Billy and the tragedy of a Tory government

Billy looks hungry.  It’s a hard thing to explain to people with no experience of working with children from deprived areas, but it’s a quality you learn to recognize in my line of work.  He’s twelve years old and he is student I’ve chosen to use as my second case study for a course I’m undertaking.  When Billy comes to meet me for his first battery of testing, the cuffs of his shirt are black and there are numerous stains down the front of his blazer.  He is very quiet and won’t look me in the eye.

During our testing, I discover that Billy is unsure how to spell his second name, he doesn’t know the days of the week, the months of the year, the alphabet, any of his times tables, how to tell the time and he doesn’t know his left from right.  It’s a pretty damning indictment of Billy’s education thus far.   I would go so far as to say, Billy’s education, or lack thereof, is a disgrace in a developed country such as ours.

So what’s happened for Billy to reach twelve years old without even the rudimentary skills required of students in their second year of primary school?  Billy grew up in a household of severe and sustained domestic violence.  Billy often failed to attend school because of his chaotic home life.  He witnessed, in his early years, such harrowing scenes that he was understandably traumatized.  When Billy did make it to school, he would be triggered by raised voices or any sort of confrontation into curling up into a quivering ball under the table.

Billy’s case was never addressed by social services. Overstretched and underfunded as the current system is, Billy was not considered ‘at risk’ enough to warrant intervention.  His primary school, although undoubtedly concerned by Billy’s lack of progress, did not have the resources to address Billy’s profound social and educational needs.

Billy, if left in his current state, will be unfit for even the most unskilled jobs when he leaves education.  There is no work for individuals who cannot tell the time and who don’t know what day it is.  This fact fills me with a combination of outrage and unshakeable sadness.

This is not helped when I read Cameron’s speech on welfare reform. He states that the pre-‘reform’ (read: precuts) welfare system “has sent out some incredibly damaging signals. That it pays not to work. That you are owed something for nothing,” and asks “Why has it become acceptable for many people to choose a life on benefits?” (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/politics/david-cameron/9354163/David-Camerons-welfare-speech-in-full.html). 

What Cameron fails to acknowledge, is that there are a significant number of people in Britain who are not equipped with the necessary skills to work.  The public sector has more often than not failed these individuals on two counts, by not providing the necessary social care to enable them to succeed and by not providing them with a sufficient level of education to access even the most poorly-paid and unskilled of jobs.  The current government is trying to address the problem of lifetime unemployment by slashing benefits rather than addressing the issues that result in individuals having to spend their lives on benefits in the first place.  Cameron has even gone so far as to suggest that housing benefit will no longer be available to under 25s although people from his own government, namely Ian Duncan Smith, seem unclear on whether such a plan is feasible.

A better tactic than the seemingly random destruction of the welfare state would be to ensure that individuals like Billy are adequately cared for in their early years by the social care system and their educational needs identified and addressed by an efficient education system. However, instead, Cameron’s government is carrying out massive cuts to both social care and education.

The Centre for Welfare Reform explains the cuts to social care thus:

If we exclude the areas of growth and protected services there are in fact cuts of £75.2 billion. And of these cuts over 50% fall on just two areas, benefits and local government, despite the fact that together they make up only 26.8% of central government expenditure. Most people do not realise that local government’s primary function (over 60%) is to provide social care to children and adults. (http://www.centreforwelfarereform.org/uploads/attachment/354/a-fair-society.pdf)

The cuts to government expenditure unfairly target the most vulnerable in our society by the two pronged attack on benefits and social care.  In addition, government spending on education has reduced from £58.28bn to £56.27bn, a drop of 5.7% in real terms, despite the coalition’s promise to protect the education system from cuts.  Overall, this means even worse social care for impoverished children and already overstretched education professionals being stretched even further.  Under these circumstances, the number of students leaving education unequipped for work is bound to increase and, unlike previous years, there will no longer even be a welfare state that adequately supports them.

I am going to do my best to help Billy.  Our first session together will focus on helping Billy to spell his second name.  I hope, desperately, with every inch of my being, that, by the time Billy leaves education, he will at least have the skills to access a job in manual labour. However, I know with the rational part of me, the part of me that knows how stories like Billy’s pan out, that one to one tuition at this stage in Billy’s development won’t recover even a fraction of the education Billy has missed over the last eight years.  It will do nothing to counterbalance the fundamental failure of our society to look after vulnerable children.  It won’t change the fact that we live in a society where some children are condemned to a life of poverty from the moment that they are born.  It doesn’t make a blind bit of difference actually when the leaders of our country are more interested in rhetoric than the reality of young people leaving school unable to even spell their second name.

