I didn’t last long as a teacher, for a few reasons. Long hours, lousy work-life balance, low pay. It wasn’t doing good things for my family. That, and it often felt more like being a prison warden whose job was to crush the spirit of the inmates. That’s not me. That said, the experience of working with schoolkids did much to shape me as a writer. There’s one memory in particular that always makes me smile.
I’m on playground duty, watching to make sure the kids aren’t running on concrete or throwing the football on the roof or smooching or punching each other.
A bunch of boys are casually talking about me after class. I don’t remember their names now, so let’s call two of them Jim and Baz. They don’t know I’m in earshot.
‘That guy?’ says Jim. He’s a tall kid, gangly. Fifteen, maybe sixteen. ‘Gave me a detention for being two bloody minutes late. I hate him.’
His mate Baz pushes his long, stringy hair out of his eyes. ‘What? Mr. Barr? Nah, man. He’s cool. He’s a wizard.’
‘Hey? The fuck you on about, Baz?’
‘He’s a fucking wizard. Got the little glasses and beard and talks all posh. And he knows all kinds of shit and he’s chill. Like, I’ve seen him lose it maybe once. He’s like Dumbledore.’
One of the boys spots me and nudges Baz to shut up.
I walk on, pretending I can’t hear them. When it comes to behaviour, there are many worse things than bad language. Why get reactive? Generally, it only makes the situation worse and kills any possibility of establishing a rapport. And to be honest, I’ve worked with these kids for a while. They act tough, but there’s no real harm in them. Rough kids are generally okay. It’s the bullies I can’t stand.
As I continue on my rounds, Jim yells at my back. ‘Oi, sir! Are you a wizard?’
The other boys guffaw.
I turn, put on my most guttural voice. ‘Young knave,’ I say. ‘I answer not to a mere apprentice, for I am a Fire-Mage of the North.’ Not very good, maybe, but the best line I can conjure up on the spot.
The kids stare for a second. ‘Was that, like, a quote or something?’ says Jim.
‘Nah,’ I say. ‘Just made it up.’
‘Jesus,’ says Baz. ‘That totally sounded like you were quoting an actual thing.’
‘Why the hell you teaching, sir?’ says Jim. ‘You should be a writer or something.’
He’s right, of course.
Anyway, from that day onward, I’m ‘Mister Wizard’ with those kids. Never had a problem with them again.
Until next time,