Education · Teaching

Containment

Some days all my metaphors are expressed through exhaustion. I feel like a fallen rider hanging on to my horse’s tail, being dragged up a hill and tumbling down over the other side. Or like the girl in the red shoes, who has to dance forever.

All day long: Tau, Tau, and more Tau. Teachers emailing me; Morris and Marjorie coming into the office and into my room to tell me:

“Tau’s outside again.”

“Taurangi is out with the water bottles again.”

Tau and Leroi, drenching anyone and everyone they encounter. I get them to Math for the last twenty minutes before interval. Somehow we perambulate our way there (and they’re both in different classes) – and they go in.

Oh, and I forgot to mention Tau’s been stoned all morning. During break he sits in my room, eyes rolling up and down and all over the place. Tired, restless, but staying put temporarily – which is kind of incredible.

 

After interval I take them to their next class. No luck; they’re out of there within five minutes, prancing past the office window, looking in, spotting me, and scraping at the door:

“Miss, it’s boring in class, we’re thiiirrrsty, we’re thirsty as.”

Tau tells me, “Fuck, I’m tired, I want to sleep – and I’ve got the dry horrors.”

“Class – go to class!”

I take them back, they go in, but soon after I see them roaming free again. They’ve got their water bottles, and are squirting people from the overbridge. They see me and run off and then… come back.

 

“Miss, we need something to drink.”

“Miss, have you got jobs we can do?”

“Miss, can we come into the office?”

I say, “Drink some water.”

“Nooo, the water here’s all kaka, it’s all that recycled shit.”

“We need Coke… or Sprite,” says Tau, hopefully, because he knows I’ve got drinks for the 11 Social shared lunch this afternoon. “We could do a job for you, and you could give us a drink.”

I say, “Look, just go to class – then come see me later and you can have a drink, ok?”

They make an attempt to go back to class, but are soon evicted and sit on the seats outside. And I don’t think they’ll be allowed back in now; I can’t see it happening – and I have got work to do. I try and concentrate, up in the office, but they keep coming past, looking in, getting stopped by teachers and running off; roaming past again and again and again.

 

Another flurry of emails arrives, titled:

‘Tau and Leroi’

‘Water fights in the grounds’

‘‘Continual behavior concerns’

And every time a teacher comes by, it’s: “Tau is out there again.”

“I know, I know,” I say, weary of all this, all the time.

 

Tau has had so much freedom he can hardly cope with even me pulling him in. But he does come, reluctantly.

“Where are we going?”

“You’re going to come help me carry the books up and the drinks down, and the cups – and then you can have a drink.”

“Yeah! Shot, Miss!” they say, coming along at once.

They bring the books up to the office, and I hand them the bottles to carry. When we get to my room (it’s just lunchtime by then), I give them paper cups of coke, and Moro bars. They sit, momentarily stilled for ten minutes. Then they say, “We’ll be back.”

At lunch emails fly back and forth. Leroi’s mugshot beams out of an email from Marjorie. There’s been an incident with Tau and Leroi, and Jamal from 11 Social. I can’t work it out exactly – but they squirted him and someone threw a punch. Leroi’s about to be sent home; Tau is still roaming free, as the bell rings – and my 11 Social class come in.

 

The pizzas have been ordered, and I go pick them up from reception with Jack and Dimario. When we get back to class, there’s Tau sitting outside my room with Simeon, looking very mournful.

Tau tells me, “They sent Leroi hooome…” then, “I don’t want to be at school now – I’ve got no water buddy. I want to gap.”

“No Tau, just stay here. Either go to class or come with my class.”

“I don’t want to go to my class.”

“Then come into my class – it’s ok”

“No, cos you’re having a shared lunch, and I’ll be shy.”

I say to them, “Alright, stay out here and I’ll get you a drink.”

Jack pours drinks for everyone, and I quietly take two cokes out to Tau and Simeon, then get some Hawaiian pizza and take it out too: “Here you go – may as well have some pizza.”  Tau looks so relieved. It makes my heart sore to think of him not eating – I can’t bear it. For some reason I think of a line from the Bible: Feed my sheep.

 

“Just let Alexander know I want to see him,” I say to Dimario, when I go back inside to the year 11s.

“I probably won’t see him,” Dimario replies, patiently. “He’s still hiding out.”

“Well – just text him for me.”

“I can’t text him. Alexander hasn’t got a phone.”

“He hasn’t got a phone?” I repeat, intrigued.

“Nah Miss, you have to text his missus.”

“Ohh,” I reply, and then, because I’m interested, “What’s Alexander’s girlfriend like?”

“She’s gangsta,” says Jack.