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A Beginner’s Guide to Gender Politics.

International Women’s Day is a funny thing.  It first came about after a strike in New York by garment workers leading to the setting up of the first trade union in America. It was then made an official holiday in Russia by Lenin but it wasn’t until 1965 that it became an actual day off.  Other communist countries followed suit in the years after.  In 2013, it has become a day in which to celebrate the achievements of women and look closely at the gender-based violence and discrimination still faced by women all over the world.  That’s a good thing isn’t it?  Taking stock of the gains made so far in disestablishing the patriarchy and evaluating what more needs to be done? 

Apart from, apparently, it’s not.  Apparently, according to some of my male friends (who are otherwise quite sensible and decent people not inclined to outbursts of rank prejudice or gender-based violence) and a number of media commentators, it’s just a bit silly, and hysterical, and mean.  The responses to International Women’s Day range from the relatively mild, “well, why isn’t there an International Men’s Day?” (there is, moron, that’s what Google is for), to the downright disgusting, such as the article by Rick Dewsbury published in The Daily Male (sic) where he calls women who would like to have banned ‘unwanted verbal, non-verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature with the purpose or effect of violating the dignity of a person’  “bony-fingered killjoys” and “po-faced testosterone haters”.  Nice.

International Women’s Day, as it turns out, was a pretty bad day for this particular woman.  By the time eight thirty rolled around and I was on my way to meet some of my lady friends to celebrate, I was just about done with defending my gender, explaining for the millionth time that “feminism” was not synonymous to “misandry” and yelling, “I am not fucking hysterical, you’re just an arrogant wanker!” without even the slightest hint of irony.  At one point, one man claimed that I always had “a bee in my bonnet” and, rather than explain that that phrase, in and of itself, was in fact indicative of the gender stereotyping I was talking about, I seriously considered cutting out my own womb and burning it in protest.

And it’s not just on International Women’s Day that I feel this way.  It’s a lot of the time actually.  It’s almost every day since I cut all my hair off in a fit of feminist rage when my mother told me that I “shouldn’t talk about politics because boys don’t like it” when I was fifteen. It’s every time a stranger at a party has the audacity to lecture me on how we don’t need feminism any more despite having never read even a word of feminist literature or theory in their lives and not having in their possession a vagina.  A vagina does not make you an authority on feminism, obviously, that would be pretty transphobic, but I’m just making the point that I have both a lifetime spent as a woman and a decade’s worth of reading backing up my ideas on gender politics so if you’re going to lecture me about how wrong I am then I prefer that you have one or the other as a minimum requirement. Got it?

So, I’m sick, actually, of going through the same tired arguments over and over again. What I would like, in an ideal world, was for those people, literate as they are and having access to the internet or at least a public library, to go and read some stuff pertaining to gender politics before they dismiss the whole thing as a lot of nonsense.  Alas, even that, it seems, is just too damn hard for some people, so I thought I would make a little guide to the basics of gender politics that I could print on mass for the reading pleasure of every self-appointed gender politics expert (and even if they don’t read it, there’s always the possibility that it might at least give them a nasty paper cut – win, win).

A Beginner’s Guide to Gender Politics

What is this patriarchy nonsense you’re always bitching about?

pa•tri•arch•y 

/ˈpātrēˌärkē/

Noun

1.            A system of society or government in which the father or eldest male is head of the family and descent is traced through the male line.

2.            A system of society or government in which men hold the power and women are largely excluded from it.

What I’ve done there is bold the definition I’m going to use for you so you don’t have to figure it out for yourself see?  We live in patriarchy.  Hard to believe, I know, if you’re a white male in the first world, but hold your horses there mister, it’s true! A total of twelve out of one hundred and ninety-three countries recognised by the UN have a female head of government.  Isn’t that mental?  Now, you could say that’s because of all those barbarians abroad with their funny religions and backwards ways, but, actually, many developed countries are operating under a patriarchy too.  In the UK, of the 605 Members of Parliament in the House of Commons, only 146 are female; that’s just under a quarter. In the UK’s 50 most valuable firms, women account for only 14% of the staff on executive committees while, globally,  numbers from the Professional Boards Forum released in October 2012 show that just 17.3% of blue chip directors are women. How can this be?  Well, it’s got to do with something called misogyny, but we’ll come to that a little later.

