School Daze

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School Daze

How to tap into this cauldron-mix of pupils' creativity - their iconoclastic knocking askew of the mundane. All 20 facing me now are natural- born Luddites eager to assail the machines of ordinariness and boredom. They swing in, buoyant, stylishly irreverent, yet all the same expectant, curious, on edge: the class a place of happenings, happenings to them.

First a horror story: I stop reading just short of the end. Goose bumps on the back of my neck - but the pupils deadpan, cool. Then on the raised dais Eleanor's writing on the board a possible "ending" in bold, looping strokes. The dais is hallowed space: five inches of stage with its own mythology. Rumourmongers say when you're on it, reaching for the board, doubt and fear are dispelled. Better still it creates performances of writing, witness the applause greeting those who step down leaving the board littered with tracings of their minds. Now we've five possible "ends"; mark each rapid fire out of 10. Those in which the police turn up are too neat, too tidy: why in our anarchic fictions give in to cliches? The best, which gets the 30p bag of M&Ms, leaves things open, sustains the horror, allows the imagination to tumble and breathe - resists being anaesthetised by what's dull. This class I'll be taking to Macbeth: plenty of horror, hand wringing, wracked consciences there, too: and they know Polanski's film ending; Macbeth's head ignominiously stuck on a pole, yet still seeing.

The bell! Blink: 25 14-year-olds cutting up Eliot's Wasteland into individual words; re-pasting images of a world smitten by war as New Year Resolution poems, something optimistic culled from Eliot's debris. To finish, Jacob's on the dais: all quiet:

12 o'clock midnight beats the dead drum of memory through fatalistic floors of a darkening mind; rhythmic with incantations.

Coming to school knocks the breath out of you. More M&Ms.

Bells! Coffee! 20 15-year-olds watch a video of a Los Angeles high school pupil's "call to arms", protesting the beating of Rodney King. Who are the "they" she mentions 26 times? Nichaan classifies it best: those not included when she says "we" - those outside a distinct group of the aggrieved. So: "is her speech effective?" They chorus "yes". "Evidence?": she's rallied whom she calls "true believers": making diffident teenagers into passionate disciples of a just cause. Who wants to be left behind doubting, unbelieving?

Two-thirds through now: Alan Bennett and an Inuit tale from Greenland to go. In the hall, an improvised igloo - Colin playing the luckless son obliged to leave his father to die: cultural relativity, this, from Rebekah, age 14:

"In Inuit culture the son did what was routine; our culture would think it a serious crime, but we can't judge what he did by our values."

A frantic day - the edges fray, maybe, but all the stitches hold, sewn as it is with their willingness to make believe, to empathise, to be other than themselves: and from this alchemy comes tomorrow's lessons.


teacher of English in a

grant-maintained school in Hertfordshire

Personal diary contributions that reflect school life through the eyes of serving teachers can be sent to Wendy Berliner, Education Pages Editor, The Independent, One Canada Square, Canary Wharf, London, E14 5DL.