“No she’s not – she’s freaky,” says Dimario.

“Nah… oh, kind of,“ says Jack, and they laugh.

“She’s all weird looking, she looks like one of those crack babies,” Dimario tells me, while Jack guffaws.

“Oh you guys, don’t be mean,” I protest.

“No Miss, she does. But it doesn’t matter if she’s ugly… cos so’s Alexander!” Dimario rejoices.

“Oh shut up, that’s just sad,” I say, and he laughs, adding, “It’s like Shrek meets ET.”

Actually I can’t help laughing too, because they say this stuff so tenderly and untruthfully. And I know if Alexander was here he’d just give that gentle, peaceable smile.

Then, “It’s ok, Miss,” Dimario assures me. “Alexander’s sensei. He gets all the girls.”

“Yeah,” Jack agrees. “At parties, all the chicks go for Alexander.”

 

The room’s very contented, and I think for sure if any class deserves a shared lunch, it’s this one. And it’s a nice afternoon in that way, but Tau is not very settled (understatement of the year) and I’m worried about him. He’s still got that wild look in his eye, and I know that he’s close to cutting loose again.

Near the end of class he runs around a bit, wanting to start up the water fights again. Noa comes out of a neighboring classroom, sees me and Tau, and laughs – putting one arm around him briefly. “Fuck, Cluzo… still going,” he says.

“I know,” I sigh. “Noa, I’m so tired, all I’ve done today is run around after this guy – and what does he ever do for me?”

Tau, standing on the stairs, looks at me, and says, earnestly, “I did do stuff for you, Miss.”

“Like what? Run away when I ask you to come, and not go to class?”

“No, like… I brought down your drinks, I carried down your drinks!” he tells me triumphantly, filling up a huge Sprite bottle from the tap.

I snatch the bottle from him. “No Tau – that’s not a good idea.”

“Oh Miss…”

I hand it over to Noa, who accepts it without batting an eyelid.

Jamal looks out the door and Tau says, “Gonna fuck him up later. Gonna shoot him.” He pats his jacket, telling me, “I’ve got my gat with me today.”

“You have not.”

He says, “It’s here – wanna feel?”

“No I do not,” I say, and Noa grins.

It wouldn’t surprise me if he had got it with him – and this is getting too hard to roll with, right now. It all seems to be leaping past the few boundaries that still exist – and I don’t know what to do. It’s very hard to do anything, except try and hang on. That’s all I do today: just try to hold on for the duration.

But at the same time, my heart just about breaks. Because like I said, the things I love about Tau are also the things that hurt, or are going to hurt.

The sun goes down, and I don’t cry. I’d like to cry – all the sad things can’t make me cry. I’m hot inside, and my solar plexus aches and I breathe, patiently. I think about all the things which tear at me… and even if I’m full up like a swollen river, I just contain more and more.

 

[Excerpt from draft: Five Years]
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Education · Teaching

The gap

Teacher only day… and this one wasn’t so bad, as teacher only days go. We didn’t have to do role plays or any really stupid shit. But I still hated it, though I kept that to myself.

Because teacher only days, without exception, always make me curl up inside, like paper that’s been crushed into a ball. Or a hedgehog with its spines sticking out everywhere – I feel awkward and protective when I speak, thinking that I’ll never, never reveal anything of myself here. All that fake stuff: sitting in our designated groups of three, asking each other (on instruction from the presenter) how the morning’s been so far – showing “intense interest” in someone else was how she put it.

I was sitting with two people who I get on with well enough. And yet I was never going to tell them how I hate teacher only days with a passion I can barely explain. Esther said she had had a busy week with the kids, and her uni stuff; and Sonny talked about the two internals he had to mark. I made some innocuous collocation between staying up late and feeling tired. To account for, I guess, any reticence. A hedgehog still on the road at sunrise; sensing dangers on the horizon – cars, and roaming dogs, and birds swooping down with an exposing eye.

So I went through the motions all day long – I’m better at this than I used to be, it’s true. I used not to be able to put my feelings aside – my eyes would glaze and roll. Kuli would laugh at my expressions and send me texts across the room. Now I can hold them back. Just one time I couldn’t – it was when the presenter used the term “growth mindset” as if it was a everyday concept; a straightforward, commonsense part of the educational lexicon – and heads nodded all around the room. But my eyes felt duty bound to narrow a little; barely perceptibly.

The presenter’s name was Monica.  She was personable, interesting, and funny. And yet oh, did I disagree with her underlying premise. That we were in one world with one set of values, that the kids (“in deprivation”) were in another world with different values entirely, and that we could use a repertoire of teacher techniques to build relationships between the two, and to create some kind of safe, sticky web to keep them temporarily in the gap between – in limbo, really – in this place called education. I know she didn’t mean it that way; her intentions were clearly and sensibly in line with school’s stated aim of producing “connected, confident life long learners” – just as the curriculum requires.

