A Great Man?

Entry by: writerBPUMPYJBZP

24th November 2017
“What’s interesting about the soliloquy?”
Silence. Rows of teenagers stare at me blankly. Well, some of them stare. Others are texting under the desk. Nico is gawking openly and unashamedly at Aaliyah’s chest, which is graphically outlined through the cheap cotton of her too-tight school blouse.
His eyes snap to the front. “Miss?”
General sniggers.
“Any ideas? Henry has been speaking to his soldiers in disguise, they think he’s one of them. And then they exit and he’s on his own. What’s interesting about that?”
“Um. He’s, like, talking to himself?”
“Well, arguably he’s talking to the audience. But, what’s interesting about what he’s actually saying? Come on, you’ve only just heard Keisha read it so beautifully, you can’t have forgotten already?”
“Um, I think I have forgotten actually.”
An “outstanding” school. Apparently.
“Well, remind yourself.”
Great exam results. Great pastoral. Great facilities.
“You don’t even need to read it, Nico, just look at how it’s set out on the page. What do you notice?”
A hand shoots in the air and I hear an “ooh, ooh!” of realisation. I guess Nico’s off the hook.
“He’s talking in verse now!”
“Good. And why do we think he’s changed from prose to verse?”
Mikayla fiddles with her pen. “Um, because he, like, he’s not pretending to be common anymore? So he’s kinda gone back to posh?”
I’ll take it.
“Good. Now he’s alone he can be himself. But is he happy about that? Or does he wish he could be ordinary. Lee?”
“Um. Ordinary?”
“Can you give me an example from the text to explain that?”
“Ooh! Ooh!”
“Someone other than Mikayla? No? Alright, Mikayla.”
“When he’s like, 'not all these, laid in bed majestical can sleep so soundly as the wretched slave'…”
“Good. He doesn’t want to be a hero in this moment. He feels it’s too much responsibility.”
“Miss?” says Ashdon (he didn’t put his hand up, but I’ll let it slide if he’s making an actual point) “why is Henry V a hero anyway if all he did was, like, kill a load of French guys. Like, my Dad is French, would he of killed my Dad?”
“Well, I suppose you have to see it in the context of the time. People at the time thought of him as a hero. He was a great leader, in the play at least, he’s charismatic, he speaks well, he’s good at firing people up.”
“Like Hitler,” says Madison, who has managed to mention Hitler at some point during every lesson this term.
“Or Donald Trump,” says Mikayla.
“Yes, well.”
The bell goes.
Alisha approaches my desk. She waits till everyone else has gone.
“Ben was, like, sitting next to me and I didn’t even want to sit next to him but he sat down and I didn’t have time to move and, like the whole lesson he just kept touching my leg. The whole time. And I told him not to.”
“Oh.” I put down my pen. I try to look like I know what I’m doing. “Has this happened before?”
She shakes her head.
“Well, I think,” I said, my mind racing as I try to recall if I’ve been given any guidelines as to the protocol in this situation, “the best thing would be if I spoke to your head of year about it. Mrs Norton?”
She nods and twists the end of her hair around her finger.
“Was there any thing else you want to talk about?”
“No, Miss. Only, can you not let Ben know that I said anything?”

The first time I met Mrs Norton was when she was giving me the tour in September of this year, the day before term began.
She was saying, “he’s completely turned this school around. In just two years. You wouldn’t believe the difference. I mean he’s a born leader, you just have to hear him speak in assembly. I mean, the kids actually sit still and listen to him, miraculously. But, of course, you’ll have met him at your interview.”
I said, “yes.”
“What was your impression?”
“He seemed…”
When I’d first entered the room he’d looked me up and down. All the way up and all the way down. On purpose.
“… like someone in control.”
“Oh, for certain. This is the gym. We’ve just had the floor redone over the summer.”
“The English classrooms are just upstairs, where you’ll be spending most of your time, of course. This way. I shouldn’t tell you this, but I know Jack was very impressed with your interview, he told me afterwards, he said you were by far the best.”
“I’m awful in interviews. Fortunately I’ve been here for thirty years, so it’s been a long time since I’ve had to do one. But you’ll have to tell me your secret.”
“Yes, the secret of how you’re so good in interviews.”
“Oh. I don’t think I am, really. I don’t think I have a secret. It’s just…”
At the end he stood up to shake my hand. Then he didn’t let go. He stepped closer to me still holding my hand, his eyes locked on mine.
“… I think, you just have to be yourself.”
And then with his free hand he tucked my hair behind my ear, his fingers brushing my cheek.
“Well, we’re glad to have you here anyway. Honestly, this is a fantastic school since Jack’s been here. Unrecognisable from how it was before.”
That was it. That was all that happened. And if you want to know why I didn’t tell anyone, it’s because there was nothing to tell. And I wanted this job.
And after all, he was a great head. He had turned the school around. He had given opportunities to kids who might otherwise have slid through the cracks. Who was I to mess that up for all those kids who were being given a better chance in life because of him?

Mrs Norton was in her office.
I said, “it’s Ben Warren.”
She said, “Oh, yes?” in the tone of someone who has heard the name Ben Warren all too often.
“Alisha told me he kept touching her leg during class.”
“Oh. Well, I’ll have a word with him.”
“OK. It’s just, she doesn’t want him to know she said anything.”
There’s a knock and the door opens at the same time.
He strides into the room, brushing his floppy hair off his forehead. His shirt is gaping at the neck. He doesn’t wear a tie – it’s his thing.
“You’ve arrived at the opportune moment, as usual,” says Mrs Norton. “We were just discussing Ben Warren.”
“Oh, Ben Warren. What’s he done now? He’s on his final warning already so we can probably exclude him.”
“Catherine was just telling me, he kept touching Alisha’s leg during the lesson.”
Jack nods briskly. “With his record I reckon we’ve got grounds for exclusion. I’ll deal with it. I wanted to talk to you, Sue, about this fundraiser.”
That’s my cue to leave, I know. So I do.