I don’t know what caused it to happen or even if it was just one thing. Maybe it was the cumulative effect of years of holding stuff in. All I know is that particular day, an ordinary Tuesday in June, everything changed.
Not straight away, the day started off much the same as any other. I didn’t even feel particularly irritated, perched on the edge of a plastic chair listening to the head teacher, a man better suited in my opinion to selling used cars. I’d heard the pep-talk too many times to care that it was an insult to every half-way intelligent person in the room. “Go out there and make a difference.” I’d snapped back to attentiveness at the words that had become an unwitting parody of, “Let’s be careful out there.” If only Charnwood Academy had a fraction of the Hill Street Blues about it but I suppose that’s the beauty of a script.
Completely improvising then I tried not to engage with the perky young wannabe teachers who had the ability without even trying to make me want to weep. Not for them, with their shiny suits and overeager eyes (a sure sign of stupidity if you ask me), oh no, they’d hit the jackpot. They’d be running the place in a couple of years, these dullards who prided themselves on never having read a book all the way through and genuinely believed they were ‘outstanding practitioners’. As someone who has been a teacher for over thirty years, let me tell you the only ones to trust are the ones who don’t have a clue what they’re doing and spend their days waiting for that truth to be uncovered. I’ll give it to you straight, if you think you know what you’re doing then chances are you’re a moron.
Anyway, I digress. I shambled back to my classroom, no more or less humiliated than on any other day. The very fact that I was in the building at all, party to the eradication of anything even remotely educational, should have been enough to plummet me over the edge but it didn’t. Not yet anyway. As usual, Juicy Lucy, as I liked to refer to her in my head, was pacing the corridor where students were lining up outside my room. For reasons I couldn’t begin to fathom Juicy liked to squeeze herself into clothes that were at least two sizes too small for her. She resembled a particularly juicy grape about to explode as her short legs propelled her from one end of the corridor to the other in an undignified part walk part run. Her hair extensions and red lipstick only emphasised her general ridiculousness until I could hardly stand to look at her.
Glancing at her watch her tight lips, that not even Bobby Brown could remedy, became even more pursed. She really was a walking, talking advertisement for not smoking or teaching for that matter. I unlocked the classroom door, nodding the kids in whilst studiously avoiding Juicy’s beady eyes. “Fuck off, fuck off, fuck off,” a voice chanted cheerfully inside my head but that wasn’t anything unusual. My inner voices kept me sane. I did have a brief second’s worry that this was the day when I hadn’t just said it in my head and I suppose that should have been a clue that the truth was bubbling up too near the surface where it might slip unbidden out of my mouth.
Juicy’s face didn’t look any more sour than usual though so my secret thoughts were still safely contained within. I knew she’d hover outside the room for a while and the school’s ‘open door’ policy meant I couldn’t shut her out. I was long past pretending to be nice and simply ignored the clumsy attempts to insert herself into whatever was about to unfold in the room. The kids were well used to this dance and like the little automatons they’d been trained to be had their books out without being asked, pens poised waiting for me to switch on the dreaded whiteboard. I barely glimpsed at the power point as they scribbled furiously, copying down the learning objective – whatever it said you could be sure it wouldn’t involve any independent thought.
All was well and probably would have continued to be had it not been for Shaunie Stapleton, perpetually late and even more grating. Bile rose in my throat as I watched Juicy usher her into the room, elated to have found her ticket in. Shaunie was untouchable and she knew it. Her mother was a complainer; the two of them had featured in the local paper early on in Shaunie’s school career, something about uniform and human rights. The photograph had made them look like angry conjoined twins with their scowling, pasty faces and matching hoodies. The newspaper, if you can call it that, had loved the story there’d been letters, petitions, it had run for weeks. That combined with the fact that Shaunie was want to ‘kick off’ cemented her place as Charnwood Academy’s very own Ma Baker.
Sauntering into the classroom with Juicy at her heels, she preened with the knowing awareness that everyone’s attention was firmly on her. “You know where you sit, Shaunie,” my voice offered no room for negotiation as Juicy practically bounced on the spot.
“I’m not sitting there.”
“There’s a seating plan,” I cut in, which was true for every other child in the school but inevitably Juicy chimed in.
“Where would Shaunie like to sit?”
My head felt as if it might explode as Shaunie pointed a vindictive finger at Tom Akers, the most passive child in the room. Flushing a deep red, he was half out of his seat before my voice rumbled around the room like a roll of thunder heralding a long anticipated storm. “Don’t move!” There was an unnatural stillness as our collective energy gathered into an ominous mass. “There’s a seating plan.” I addressed Juicy Lucy who had coloured almost as crimson as Tom Akers. Rooted to the spot her eyes flicked from me to Shaunie.
“Perhaps just this once,” she wheedled.
“Get out!” There was something unnatural about my voice as though it had separated from my will and I watched as it took on a life of its own. “Get out, both of you! You’re a disgrace to the teaching profession and you are a spoiled brat!”
No-one moved and the lack of air in the room felt like it could choke us all. “Get – out - of – my – fucking – room – now!” Juicy finally reacted, springing to life like she’d been stuck with a cattle prod. Scurrying to the door, herding a jubilant faced Shaunie with her, her eyes bored into mine silently communicating, “You are so fucked.” And she was right. Within five minutes the head/used car salesman had relieved me of my duties and I was hustled out of the school faster than I would have thought possible.
I got six months ‘sick pay’ and a reference which I suppose given the circumstances was as much as I could hope for. The money didn’t last long but I hear Argos are hiring for Christmas.