But I can’t forget, no matter how hard I ever try. That there are some who don’t fit the plan. The ones who will never believe what school wants them to believe – not in a hundred years. And school can’t afford to have them around. Their stay is as short as can be arranged; their severance is inevitable – and conducted as brutally and cleanly as an execution. And then the gap is closed over again immediately, with barely a ripple of displacement where their warm, alive presence has been.

 

 

 

Education · Teaching

All this stuff that I try to do, and fail to do, and try to do.

Dimario and Nio tell me today; they really think this time Alexander won’t come back.

“You see, Miss,” Dimario explains, “Miss Kirk doesn’t want him back – and he just doesn’t care anymore.”

“Yeah,” Nio says sorrowfully. “He’s doing his own thing now,” and they lower their heads in contemplation of Alexander’s fate.

And all of a sudden, I think of Argos. School could care less that Argos was ever there – it’s as if he’s never been there. They forget; I remember. And now I feel the whole thing just ratchet up a level… I want the stakes to be raised. I’ve been too lenient, I’ve felt almost a softening of my heart towards school in the last few weeks, but I realize I can’t trust that feeling. It’s just doubling, far as I’m concerned.

At the staff meeting after school, I feel my heart actually do something like bump in my chest, as if it goes out of rhythm for a second or two. I’m not alarmed, just aware of it. All this stuff that I try to do, and fail to do, and try to do.

 

Tau, all day: tired, hot, distracted. He eats some chocolate which I have in my drawer, but he’s still hungry and thirsty, and then in Social he grizzles and complains that everything’s too hard, and there’s too much writing. But when I have to talk to some kids outside, he comes out with my keys, protectively circling towards me.

Sometimes I feel as if I can’t be that person – the one who knows what to do, the one who controls something. I wish I knew what to do when the stakes are raised, before I’m quite ready to raise them.

And maybe soon I’ll find out whether my limited attributes are enough – because honestly, I don’t know. There’s an ‘eventually’ coming, but which way will the shakedown fall?

 

The power’s disconnected this afternoon, after a car hits a power pole outside. And this makes for a frolicsome time – the kids quickly realizing that the network is down, and that no-one can really keep tabs on them.

The usual suspects take the afternoon off. Tau and Leroi spend a lot of time on the loose, squirting each other (and anyone else who they see) with bottles of water. They roam past me frequently, asking with each pass, “What are you doing?”, “Where are you going?” They grow hot and tired, and need to sit down and be quiet. “Can we go to the library?” they ask. “With you?”

And I can’t help laughing at them. I say, “Oh, for God’s sake – what am I going to do with you when I get moved out of the block for the exams?”

“What?” Tau instantly sits up and goes on the alert. “Why – what’s happening?”

“Well, I’ll be out of my room – I’ll have to use other teachers’ rooms for three weeks.”

“Why?” he repeats, horrified at this prospect.

“Because this whole block is being used for exams.”

They look at me with alarm. Tau says, “But… but,” and then, with an edge of panic, “You’ll still be here – won’t you Miss?”

“Yes – I just won’t be in the block. I don’t know where I’ll be yet. But don’t worry, we’ll sort it out,” I tell him.

And he relaxes at once.

I can see it on his face: each time he finds me reliable, it’s a relief to him. And I vow at that moment to find a room of requirement – I don’t care where it is or if it changes from day to day. I’m not going to leave him without a place to go.

 

Every morning I say something like a prayer – to whatever protection might be out there: Please don’t forget about us, please get us to the right place at the right time. Because sometimes trying to rein Tau in is like trying to control the sea. My classes are the only ones he’s been to in two days, apart from that he’s roaming with Leroi, water bottles in hand, wetting anyone who chances by.

After lunch I spot them upstairs in the block. I go sit with them for a few minutes before class, but that wild and free look is in their eye.

“Even if you confiscate our bottles,” they tell me, “there are lots more downstairs in the rubbish.”

I accept that this is true.

“It’s alright, Miss,” they say. “We’re just wagging and having fun.”

“I’m gonna wag tomorrow too,” Tau says. “Except Social,” he adds.

Right then, I feel that Tau is barely containable. He’s spent fifteen years this way; he isn’t about to give up his autonomy, and I can’t help but wonder what his future will be. He’s hardly curtailed at school as it is, and out of school, pretty much not at all. And for what it’s worth, I don’t want to make him into someone different – but then I have to accept that if he stays on this track, one day it might cause me pain.

