Note: This was written in 2011; it was inspired by the first three years of teaching English to various Secondary School boys in NZ. It is loosely, not solely, based on a couple of lovable rogues who traipsed through my doors – the other main character bears absolutely zero resemblance to me in any way, shape or form…
The Story with the Fish
He watches over them like an eagle; there is a sense of envy in his eyes as he observes their youth, their exuberance. They talk of many things, all seemingly inconsequential yet somehow … exciting. The latest video game, the hot new attractive female cropping up in the latest hip hop video – these were their concerns in life, their motivators, their reason for being. Not their work, their grades, their writing. Not paying rent, nor what to make for dinner, or how much money they had to save for that holiday they had been planning for far too long. They were simply living in their own worlds, not concerned with maintaining anyone else’s. The selfishness of youth suddenly seems so utterly desirable to him; he sighs. If only he could go back in time…
A quiet smirk, combined with an almost imperceptible hand movement, snaps him out of his reverie. Much like an eagle again, he instantly switches into “attack” mode. Eyebrow raised, lips drawn tight, he pounces on his prey. His booming voice thunders across the room, shattering the glow of productivity that had consumed much of the class moments before:
“What is the purpose of this disturbance?”
A deafening silence gusts through the room as all members of Room 405 quietly set up a personal viewing post for the battle of wits that will surely ensue.
The two miscreants in question look up with startled expressions. Their eyes are wide and their mouths form perfect ovals – they remind him of a stunned mullet he had caught once many years ago. Funny that this memory came to him now of all times…
“Jus discussin the tass misstah!”
The offending scoundrel snivels his reply with mock innocence, a hint of self-righteousness added to make his defence more convincing. A satisfied grin follows as the accused believes he has been let off the hook.
He stops his advance towards his prey momentarily: this answer, though common, has a logic to it that inflames his professional sensibilities. Couldn’t they see that “discussing” is merely a euphemism for talking? That they could be “discussing” the best Fail video of late, or John Lennon’s undies, or the merits of wearing socks with sandals at the beach? Do they really think that this one word is enough for them to be excused for their crimes against attention? I deal professionally with the meanings of WORDS, he screams silently, can they not see that this manipulation is so ineffective against a Mage of Language such as myself? It conjures up images to him of a fox with a feather in its mouth, all the while trying to assure everyone that he had never been anywhere near the chicken coop the whole time…
He shoots a milk-curdling glare at one, plunges an eyebrow to new heights at another and strides to their place of residence with the confidence of a man in his element. Grabbing an exercise book, ignoring countless variations of phallic symbols strewn throughout (if only they put as much effort into their punctuation as they do with their fascination with the inane…) he flicks through this reflection of the student’s intellect with precision and purpose.
“You have written 5 words in 45 minutes Charlie; as English is obviously not your focus, would you mind estimating what the productivity equation for you in terms of word per minute is today?”
An unspoken conference occurs between the two conspirators…
“Whas ester mate mean sur? Coz ise only drawn a pikcha for ma mam?”
The blood is boiling. He quickly realises this opponent is either very dumb or extremely clever; both are dangerous foes in these situations. A change of tack is needed. Perhaps more risk is involved, but he needs to appeal to this troublemaker’s better nature. Moments like this are perilous in the classroom – the result of this tug of war will either inspire or destroy the classroom dynamic for the next few weeks. This is a true battle of ideology; a fight to the death. Winner takes all.
“Charlie, can you name one thing you have learnt in this class all year? I mean, if you add up all the hours you and I have spent together there must be something that has changed the way you think about life?”
The spectators appreciate that this is a desperate yet equally cunning direction for him to take the conversation; a genuine answer will generate considerable empathy for him and lead into peaceful resolution on his terms, yet another show of defiance would only serve to confirm the antagonist’s insolence, finally ostracising him from the rest of the group – any punishment therefore would have the law of morality, and therefore public opinion, behind it.
The seated combatant ponders this request. He looks around the room to gauge the public mood of the day; there seems to be two contrasting answers simultaneously attempting to burst from his lips at the same time. This inner conflict plays out over what seems like centuries in his mind, though in actual fact it barely takes more than two seconds for it to evolve into a cohesive answer.
Charlie looks him straight in the eye.
“I liked tha fush storee suh, tha won wear that fulla pulls in a biggy forafeed!”
Murmurs of mirth rifle through the ecosystem. He sighs, returns the book to its owner and spews forth various platitudes about the importance of attentiveness and other such worthwhile clichés. He returns to his desk a beaten man; this “Mage of Language”, this “Saviour of Semantics” – upstaged by someone who can’t write a sentence.
The battle was fiercely fought, the effects of which he will no doubt have to countenance until the end of term. He has been here before – he knows that his adversary will get his remittance once reports are due, or else Parent Teacher interviews will be particularly enjoyable this year. He has been here before, and he knows with equal certainty that he will be here again – maybe tomorrow, or even next period. He knows all of this. But he can’t shake the fact that maybe his adversary is somewhat bigger than a boy who likes the story of a fish. He can’t even remember telling that story? That stunned mullet image keeps flashing through his mind. Why was he thinking of this right now…