Well, isn’t feminism, just women hating on men?

In short, no.  Here it’s useful to go back to that dictionary again.

fem•i•nism 

/ˈfeməˌnizəm/

Noun

The advocacy of women’s rights on the grounds of political, social, and economic equality to men.

mis•an•dry 

/misˈandrē/

Noun

The hatred of men by women.

The clue here is that they are different words.  Feminism is about asking for equality for women.  You can’t really do that without getting rid of the patriarchy we talked about earlier.

Misandry?  Is that what you talked about earlier?

Close!  That was misogyny and it’s like misandry in reverse!  Misogyny is the hatred of women by men.  Historically, a great many cultures across the world have had traditions, religions and political systems that have acted out a hatred of women.  Have you ever read Leviticus?  Well, there’s some pretty misogynistic shit in there!  If a man sleeps with a slave, god says to whip the woman but spare the man.  That’s not right is it?  That particular rule isn’t really acted on any more, but all over the world women still suffer at the hands of misogynistic traditions and laws; some are forced to cover their hair, others are forced into marriage, and over 90% of women on the Ivory Coast undergo female genital mutilation.  Misogyny is really, really bad and it’s used to make sure that the patriarchy can still exist.  That’s why feminists can sometimes get really cross if people tell them that feminism is stupid.

Oh, yeah, that is really bad.  But that doesn’t happen here though does it? Do we really need feminists in the first world?

It is true that lots of women in developing countries have it a lot harder than women here or in the USA.  However, the thing about the patriarchy is that it makes some people think that women aren’t as important or valuable as men.  Because it’s been around for so long, sometimes it’s really hard to tell that some things are misogynistic and support the patriarchy because they are so common.  Many feminists in the Western World for example complain about objectification of women in the media.  Objectification is where you treat a person as if they are a thing.  That does happen quite a lot; women that don’t conform to traditional ideals of beauty find it much harder to get into show bizz for instance because there’s still this idea that women ought to be pretty things to look at whereas men can get by on stuff like personality and intelligence.  Like we discussed before, all misogyny is designed to keep women from getting equal power and maintaining the patriarchy.  Some people can be misogynistic without even meaning to be too!  That’s because any little act that helps maintain the patriarchy is, in turn, doing bad things for and hating on women. You see, misogyny, like a lot of things, is a spectrum and it has female genital mutilation at one end and otherwise good and upstanding men who casually dismiss the need for feminism at the other.

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My father thinks…

My father thinks that women are to blame for their own oppression.  “Your aunts,” he says, “They’re the ones that force their daughters into the hijjab, not your uncles.”  I think it’s probably more complicated than that.

Out of all of my Arab family, my youngest aunt was always my favourite.  The older men and women were boring – they nagged incessantly, made me eat things I didn’t like and smelled like Sheesha.  But she was fabulous.  She wore her dark hair uncovered and past her shoulders and danced at other people’s weddings and pretended she didn’t notice anyone whispering.  She defended me against her domineering mother who, married at sixteen, harboured a grudge against any young woman who was not doomed to the same fate. My aunt and I would whisper conspiratorially while she would make me up for hours, finally spinning me round giggling to face the mirror and a reflection of what I might look like as a free woman. We adored one another.

But things changed us over time.

Our trajectories, despite beginning at the same point, were such that we travelled ever further apart until there were was so much space between us that we could not get back to one another, so much space, in fact, that there became space for Allah and atheism and ancient tradition and cultural snobbery and snide whispering and disappointment on both sides.

Last time I saw her, she had covered her hair and she looked like a woman that had never danced a step in her life.  When I sat down to talk, she took one look at the exposed skin above my knee and hissed “ratib halic” (tidy yourself).  She was a stranger to me. It was like a death; I grieved and started talking about her in the past tense.

Later, I learned what had made her that way.  There was her arranged marriage, her husband’s gambling addiction and abusiveness, a lengthy divorce in the unsympathetic Jordanian courts, the constant assaults on her person and her character that happened as a result and the discrimination she faced trying to make a living as a single woman in a Muslim society; she grew tired.  She resigned herself to a loveless existence laid out for her rather than struggle on any longer against the multitudinous and inescapable rules of social conduct that constantly walled her in.  I don’t resent her that.

In the years that came after, my aunt passed on these rules to her two young daughters; better, perhaps, to teach them what to expect than to let them suffer as she did in an ultimately fruitless struggle against an enemy that she knew would never concede.