When I look at Tau, I wonder who on earth I am, that this kid strikes such an intense chord in my heart – not just for who he could be, but for who he is already, right now. I’m scared for Tau, and I’m scared because of the way I don’t have that feeling of intervention. But it’s true – I’ve just got to learn to live with it.

 

Tau starts the day off water fighting, roaming into my room every now and then – though I can see his potential for diversion is not high.

At interval he and Leroi are still out there with the bottles, squirting people. But after a while they sit out on the stairs by my room, exhausted.

“It’s hot in your room – couldn’t I just stay out here today?” asks Tau.

It’s nice and cool in the block, but I know they won’t be able to restrain themselves from running off again. So, “No, you have to come in,” I say.

“Then can Leroi come in too?”

“Yes, it’s alright,” I tell them, and in they come.

But Tau is already whining, “It’s too hot, I’m tired… it’s too hot to do work.”

The class are behaving themselves, so I make a quick decision about where to direct my energy: “Come on Tau, I’ll help you – we’ll put the fan on, and you can do your diagram in your book.”

He bumps down with only a minor protest. Leroi watches with interest as I show Tau how to do the diagram that’s on the board.

He tries for a while, then pushes his book away crossly, telling me, “This is hard – there’s too much to write, I’m hot.”

“Keep going Tau, you’re thinking really well – I’m proud of you,” I say, patting his weary shoulder.

He finishes everything, and stares amazed at his page, saying, “Can I have a break? This is the most work I’ve done in ages!”

I look at his face, which is very open and trusting, and say, “Yes, you deserve one. You can go outside, but you have to promise to come back, ok?”

“I will,” he tells me, truthfully.

“Ten minutes – you and Leroi.”

“Ok Miss,” and off they speed.

I know they’ll be filling up their water bottles, and so I keep half an eye out. I see them outside, not really doing much or going far… but then Marjorie comes past, so I bring them back in, telling them time’s up. They come without protesting, and I take the bottles and place them on my desk. But I’m still surprised when Tau rejoins his friends at their corner, picks up his pen and starts writing again with hardly a complaint.

I notice that the other kids approve of this; they go quiet and look  tenderly at him. Because Tau doesn’t really ‘do work’ at school (as he’s so keen to point out), and so this is a new and unexpected development. Riley keeps giving me and Tau these kind of goofy, soft and sweet looks, as if to say: ‘Tau! Doing work! Shhh…. don’t wake the baby!’ And every time Tau grumbles a little, Riley’s eyes meet mine, and her indulgent expression makes me smile.

I see Leroi look at Tau with wonder. Simeon notices this too, and “Our class is cool, aye,” he says.

 

All the same, I think I’d better escort Tau to his next class.

“Miss – I’m going to wag,” he implores.

“No, Tau, I’ll take you to PE – I don’t want you to get in trouble.”

“Oh, Miss,” he sorrows, still walking along beside me in good faith.

However, ten minutes later I look up and see him making his way straight back to my room.

“Tau, I told you to stay there!”

“I know, Miss, and I’ll go back, I promise – but I’m hot, and Riley gave me two dollars so I can buy a drink.”

“So why on earth did you come to me – when you knew I’d be cross?”

“Cos – I want you to get the drink,”

“Oh Tau, Tau…” I say, with love and bafflement and understanding all mixed up together.

He holds out his hand and places a handful of coins into mine, and we walk over to the cafe. “It’s alright, Tau,” I say. “But once we get the drink, we’re going back to PE.”

“I know, Miss,” he says, content.

 

[Excerpt from draft: Five Years]
Education · Teaching

Every time

Every time school goes back, this happens.

Every time, I tell myself it’s going to be different.

Every time, I tell myself I can do it. That I can put aside everything that matters, and walk into a school again, and function as a simulacrum there again – just the way I did last term, and the term before that, and the term before that.

I tell myself I’m an adult and I have to behave like one. I tell  myself I need the money. I tell myself people go through much worse. And all that’s true – or in a way it’s true. People do go through worse. I need to make rent and bills. And I’m a grown woman.

So I steel myself to go back for just one day. I tell myself it’s just one day – then a reprieve. Which is evening. And if I can keep doing that every day; just keep sucking in my breath until I feel dizzy,  then I’ll make it all the way to that secret air supply. That magical day – the one where there’s always a 24 hour buffer between me and school. Which is Saturday.

And if I can complete that entire circuit just ten or eleven times… then I’ll make it to the end of this term too, just the way I did last term, and the term before that, and the term before that.

But my heart cries and cries, to have to stumble and punish myself this way. No trapped and tethered animal could be more hounded. I need to stop.

