Staffroom confidential - Page 3
From Griffith REVIEW Edition 33: Such Is Life
© Copyright Griffith University & the author.
Written by Cassandra Atherton
I WAS LEARNING to live on M&Ms and Snakes.
Teachers often have lolly jars in their rooms and they aren’t for the sobbing students who are having friendship problems - they’re there because most teachers don’t get time to eat. Handfuls of M&Ms and snakes could be eaten quickly on the way to class, surreptitiously between one bell and the next.
It’s degrading to have your life defined by bells. For whom the bell tolls / It tolls for thee. Me. I felt like Pavlov’s dog. Get to class! Attend the meeting! Surrender your life, year by year, wrinkle by wrinkle!
The sports meeting at lunchtime confirmed my worst fears. I had to catch the bus to the pool with the students after school every Wednesday. I had to supervise their swimming training for an hour and a half. I had to wait for them all to be picked up and then I had to find some way to get back to the school and pick up my car. I would have to walk or catch a cab. Every Friday night I had to travel for two hours to the swim meet on a bus of shrieking students and time each of Limeley’s swimmers at the swim meet. I would rarely finish before 8.30 pm. Limeley had just stolen my Friday nights. There would be only just enough time left to drink myself into oblivion when I got home.
‘This is a long season,’ said the sports mistress. ‘It could be twenty weeks or more, culminating in two key events: the AGSV and the APS swimming carnivals.’ They were on Tuesday and Thursday nights and they finished at about 11 pm at the Melbourne Sports and Aquatic Centre and we were required to be at school at 8 am the next morning, ready and raring to go.
At twenty-three years of age I realised that I no longer had a life. I lived and breathed school. I was Limeley. Just as Cathy was Heathcliff and Lennon was the walrus.
ON WEDNESDAY EVENING I waited at the pool for the parents to collect their children. I had a headache. I’d had a ‘five on day’, which meant that I had taught five out of six classes back to back with no break. I had recess duty and my usual lunchtime homework detention. In my free period I packed my bags and got ready to leave on the swimming bus. At 5.45 pm three students were left. Their parents were almost an hour late. I gave the boys the school’s mobile phone and ask them to ring their parents.
‘My mum isn’t answering,’ said the first student.
‘My mum says she’s on her way,’ said the second student.
‘My mum says she’s just finishing the shopping and will be here as soon as she can,’ said the third.
‘You guys do realise that swimming training finished at 5, don’t you? I mean, you told your parents to pick you up at 5, didn’t you?’ I asked.
‘Yes, but my mum is always late,’ said the first student.
‘My mum has a very important job and says she isn’t always able to get away on time,’ said the second student.
‘My mum says that you’re paid to wait with us and it’s your job,’ said the third.
I tried not to blame the students. I tried not to show how annoyed I was. I tried to focus my anger on the parent, not the child.
‘Actually, I’m not paid to wait around,’ I said. ‘I never liked babysitting and I don’t want to start it at twenty-three. You need to be picked up on time. I have work to do. Make sure it doesn’t happen again.’
‘Sorry, Miss,’ they all chimed in. ‘Miss’ is one of those generic terms the students use for all female staff. They aren’t interested enough to bother learning your name. And yet, it seemed unfair that I had to learn the names of three hundred students each year who got offended if you ever got their name wrong. I should call them all ‘boy’.
Mother Two showed up at 6 pm. ‘Thanks for waiting with him, you don’t have to wait in the future. I can’t always get away from work on time,’ she said, winding down the window on her Mercedes.
‘Actually, I legally have to wait for all the students to be picked up.’
She wound up her window with no response.
Mother One showed up at 6.15 and said, ‘I guess this is the downside of the job, the waiting around.’ She laughed.
‘Not the only downside. Swimming training finishes at 5 pm, I’d appreciate you picking up Luke on time next week.’
‘Oh, I can’t promise that,’ she said and drove off. Before she shut the boot, I heard her say, ‘The nerve of that teacher. She’s paid to stand there. I don’t rush for anyone, least of all one of your teachers.’
Mother Three was an hour and a half late. She parked across the road and beeped the horn. James ran across the road and they sped off. It was 7 pm by the time I got back to my car.
There was no use complaining about it. There was no use complaining about anything. Nothing happened anyway. Nothing changed.
‘MISS, CAN YOU tell the bus driver to turn up the radio?’
It was Friday afternoon on the bus to Geelong for a swim meet. The bus driver was my only ally. He was a really nice guy who thought it was stiff that I had to give up my Friday nights to time students as they swam up and down the pool. He turned up the radio marginally and winked at me. The students tested every ringtone on their phones and then some of them started to snigger.
‘Hey Miss, what’s the Kama Sutra?’
‘It’s a book of sex positions,’ I said calmly. It was far better to be direct. The boys were shocked. They were so used to being fobbed off that they could barely believe I had even said the word ‘sex’.
‘Can you recommend any specific positions?’ one brave boy ventured from the back of the bus.
‘None that you’d know,’ I said as the boys yelled ‘Shot down!’ They started to sing along to the radio and left me alone, until three boys decided to moon at cars out the back window of the bus.
‘James, Chris and Simon, get up here now.’
They thought they were heroes as they strutted down the aisle. The rest of the boys cheered. I needed to come up with a comment that would deflate their egos and discourage the other forty boys from doing the same.
‘You know that is an afterschool detention.’
They didn’t care. They were basking in their own glory.
‘And,’ I added, ‘a word of advice: if you’re going to do that, I’d wax if I was you.’ I knew it was the wrong thing to say. I knew it could scar them for life. I knew one of them would probably rack up hours on a psychiatrist’s couch. But that was only fair. Teaching scarred me for life. And anyway, if they put it out there in public, I think they should expect it to be commented upon.
The rest of the boys cheered and the remainder of the trip was noisy but uneventful.