At the chalkace: Any classroom, any time

Written by: Ian Whitwham | Published:

“Billy Boy” Byron lives in a caravan under Westway. His drunken father hits him a lot. The teacher wants to like him, but cannot. He wishes he was only absent. So does Billy Boy.

The 11th year class are 10 minutes into an English lesson of a grey Monday morning in November. Are they “on message”? Who knows? Many are existentially elsewhere. Let’s take snapshot, a freeze-frame of a few of them, a nano-second of the 1,500 hours of their school lives.

Almona is from Kosovo and a survivor of savage wars. She fled here with her mother, who is a PhD and a translator and now a cleaner of rich people’s mansions. They live in a tiny hostel in Paddington and are still seeking some kind of asylum. Almona takes pills to get it. She could get sent back anytime. Click. She looks up blankly, smiles, and continues listening to Leonard Cohen’s Partisan on headphones.

Amy is laughing. Her parents own a hairdressers in Shepherds Bush. Amy does shampoos on Saturdays and has offered to cut her teacher’s hair. Click. She looks up from painting her nails and wonders why the teacher hasn’t made more of himself, if he’s meant to be so clever.

Eugenie lives in Trellic Towers. She is on free dinners. Her mother is on drugs. Eugenie is obese and perpetually angry. Click. She looks up from her sullen, scrunched, unloved face. She’s worried she might be pregnant. She must get one of those predictor things. If her dad hears about it, he’ll kill her.

Lucy is 5 stone, 6 pounds and getting smaller. She pulls her huge woolly over her hands. She feels faint. Click. She rests her head on her desk. She is thinking of last night. Her mother dragged her screaming onto the bathroom scales and found big stones deep in her pyjama pockets.

Ronald is a sweet natured boy, who carries a football in a Tesco bag. He dribbles it down corridors doing step overs. Click. He’s wondering if his trial with Brentford was good enough.

Hugo is troubled. His mother is more troubled. She is a crystal therapist. She wears Dominatrix boots and tattoos of Jungian archetypes and wants to home school poor Hugo. Click. Hugo doodles

Medusa on his Planner, wonders why he’s called Hugo, and ponders murdering the old bat.

“Billy Boy” Byron lives in a caravan under Westway. His drunken father hits him a lot. The teacher wants to like him, but cannot. He wishes he was only absent. So does Billy Boy. He is illiterate and innumerate and without any boundaries. Click. His face is a gargoyle of hatred. “You can’t fucking control me!”

And Shaka? Shaka is stoned. He smiles, blissfully smiles.

Just a few random snapshots. Are the other 20 pupils in similar modes of distraction? Who knows? Welcome to the secret world of any classroom. Click.

  • Ian Whitwham is a former inner city London teacher.


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