And I remember how Slade and Zion used to come at breaks to paint; the way we prised the lid off those twenty minutes and set time free to burst forth all around, until the air was alive with sparks. Oh, and I know it’s not the same time and place. But it’s still a time and a place, and I have to find a way to be in it properly, so that time comes alive once more.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Education · Teaching

Targeted

Kepaoa tells me he’s thinking of coming back to school next year – though previously he had intended to leave as soon as his parents would allow it. I’m curious about this apparent change of heart, saying carefully, “I’m just wondering if you might have… moved on from school by then.”

He shrugs. “Maybe. But I want to get Level 3.”

“For sure – but there are other places to get it,” I say.

“Mmm… but school’s ok,” he tells me.

“It’s up to you,” I reply. “Just think about it for a while first.”

He raises his eyebrows at me.

Sia, sitting next to him says, curiously, “Miss, are you saying you don’t want Kepaoa to come back?”

“No,” I reply. “I’m just saying he should be careful.” I look at him directly, saying, “So don’t you go starting up a business or anything.”

This makes her giggle, but Kepaoa just gives me the merest of nods, indicating that he’s registered the nuance.

“That’s a joke, aye Miss?” Sia pursues.

“Well, it’s a targeted joke,” I tell her, and Kepaoa looks at me again, his eyes shrewd,  We’ve never discussed it specifically, even that time he told me about the Deputy Principals searching him. But maybe he is dealing – though I’m not one hundred percent sure.

Signs are everywhere; all around – for those who care to read them. Who am I to go bringing things to light though? When school’s intervention is at best, pointless; at worst, likely to cause harm.  And so, I have my own ethics.

 

Levi and I have a conversation which in terms of its candour hearkens back to days of old. He tells me Kepaoa isn’t dealing – well, only in cigarettes. Levi’s the one who’s selling, and he tells me this too, matter of factly and without hesitation. He says, “I’d know for sure if Kepaoa was dealing, Miss. I know everyone who sells here. But I’m the only one who’s really doing it these days… oh, and little Michael, you know the one I mean?” and I nod. Because, well – there’s no point in cautioning Levi. He knows exactly what he’s doing, and he knows exactly what the risks are.

The thing that kind of interests me is that even though Levi and I aren’t tight, he knows he can trust me.

 

Morris, at the house pastoral meeting, is adamant that Kepaoa is a drug dealer. True, they didn’t find anything when they searched him. But Morris has seen (from his office window) money changing hands – or so he thinks. Not only that, but he’s noticing Kepaoa out of class more. And apparently his name has been ‘mentioned’ by someone who was stood down for possession.

I say I’m convinced Kepaoa is no dealer – I have it on good authority (this is indeed true). But I can see that the other teachers are ambivalent at best, and I can hardly mention who it is that’s told me, or Levi’s role in all this, or the trade in cigarettes.

Well, it seems a good idea, after that, to approach Kepaoa more directly about these matters. When he arrives to class, I say quietly, “Hey Kepaoa, I need to talk to you later.”

“Ok, Miss,” says Kepaoa, and then with good cheer, “What’s it about – is it about my brother?”

‘No, it’s about you,” I reply, thinking there’s no point in beating around the bush.

Kepaoa looks uncharacteristically taken aback, then ten minutes later, he asks me as I go by, “Miss – when do you want to talk to me?”

“Oh, now’s good, then,” I tell him.

“Outside?” says he, getting to his feet.

“Yup, outside,” I say.

At that, the boys at his table begin to whoop and whistle with glee, but Kepaoa just comes along with me, his expression giving nothing away.

 

We go out to one of the benches in the block and sit down. “Kepaoa -” I begin. “One of the Deputy Principals mentioned your name at a meeting.”

Kepaoa responds by looking instantly alert, but waits to hear what I have to say. So I go on: “He told the teachers to look out for you – he said he’s certain you’re dealing drugs.”

He nods, still cautiously weighing up what he’s hearing, and I continue, “But I’m sure you’re not dealing, Kepaoa – well, not drugs, anyway.”

His eyebrows shoot up.

I say, “I’ve checked with… people, and I know you’re not selling weed. But you’re selling cigarettes, right?”

Kepaoa nods, putting his cards on the table. “I am, Miss,” he says, and we regard one another steadily. He continues, “I know I’m not supposed to, and actually, I never started out to – it just happened. One day I had two cigarettes on me, and someone wanted to give me two dollars for them… and then I just saw I could make some money, and that’s how it began.”

“I get it,” I say. “But you’re right – you’re not supposed to. And they think you’re selling drugs, so my advice is: be careful.”