So, I suspect it’s difficult for my father or any man to imagine a world in which the pressure to conform to a hundred different rules that govern your conduct, each one put in place without your consultation, much less your agreement, and each one contradicting a dozen others devised by the same method, results in you protecting the women you love the most by teaching them to lower their expectations. But that is the reality, however difficult to imagine, for my family at least.

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Girls that self-harm

This is my self-harm arm. I haven’t self-harmed in years and years now.  Lots of people ask me why I did it and I can never really explain properly because, to be honest, that question, after all this time, still makes me feel a bit embarrassed.  The more young women I deal with though who have taken up this terrible habit, the more I’m confronted with that question and the more important it seems to answer it.  I’ll do my best to answer it here. Image
As a young woman in a Muslim family nothing was my own. My possessions could be removed at the behest of my extremely strict Muslim mother, my room had no lock on the door, my clothes were chosen for me, my movements closely monitored and my body would be punished if I broke the rules. I lived in a house in the middle of a large field in the countryside where the sky at night was the sort of black you don’t find in towns or cities and every inch of that space, every molecule, every atom, was exclusively my parents’ domain. I owned nothing.

As I got older, I grew to deeply resent my position and my powerlessness. I felt less than human. I grew to realise too that my body was my only possession, the only thing that was truly my own. I resented that my family could erode even that modicum of ownership through physical punishments. I needed to exercise power over myself but had no means to do so. I was left scrambling for a semblance of self-governance, desperate to feel I had some control over my own existence. The only way I could achieve that was to reclaim power over the only domain i had – that of my body. Self-harm allowed me to exercise power over myself. It showed me that my body was my own to do with what I wanted and that no one could prevent me from using my body how I pleased.  My body was my kingdom and I ruled it with the ferocity of a tyrant.

I deal with dozens of young women in my professional life who self-harm and suffer from eating disorders – there are young men too, but the overwhelming majority are young women. I wonder often if that’s a reflection of how our society views young women – if these young women too are only exerting their right to self-governance in a world that forbids them to do so. Young women are constantly told that their bodies are not their own, they are at the mercy of the desires of men and increasingly unattainable ideals of beauty, and their lives belong to their families.  Young women are, across all cultures, seen as the possession of their parents moreso than their male siblings. They are controlled and limited under the guise of concern for their “innate fragility”, their apparent inability to fend for themselves against the cruelties of the outside world. It’s hardly surprising then that so many of them resort to harming their bodies as acts of protest. And so, I think it is perhaps time to recognise that the greatest danger to young women is actually within their own homes – it is in the refusal to allow women to govern themselves.

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Feeling foreign

Sometimes I feel completely at odds with the world I live in.  Displaced, uncomfortable, like in dreams – everything is believable and true but skewed and peculiar and wrong. Like I woke up in a foreign country with no idea how I got there and no idea of how to get home.  And I look at people and I think, “there is so much distance between us, whole oceans and they are turbulent and treacherous and there is no way humans like us can make the voyage.”

My father is seventy-two.  His father went down the pits at the tender age of twelve years old, still all short trousers and ruddy cheeks, to keep his mother and sister after his father died. My father knows poverty.  At school, he wore his uncle’s suit, ate sugar sandwiches, went home to a cold house his father built with his bare hands and dreamt of other things.  He taught me lessons.  Earn an honest living.  Work hard.  Don’t lie. Think before you speak.  Be grateful.  You are what you do not what you say.  Don’t let people make you mean. There is always someone with more than you, but there are always dozens with less. Keep that in mind.

I took my father’s lessons to school with me and I never got on very well at school.  The private education sat strangely alongside what my father said and the children I spent time with seemed so peculiar, so busy with things I couldn’t understand, like Caterpillar record bags, Morgan crop tops, Boyzone, highlights, tennis, and later, the cars their father’s drove, skiing resorts with strange names, universities I hadn’t heard of and other people’s misery made into light entertainment.  I was confused.

I don’t feel too differently these days if I am really honest with myself.  I spend my time between Canterbury and Gillingham and I feel like an alien in both. My peers seem just as strange to me as the children I teach.  And that’s why I started teaching.  I wanted to be amongst different people.  I wanted to come home and feel like I understood the world a bit better, understood people better. That was foolish.

I love children.  I love their funny faces and strange moods and contrariness.  And then they do things that remind me that they will be adults one day and I get worried.  Today, a boy called Morgan in my year eight class, who is ostracised for being a Jehovah’s witness and having special needs, had his glasses stolen.  The other children passed them hand to little hand under the desks, every one of them complicit in the cruel joke. And then, when he finally realised that not one of them would help him and started to cry, they all laughed.

