school daze

'A raging calm fell over me, almost second nature to teachers'
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It is 3:15 on Friday afternoon. A hazy sun slants in on 22 heads bent in concentration. My Year 10 group is working hard.

The school year is drawing to an end and I am pleased with the steady progress this class has made. They have learnt to meet deadlines, respect each other's opinions, work amicably together. Surveying the scribbling pens, I'm filled with a sense of forbidden, smug satisfaction. I've certainly got this teaching game almost gripped!

Kevin trundles over to my desk, clutching his much-mangled exercise book. He finds English difficult but perseveres. Watching him approach my table in his five-day-stained shirt, it occurs to me that he probably needs as much reassurance aged 15 as he did aged five. I willingly supply it, and he returns dawdling to his place. It is at this point that a boy in front of him utters a muffled but barbed insult.

Retrospectively, the following 15 seconds have assumed an intensely cinematic, slow-motion quality, as the two boys shadow-box like moonlit hares, before the taunter lands an emphatic fist in Kevin's eye, resulting in a swelling as colourful and immediate as any Tom or Jerry suffered.

A raging calm fell upon me, almost second nature to teachers in these situations, while I ejected the taunter, soothed the victim and summoned Superman in the form of a deputy head, who removed the duo to his office.

Returning to my desk, an ecclesiastical hush had fallen on the group, who eyed me almost embarrassedly.

"Are you okay, Miss?" asked Lesley, facing me directly and smiling.

"Fine," I lied.

"That's been brewing for ages, Miss," she sympathised, "down the park, in the evenings. It was bound to happen, sooner or later."

I know she is right, and it could have happened anywhere at any time, and yet, against all logic and rationale I feel like a Saturday shopper when the theft alarm sounds, who knows she has stolen nothing, yet shivers with a ridiculous sense of guilt.

It is 3:45 and the bell has gone. Chairs scrape, lockers slam. "Have a good weekend, Miss," whispers Lesley, and maybe I will, but something huge and almost tangible has been lost from the afternoon. Glancing out across the car park, I notice that it's raining.


The writer is an English teacher in a Bedfordshire Upper School.