“Do you think I should stop selling smokes, Miss?” asks Kepaoa. It’s a serious question, posed with some dignity.

“Yes,” I reply. “I think that would be a good idea, at least at school.”

 

Some calm and considered discussion follows.

“I know the DPs don’t like me – I’m not sure why,” Kepaoa reflects. “They think I’m dealing, yeah  – but the reason they think I’m dealing, is because they don’t like me. Miss Tunbridge told me I was bringing a gang influence into school…” He continues, almost sorrowfully, “Miss, but gang culture’s been in this school long before I arrived, aye.”

“Yes, it has,” I reply.

“It isn’t fair,” he says, but in a resigned way.

“No it isn’t,” I agree. “But now – you just have to be smart. There’s no point in antagonizing them.”

“I think you’re right,” says Kepaoa. “At the moment, I just look at them like they’re little bitches… because they are.” He curls his lip, and I can’t help laughing. I can just imagine Kepaoa down at the DP’s offices, displaying way too much composure for their liking, and showing no fear.

 

Right then, who should stroll into the block but Morris, with Marjorie. You couldn’t have scripted it better. Kepaoa and I are deep in conversation, quite obviously of a frank and friendly kind – I’m sure alarm bells ring, in light of my prior track record with the monitoring of disciplinary process. The two DPs say not a word to us, but continue on their rounds ‘casually’. Kepaoa keeps his eyes deliberately averted from them, but then shoots me a look, as if to say: see what I mean?

I feel a certain camaraderie with him, at that point. “Hey,” I say. “Ok, Kepaoa, I’ll tell you who it was that mentioned you at the meeting – it’s better if you know who to look out for – it was Mr Roberts, the one who just came past with Miss Tunbridge. He said you and your friends stand outside his window a lot – and he’s seen money change hands – and he said he sees you out of class, too.”

“Man!” exclaims Kepaoa, in disbelief. “I hardly ever leave class.”

“Well, maybe he sees you because he wants to see you… I mean he notices it when you do,” I tell him. “So my advice is to stay in class; just keep under the radar a bit – get a note if you need to go out, even if you’re just going to the bathroom.”

“K, ok then – and thanks Miss. For telling me, and all that.”

“That’s ok,” I say. “I just don’t like seeing people get set up.”

 

As we walk back into class, I say, “And Kepaoa?”

“Yeah?”

“No-one snitched – it wasn’t like that. I asked questions, and that’s the only reason I found out about the smokes.”

“That’s ok,” says Kepaoa, thinking about it. “I’m alright with that, Miss.”

I like Kepaoa Alesi. And I can see why the school management don’t. He’s got way too much dignity for someone they’d rather see as just a thug. It irks them that he’s got some self-respect, and some ethics of his own.

 

Later there’s a funny addition to the story. I find Kepaoa and another boy reclining halfway up the stairs in the block, last period. Very relaxed they look, too. It’s late in the day, but: “Hey – go back to class,” I tell Kepaoa. “Remember what I said?”

“Yes, Miss – we’re on our way to the Learning Centre,” is the reply. “We got called out of class, honest – we got passes (they proffer them). And we’re going back upstairs now, but we just wanted to sit for a minute out here –”

“Because it’s so boring up there.”

“Yes, well too bad – so go back up now,” I say, but with a grin at the pair, who are weary rather than evasive, at the end of a long day at school. I add to Kepaoa, “Geez man, and remember what we talked about this morning – unless you’re after a scrap with the SLT.”

At that, Kepaoa snaps to attention, sitting bolt upright and saying in a hyper-vigilant tone, “Aye? SLT – who are they?”

It takes me a second to process his reaction, and then I get it. “No, no,” I say. “Calm down, the SLT’s just the DPs and that… it stands for Senior Leadership Team.”

Kepaoa is highly amused by this. “Ohh, I haven’t heard that one before – the SLT. Had me worried for a minute then, Miss. I thought you were trying to tell me that someone wanted to rumble with me.” He shakes his head, laughs. “SLT – I’m going to remember that!” he pronounces, and then they get to their feet and softly spring up the stairs.

[Excerpt from draft: Five Years]
Education · Teaching

Limbo

First night in the new place, I can’t sleep. I’m hot, my nose is running, there’s a mosquito in the room. I get up three or four times to drink water; trip over things in the dark. The light switches are all at a different height from what I’m used to: habitus.

I wake up tired all over, and search for clothes to wear to work. I haven’t even unpacked the boxes, except for what I need right now. The last thing I feel like doing is to try and make everything just the same as before. Because it wouldn’t be.

It’s not that it’s different yet, either. It’s like limbo.