I felt a bit sick.

I felt sick in part because I loathe to see children be cruel to each other, but also because the scene is perfect analogy for so many things.  It’s perfect, for instance, to compare to the Middle Class habit of making the poor desperate and then laughing at their desperation (see the Daily Mail for multiple  examples).  Or see Americas “ghettos”, in existence because of white political protectionism, and sneered at by the same people that’ve ensured their existence. Or see the Gaza Strip, Africa, Afghanistan, Iraq, Greece – it is too perfect an anology NOT to be upsetting. Surely.

And there will be people reading this, my peers, grown ups, that think that that is just what children do and it means nothing. They’ll think I am over sensitive and stupid and hysterical and need a holiday and to get out a bit more.  And they’ll be wrong.  Because those people will never have been Morgan.   Never have listened to people speak their own language and still felt foreign.  They don’t know anything about the world actually and they will talk and talk like they do, they will patronise me for my idealism and talk about my naivety and inexperience, roll their eyes, snort, give each other knowing looks, because they will not want to see those children as a microcosm of our society because they will have to identify with somebody and that migjt say something scary about themselves.  And the difference between the me now and my twelve year old self is that I wouldn’t trade places, not for all the Caterpillar record bags in the world.

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E and the solace of guilt

People that are over-inclined to bouts of crippling guilt are often thought to be meek, a bit vulnerable; they need to be cosseted from this harsh and cruel world of ours. What few people realise, included the afflicted, is that the ever-guilty are in fact terrible control freaks. If you are sexually assaulted and you think to yourself, “I shouldn’t have worn that dress” then you take all the power away from the perpetrator. By blaming yourself you can delude yourself into believing that you are in control of the thousands mindless acts of cruelty inflicted upon you in a lifetime. The world seems a lot safer if you take the blame because it means that if you dress differently next time then you will never be sexually assaulted again. Guilt suggests that everyone’s behaviour is a reaction to yours and it can keep you a safe emotional distance from the fact that the world is chaotic, unpredictable and, often, a bit awful.

I love feeling guilty. It’s my very favourite pass time. I am a connoisseur of guilt in all its forms; I have dabbled in religion, weight loss, excessive exercise, academic competitiveness and the pursuit of physical perfection all in order to allow me to feel guilty for indulging in completely normal and healthy human behaviours. In fact, I would not be completely offended if someone were to suggest that my move into teaching was not motivated by altruism but by a desire to find a thousand more ways in which to experience the emotion of guilt.

E, I would suggest, finds it hard to feel guilty. She is in yr11 and has managed to garner herself quite the reputation for being a mean girl. She is surly, disinterested and gobby. She also has had a very horrible time at home. Of course, she is one of my favourites. The bleakest characters always are. She is in a class that I am supporting, not teaching, and so I had plenty of time, for a term, to try and win her over with my own special combination of relentless tolerance, unfounded optimism and obvious madness. Progress had been slow but E was becoming more receptive every lesson.
And then it happened. That moment when you think you’re winning. The hems of E’s trousers had come down and she asked me if I would staple them up to keep them from dragging in puddles. Thrilled that she’d asked me politely, I willingly obliged.
As I carefully stapled E’s trousers, feeling slightly ridiculous but pleased she’d asked me, E told me how she had moved into her sister’s house after her mother’s abusive boyfriend attacked her.
It was then that I felt that rising feeling in my chest. It is a hard feeling to explain – it is like the counterpoint between falling in love and having your heart broken. I often wonder if it’s the feeling people get when they have their own children. What I do know is that it means I am completely fucked, that there’s one more child to add to the long list of children I feel emotionally invested in.
We broke up for the holidays. I wondered how E was getting on. I was looking forward to catching up with her.

The first lesson I had with her, it all went wrong. Seemingly out of nowhere, E had decided she was going to tear me into strips. She was rude, disrespectful and malicious. She encouraged other students to get in on the act. Her behaviour was not a result of frustration; it was a calculated attempt to destroy me. She even said, “you’re well funny when you’re pissed off Miss” then turned to her cronies and said, “lets see how angry we can make her.” I didn’t know what to do. When she told me that I was “pathetic”, that was enough. I walked out.

In my classroom, I sat at my desk and bawled into my hands.

