Youth Of Today

Entry by: Seaside Scribbler

19th February 2016
"Frankly, I'm speechless," said the Head.

I said nothing. He wasn't speechless, anyway. He'd spent the last twenty minutes solid lecturing me about responsible behaviour, spoiling a promising career and how he was going to punish me. He'd not quite decided yet, he kept saying, but I was pretty sure I was about to get the sack.

The thing was, the idea had been nothing short of brilliant. It had worked. I had the worst class in the school eating out of my hand. Class 4P had never, ever behaved and now I had them exactly where we'd all wanted them, all along.

It was a shame, as I loved teaching. I loved the drama of every day being different; the way I could help people get on in their lives; the influence a good teacher could have over their self esteem. I loved the tough days because they reminded me I wasn't infallible and I loved the easier days because I knew I was good at my job. I loved knowing I'd been a positive influence on people's lives.

I felt sick. That was something to do with the five large gins I'd had on arriving home last night, but mostly to do with how I felt the next few minutes were going to go. I would be jobless. The thing I loved doing most was going to be taken away from me.

"And so," the Head went on, "you leave me no choice."

Here it comes, I thought, and I looked at the wastebin, wondering if I'd make it in time if I did throw up.

"We're going to have to let you go," he said, finally.

I nodded, and in doing so the room wobbled as my hangover kicked in properly, and I discovered that no, I didn't have time to reach the wastebin.

"I'm sorry," I warbled to the horrified face, staring at me as if at some kind of dangerous animal.

"Just get out," the Head said softly.

I reacted to the danger in the voice and ran, this time making it to the bathrooms.

In the mirror I looked at myself and saw what he'd seen. The piercings weren't real, but the blue hair was and I had no idea how long it would take to wash out. The eyeliner was the non-washable type sold to Goths, and was so embedded in the fine lines around my eyes that I looked like a vampire just woken from a long sleep. My wrists had swelled up when I shoved all the bracelets on there - I was obvously allergic to the cheap metal - and the bracelets were all jammed, so I rang when I moved. My eyes were bloodshot, the tooth with the diamond stuck to it throbbed (another temporary thing that I'd not been able to remove this morning) and my jaws hurt from all the chewing yesterday.

Worst of all, though, were the tattoos. They'd seemed like a good idea; I'd got the guy in the high street to do semi permanent ones that he said would wash out in a few weeks, but they'd smudged and proved themselves immune to most solvents I'd tried. The results were red and black and blotchy, and on various parts of my neck, hands and face. The teardrops now looked like angry beauty spots. Ugly spots, perhaps.

It hadn't helped that the head, Mr Suffolk, was an ultra-conservative blue through and through ex Etonian who'd been brought in to tackle our touch inner city school. If he'd been a little more streetwise, maybe he'd have been more supportive of my efforts to tackle 4P. Maybe one day, I'd be able to laugh at the memory of his expression. For now though, it just made me cringe.

I walked to the door and locked it, whilst I gatehred myself, hoping they weren't out looking for me to chase me off the premises. I splashed my face with cold water and sat on the waste bin, thinking about yesterday. And smiling.

It was their faces when I walked in. Normally, 4P didn't pay the slightest bit of attention to the teacher, simply carrying on whatever they were doing: throwing stuff, listening to music, hanging out of the window, smoking; beating each other up, snogging in the cupboard. The RMPS lesson was usually an exercise in keeping them from leaving the room and trying to make at least one of them write something, not murder each other and pray that Mr Suffolk wouldn't walk in to do some appraisal. As the newest teacher, 4P - previously 3P and 2P - was a rite of passage that all new staff were put through, with, what I can only describe as sadistic glee. They only ever all came together for RMPS, being split up in various ways for all other lessons.

I tried to take it in my stride, but after four lessons and four headaches, I'd had enough.

And I came up with my masterplan. It began with the idea that if you can't beat them, join them, though I admit I may have taken it a little too far.

I've already described my appearance, sort of. You can probably guess how the rest of it went: ripped tights, torn jumper, unlit fag hanging out of my mouth, phone surgically attached to my hand. I gave no eye contact to anyone as I walked in. Slowly, heads turned and silence fell as they watched me sit on the chair, put my DM'd feet up on the desk and flick my phone's screen up and down. I knew I'd not got it quite right - I'd been a good girl at s chool, one of the swats, and I'd no idea how to look bad, so the idea was a result of googling rebellious kids and working from memory. I was a sort of punky 80s gone wrong cyberchick, or something. A mish mash of four decades worth of ideas of what a 'bad' kid was. At first they just stared. I ignored them, completely, and lit my cigarette.