 

At morning staff briefing, Karys mentions that Aperamo has been up before the Board; he was excluded yesterday. Apparently he came back on some kind of contract, and he breached it already. I feel sick. Another person who school didn’t even try to retain. And I remember all the little things: do they matter?

La-Verne and I talk about Aperamo a bit, afterwards. She somehow understands what I can’t say to most people. How yes, sometimes he let me down, but he was a shrewd, kind, young boy and I cared about him. How I’ll miss him, at school. And the way my heart just squeezes and hurts all the time, because things don’t comfort me. They don’t comfort me at all.

 

The most enthusiastic person in 12 History – no lies – is Noa. The other kids work without protest, partly because they register the fact of the complete goodwill of this tough boy. He even chivvies them along: “Fuck – get back to work, cunts.”

“Speak nicely to the class,” I admonish him, which makes everyone laugh, and Noa grins at me.

At lunch I show him an email I’ve just received. His Math teacher wants support – apparently Noa is disrupting others and being a general pain. The Head of Faculty has passed the email on to me, to see if I could have a word with the general pain.

“Am I a general pain?” asks Noa, in an impressed way.

“Well, obviously you are,” I tell him, unable not to laugh at his expression of grandeur. “What are you doing in Math?”

“Well, Riley’s more of a pain than I am…” begins Noa.

“No – you’re the one who goes in and out all the time,” retorts Riley.

“Yes, but you talk more than I do,” Noa insists.

“Well, I don’t know, maybe she’s going to email me about Riley as well – but right now we’re talking about you, Noa. And she says you’re being a general pain.” I sigh, adding, “So, are you going in and out, and out and in – and causing chaos?”

“We-ell, I get hot in there – and uncomfortable,” Noa admits.

“So take a drink in with you.”

Noa mutters something about his Math teacher, and Riley nods in agreement.

“Give her a chance,” I tell them. Because unless you stop being a nuisance Noa, you’ll have to change out of Math.”

“But Math is alright, I like Math – well, kind of,” protests Noa.

“Then start being good – alright?” I look at his reproachful face, and start laughing. “Be a good boy.”

After the Math situation has been strategised,  Noa has some more general timetable woes; we examine all the possible combinations of subjects that might fit the spaces where 12 Tourism and 12 Geography currently annoy his sense of decorum. He eventually settles on 12 Early Childhood Education (highly relevant now, given the circumstances) and 12 Automotive, and I dispatch the course change forms to Marjorie.

 

I get home and sort out some boxes, and then things look a bit better. But there are still plenty more stacked up in the hallway. Again, I wonder what on earth I’ve done. It seems to me that I’ve given away any last little piece of comfort I had – for what? And if I had foreseen it, then what? Would I have stayed where I was, so as not to feel this lonely?

Well, no, I decide. It’s my own doing, and I don’t regret it. Though, in a way, I would have liked more time to pretend, to say – oh, one day, one day. Well one day is here now, and it’s a reality check. I feel, for a moment, cowed by the thought of how few real friends I have, and how little I can expect of anyone. Yet here I am anyway.  And I still have that same feeling of being in limbo. Something got me here, I think – and something’s going to happen. I have to trust that whole idea, and at least wait and see.

I think about it some more, sitting cross legged in the hallway, folding towels out of another box. And when I scratch the surface of my thoughts, this is what I uncover. A reason to be here; and it’s locked right into my cells. I don’t know what’s going to happen now – but I don’t believe I came here for no reason, or to be alone.

It’s a hot summer night. All the doors are open, and the air’s blowing through. And I wait for the cards to fall.

[Excerpt from draft: Five Years]
Education · Teaching

Flight

It’s my non-contact, and I’m about to head for Fitzroy, to help make sense of a new and mystifying fees invoice that Tau has recently received from his Trades course. But on my way over to sign out at admin, I see La-Verne remonstrating with Libya in the block. As soon as she spots me she calls, “And Zion’s running around outside – can I leave him to you, while I deal with this one?”

“Well, you could… but I have to go somewhere,” I begin, catching sight of Zion’s hovering face through the big windows for an instant, before he retreats to his concealed position.

“There he is!” cries La-Verne, and I hear running, then someone yelling: “Hey, you! – stop!”, as Zion evades a passing teacher. “Couldn’t you just deal with him before you go?” she adds, hopefully.

“Well, I will… if I can get him,” I say, taking a few steps towards the automatic doors, Libya accompanying my every move. I shoo him away: “No, go with Miss Poirier, come on – go to class,” and turn back to La-Verne, saying, “Ok, you take Libya – and I’ll try to get Zion.”