And then there was the guilt. I should have done something differently, I shouldn’t have let her see I was getting angry, I should have walked away, stayed longer, been stricter, been softer. Anything.
Guilt is a lovely thing. Guilt was and remains the only option. To stop blaming myself would mean I would have to blame E and if I blame E then I would have to analyse her behaviour.
I am familiar enough with the idea of emotional self-harm to recognise it in others. It’s what keeps people in abusive relationships and, in my case, motivates me to invest in the very bleakest of characters. It is also, if I were to stop feeling guilty and actually think about it, what motivated E’s calculated attempt to make me hate her. So unaccustomed is E to my particular brand of hopeless and perverse selflessness that it becomes a threat. For children like E, to allow yourself to invest in someone goes against all your previous experience, it is risky, you will disappoint them eventually or, worse, they will disappoint you. In that context, it is sensible and right to sabotage the relationship immediately, sever your ties and go back to the familiar, predictable but deeply depressing status quo.
That’s what I’d think if I didn’t blame myself anyway. As it is, I am willing myself to feel guilty rather than admit to myself that some children are so conditioned to their circumstances that, even in the face of genuine care and nurture, they may never recover.

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A bad week made better

I’m sat on a desk in my classroom looking at Ollie.  I’m waiting for him to say something.  Anything. “You’re a fucking cock Miss,” or, “I like marmite,”‘or, “Did you know that Wayne Rooney’s dad is a dickhead too Miss?” ANYTHING. 

Ollie is a managed move kid and has a tendency to be a very bad boy and I have just delivered a lecture that went something like this:

“Is there anyone else Ollie that gives me as much time as I do Ollie? Do I shout at you? Do I give you are hard time? Do I help you as much as I can Ollie? Do I EVER throw you out of class even when you are being a moody little so and so? Do I ever? But sometimes Ollie, after I’ve spent the whole week knocking my brains out trying to give you an education so you can have whatever it is you want in life and then you get all lary for no good reason and give me a hard time I get to thinking, ‘why do I bother?’ When there are a hundred and seventeen other kids Ollie who don’t give me half as much grief as you do, tell me, why do I bother?”

Ollie says nothing.  He contemplates his fingernails and coughs quietly.

“Just go.”

I’ve resigned myself to defeat for what feels like the millionth time in a week that has been punctuated with all my naughtiest and most troubled kids losing their fucking minds.  At the same time.  For no apparent reason. 

*** 

I’m a lucky little teacher this year.  I get to teach all low-ability sets and ASDAN.  Usually, this isn’t a problem.  I am a deeply stubborn and wilful little arsehole when I want to be and haven’t yet met a kid I couldn’t break.  Add to that my blatant disregard for my own physical and emotional well-being and you have a person ideally equipped to spend 37 hrs a week talking to teenagers that a) don’t like school or b) can’t read or c) won’t write or d) all of the above.  

This week, however, was different.  

Why? Well, a number of reasons.  Because I had to deal with my mother who makes having a conversation with Jessica, who at year 11 has developed an almost pathological desire to psychologically destroy any adult within a half mile radius, seem like a welcome reprieve. Because I’ve actually definitely got tonsillitis which I am trying very hard to kill off with cigarettes, vodka and cocodamol. Because I’m over tired. Because a week is a long time.  Because being patient, all the time, every day, when what you really want to do is shout, “Just fuck off! You! Yes, you, with the pen I kindly leant you and bought with some of my own pitiful wages that you are now going to use as a missile when I’m trying to teach you about metaphors. Yes, that’s right, put it down and fuck off!”

Instead I have to fall back on a number of sentences that I have said a million times already.

– Is that sensible?
– Where’s your book?
– No, you can’t eat your biscuit.
– You definitely still have gum in your mouth. Don’t make me stick my finger in there and fish it out.
– You should have gone for a wee at break.
– Why have you drawn a penis on his book? 
– No you can’t write in that pen even if it is glittery and lilac and the ink smells like blueberries. Why? Because I said so.

And on and on and on until I just want to cut my own ears off like a talentless Van Gogh. 

***
It was the first week this year I thought the little monsters might have broken me and as Ollie sidled past I couldn’t help but wonder how all that education and promise I once had ended me up here, in a classroom that leaks, on a desk that has “Jade’s a skank” etched into it, talking to a kid that thinks I’m just another beige-wearing fun-hater. 

As I watch Ollie’s back disappear out the door I catch the mumble that is barely audible to the human ear: “have a good weekend Miss.”

I don’t let him see me smile but it’s the best thing that’s happened all week.

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