At this there were gasps and whispering.

The girl who thought she was toughest (and had given me the hardest time) said, "You can't do that!"

I carried on ignoring her. There was some nervous laughter.

"You'll get into trouble, Miss," said one of the boys, an overgrown footballer who thought he was God's gift.

I shrugged again.

The silence continued and I stubbed out my cigarette, trying not to cough. I'd been practising, but it still tasted disgusting.

Another girl, the one who was usually in the cupboard, kissing someone or other, piped up, "Aren't you going to teach us?"

I looked at her and shook my head. Then I started on phase two of my plan. I picked on the worst kids and told them exactly what I thought of them. I stood up and pointed at each one in turn and told them, in no uncertain terms, how their lives were going to turn out. One girl cried. A boy went white. The footballer tried to backchat me but I yelled at him and, in shock, he listened to what I had to say.

I have to admit to being terrified, all the while. But when I'd finished, I looked around the room and saw them for what they were, a bunch of kids with a crowd mentality, who'd been allowed to get away with too much, too long. And I knew, from swatting up on their files, that they were all, without fail, struggling with something in their private lives. 4P was a perfect storm of troubled kids. I'd picked a double period on purpose, and now the third part of my plan began.

Downsized, the kids didn't fill the room as loudly. I asked them to bring their chairs into a circle and sit closely to the people on both sides.

And then we talked. I won't go into details becasue it got quite personal, and some of you may know the kids involved. Confidentiality and all that. There were tears. There was laughter. There was bonding. There were apologies.

I couldn't believe it had worked quite as well as it had. We ended the lesson with me giving them a booklet that was going to be the start of a project, a project about each and every one of them. They were going to write their autobiographies, and hopefully find themselves in the process. I believed most of their issues came from self esteem issues, so this was what I was going to tackle first. The
booklet was long and would take us the rest of the term to work through, but at the end they would know themselves a little better, and hopefully have found some self respect and respect for others.

I knew, deep down it had been a good idea. It had worked. Whatever happened now, it had been worth it... but as I looked in the mirror and the adrenaline faded away, I began to cry and felt myself shrink as I saw myself for what I really was: a fool. A fool lacking in experience, at that.

I let myself out of the loo and prayed I'd not meet anyone on the way out of the school. There were a few people about but it was during lesson time so the corridors were empty. I crept to my car, started the engine, and went home, where I took to my bed with two paracetamol and my shame.

A week later, I was feeling a bit better. I'd begun to scan the TES for jobs abroad (the media fuss was dying down a little, and I was hoping papers in Asia hadn't picked up on the story.) I was circling the ads that looked inviting, when the phone rang.

It was Mr Suffolk and he sounded very strange. Sort of strangled. In this odd voice, he asked me if I could come into school. Said he had some stuff for me to collect. It was the last thing I wanted to do, as you can imagine.

I drove to the school, gathering myself as I went, so that when I arrived I was able to hold my head high. I'd times it wrong and had arrived at break so I had to walk through a packed playground. As I walked, kids stepped backwards and let me through. Most of them smiled. One of the PSAs saw me and began to clap, a slow, loud clap which was soon picked up and rippled across the crowds, until I was being applauded every step of the way. I stared in confusion. Behind me the crowd closed in again, and followed me to Mr Suffolk's office.

I knocked, and he asked me to come in.

I stood on the threshold, trying not to shake.

"Miss Bell," he said. "I'd, er, like to offer you your job back."

"But...?" was all I could manage.

"You've achieved something amazing. Look at these," he said, and indicated a pile of books on the table. "These are the autobiographies of 4P. All I can say is, somehow, you reached each and every one of those young people. Your methods were... odd, but they worked. I'd be proud to have you back on my staff."

I picked up the booklet on top, which was written by the girl who'd given me the hardest time. Rachel, her name was.

"Miss Bell helped me find out who I was," began the first line of her book, "and I didn't like what I was becoming, so I am going to change. She's one crazy bitch, but she's the best teacher I've ever had, and if she doesn't come back to help us learn we're all going on strike..."

My new lip piercing stung, as I smiled. Mr Suffolk began to look horrified again, but then he smiled too, and shook my hand.