Then I sigh, because of all the time this is taking, and go outside – where I scan the horizon. A small figure emerges from some corner, and I hear a cross voice: “You, no – come back! Where are you meant to be?” as Zion dashes across open ground again.

I call out, “Zion!” and he looks back – trapped in flight – halfway up the stairs to the bridge.

“Zion!”

His steps slow, then stop.

“Come down here – hurry up.”

And wisely, he comes down, his default blank expression wiping other emotions from his face. He looks empty and captured, and my heart goes out to him.

“Come on Zion, I’m busy – I’ve got somewhere to be. Why are you running around the school like this?”

“Cos I’ve got that class I don’t like…” he replies, his eyes looking past me and flickering to one side as he speaks.

“Yes I know, Zion, but you’ve only just come back from your stand down. If you keep this up, you’ll get another stand down – the DPs are just in the mood for it too – and then you won’t be able to come to school at all, even for project. Do you want that to happen?

“No-oo,” he says unhappily.

“Well then!” I say, exasperated.

We’re heading back towards the block. By now I think he’s realized that I’m his best bet, and so at least he’s walking beside me, not trying to run away anymore. Again, I just sigh inwardly. But I can’t leave Zion to be captured (and this is undoubtedly what would happen, once I’m no longer offering a certain amount of diplomatic immunity).

Inside, we sit on one of the benches, still visible through the big glass doors. Marjorie comes past; she casts a look in our direction, but is obviously preoccupied enough to let me deal with the Zion situation.

I say, more gently, “And, Zion, I really need you in project. You’re my best person there now; my main person.”

He smiles, though it kind of breaks my heart to see it: a half-relieved, tremulous, half-worried smile. I continue, “And if Miss Tunbridge sees you running around all afternoon, you’ll be sent home.”

Zion just nods, accepting that this is certainly the case.

“Well then… what are we going to do with you?” I ask, but rhetorically. I check the time on my phone: “Zion, I really do need to go somewhere – I’m supposed to be there already. But I’m not happy to leave you like this. Do you think you could go to your class – just for today?”

Zion breathes in and out, and, “Miss… it’s shaming to go to that class,” he whispers, not even looking at me. “I… can’t.”

My brain is all the while trying to think of a solution; one that will steer us safely between the twin perils of Zion being apprehended and me harbouring a fugitive. The best I can come up with seems to be to let Zion stay in my room with a note, but Marjorie’s too close for comfort – and she’s previously made it clear I’m not to ‘accommodate’ him. Just for the moment, though, I say, “Come on, we’ll go to my classroom and talk there.”

“Yes,” says Zion at once, and gratefully.

“Right,” I tell him, as we close the door, and I see Zion start to relax in the comparative safety of my room. “I’m meant to be at Tau’s now. He’s waiting for me to help him with his course stuff – and instead I’m having to run around after you…” I bring out my phone, adding, “I’d better text him and let him know I’m still coming.”

I show Zion the text: Won’t be long. I found Quest wagging, just sorting things out here first – and finally he grins at me.

Tau texts back: Lerois nt wif him i hope.

I show Zion this text too. He actually starts to laugh, now.

“Zion,” I say. “I’d be happy to leave you here with a note, and some work to do. But I can’t risk it. If someone comes in, you’ll be in trouble, and I’ll be in trouble too…”

I break off, because something suddenly clicks in my brain – it’s the only possible route out of this impasse. I say, “Are you shy to go round to Tau’s with me?”

“No,” says Zion.

“Alright then, you’re going to have to come with me. I can’t leave you here, and this is the best option I can think of. Ok?”

“Yes,” he says again, with surprising alacrity.

“Then come on – let’s go.”

As we leave the block, “Just walk with me,” I tell Zion. “Act like nothing’s happening.” But then nobody’s even out there – we get all the way to the carpark and hop in the car.

“Right, I’m not signing out,” I say (decisively flouting yet another of school’s’systems and procedures’). “I’m not risking it – I don’t think anyone’s seen us, so we’d better just stay undercover.” This makes us both snort with laughter. I say, “Geez man… look, you’re turning me into a criminal; I feel like a criminal!” and we crack up.

We get to Tau’s and, “Come on then,” I say.

Zion undoes his seat belt and then does it up again: “Can I stay in the car? I’m too shy…”

“I thought you said you weren’t shy of coming to Tau’s with me.”

“I’m not shy of Tau… I’m shy of his parents.”

“Ok,” I say. “Just stay here then – are you alright with that?”

“Yup,” he says, easily. He actually does look very comfortable at the prospect of sitting in the car, in the sun. He brings forth his phone, and settles back to send some texts – to Leroi, no doubt.

 

[Excerpt from draft: Five Years]