strong? (says my friend). Some hands go up (This is a good start. No 30 voices all yelling out together) OK. One is chosen and thrown a pencil. See if you can break it. Well, snap naturally, snap it is no big deal, snap. Anyone else? Hands go up. Snap, snap, snap and so on. After about 4 tries my friend chooses the biggest, strongest in the class and chucks them thirty pencils, tied together with 2 elastic bands. Now, have a go with that. Well, this guy ends up going purple in the face trying: he can’t do it. Eager hands go up again, and the next one has a try and so on and so on until they get to bashing them on the table and just as someone has the bright idea to drop them out of the window, my friend takes the pencils back.

You know what these are? He asks them. He sees 30 eager-faced, enthusiastic children staring back at him (in fact, he tells me to this day he still sees those same 11 year old faces and admits that if he was an old softy it would choke him up more than somewhat, but that thankfully he isn’t)

You know what these are? He asks again. These are like our class. We all stick together and look out for each other, for if we don’t, look what happens; at which he takes a couple of pencils from the bundle, and breaks them snap, snap like so. If we don’t stick together, people will be able to break us easily or wear us down. In this class we take care of each other.

Well, it seems to work pretty good, for although to begin with my friend plays the ‘Old Mr. Grumpy’ once he feels his class has got it together he begins to kick back a bit, and what do you know, by year 11, they are not a shower of shi – apologies, I have slipped back into complex educational jargon again. They are not a class of disaffected youth with a resentful, isolated teacher but best of friends who spend their morning registration time enjoying each other’s company (as well as sorting out love-affairs, hungover students and what radio station to have on)

In fact my friend tells me he keeps in contact with nearly all of that old class by something called Facebook, which seems to be a bit like the old town crier (You know with the bell and ‘Oye! Oye!’) but works with electricity and is much quicker and quieter. They are all grown up now, some are married, many have crumb-chasers of their own but they always remember the fist full of pencils.

Affectionally dedicated to AD and thanks to Chawkey for the idea.

© Andy Daly 2012

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