So engaged I forgot my bag innit!

Tuesdays are always nice. I have three year 7 lessons. A little goes a long way with year 7s. I smile. I’m kind when they cry, get bullied or forget where the classroom is. I let them write in coloured gel pens. And they seem to love me. They see me in the corridors and say “Hello Miss!” They come into my lessons wanting to tell me things they’ve done. The register takes four hours to do, because they reply to their name, not with “here” or “present” or "i'm fucking here Miss innit", but with “Good Morning Miss!” and in a school with so few manners, I really don’t think I should reply with anything but “Good Morning!”. They put their hands up, and run to the front of the class when they’ve finished their work, asking if it’s ok, if it’s good, if they can show the class. In a nutshell: It’s how I imagined teaching would be in my wildest dreams.
And then, last thing Tuesday, I have my bottom set GCSE girls. Who, as Helen so clearly put it, “aint bottom cos we’re dumb like, its cos we’re behavioural”. Each girl in that class is individually a lovely person. Helen is off her head (she’s coming off epilepsy medication, cold turkey. God knows why) but secretly I think really wants to be involved, and once you get her engaged is wonderful. Sadie is really only interested in chatting to her mates, but seems to care that Tony Blair sent troops to Iraq. Asma is distracted by those two, but takes beautiful notes and always does her homework. Stephanie looks constantly worried that she doesn’t get it. But as lovely as they are individually, as a group they’re hideous. They won’t shut up. They won’t complete work. They won’t read. (Perhaps they can’t read?) They put on makeup and wait for the bell to release them.
But today, I tried a different approach. We started the lesson with “pens away”, and although I felt a bit like a bad defence against the dark arts teacher they obviously loved it. They didn’t have to write anything, so it’s not a strategy I can use a lot, but they did all get engaged. We got a bit off track – from talking about ageism, we got onto (somehow) the war in Iraq, terrorism, and climate change. They understood global warming. I was on cloud nine. Then: “why aint them politishuns doin somefing?” “that’s bang out of order that they aint, Miss, they’s our leaders and they aint protectin us from this disaster innit?” “We should write to em and ask them, int that what you’s always sayin we should do?”
I don’t think I’ve ever been more shocked. I was momentarily totally unable to support this idea. But they didn’t need me. They were on a roll. “Yeh right, we’s’ll do it for homework, innit Miss, and you can mark it and… well would he listen to us tho?” They flounder. They fall back into being kids in South London, who have never been given one reason in their life to believe a politician in Westminster would care about, or even read, anything that they sent him. “Of course he would, he has a legal obligation to read and answer every letter he is sent. We will definitely write to him. Or email him. Absolutely. Girls I’m so impressed with your attitude, I’m so proud.” The bell goes, and they leave, chatting about the state of the nation. “Why is it that them that’s in charge is so thick? Its not difficult is it, ice melts when its hot innit, why aint they doin anyfing?” “They’s in London too, so they is fucked when the Thames comes up, but its cos they’s rich innit, they can get in their planes and things, and fly to hills when it floods, we’re the ones gonna be stuck here as the fucking water comes up around our necks…”
Asma comes back in two minutes later. I’m wiping the board, sorting my stuff out, trying to work out what I did today that made them put down their mascara and become engaged young people who believed they could make a difference. Asma smiles, and picks up her bag. “Forgot my bag miss, I was that engaged innit!”
Score. Miss a million; Apathy 0.

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