July. A grey blanket of fog shrouded the suburbs of Melbourne. It hung over the hearts and minds of its inhabitants, infiltrating them with discontent and the urge to hibernate and yet, this is the city on the move—the general attitude of mid-winter was: lift your game, or move out.
I dragged my weary legs to my desk in the common staffroom, and heaved my load of English assignments onto a clear space. Then I sighed. Someone had been fooling with my Barbie and Ken doll. I had been using them for Japanese conversation, but someone had other ideas. I picked Ken off Barbie and then shoved the dolls in my basket.
The Year 8 manager strode up to my desk and dumped an “extra” sheet on the space left by the recently vacated dolls.
‘But I only have one free lesson for lesson preparation,’ I protested.
‘Toughen up Mrs. K,’ the manager snapped. ‘Miss H is away at a conference, you will take her Religion class.’
I sighed. I remembered the last time I’d taken a Religion class. Two boys had come to fisty-cuffs and I’d reprimanded them. I told one, ‘That’s not a very Christian thing to do.’
‘I’m not Christian,’ he replied.
The siren screamed a drunk off-key note that set my teeth on edge.
I gathered up the Year 7 Japanese worksheets ready to take to class.
From the door leading to the Principal’s office, Miss. N, the head English teacher and my mentor, called, ‘Mr. A would like to see you now.’
‘That’s taken care of, you’re to see Mr. A, now.’
I gulped. Must be serious if I’m called to the Principal’s office over taking my class. Was it the boy who almost peed on the classroom floor when I refused to allow him yet, again to wander off to the toilet during class? Or the lad who stripped in “time-out”? Those incidents were a few weeks ago. And that troublesome Year 8 English class had settled down. And the Miss who’d been disruptive in my Year 9 Japanese class had been missing the past week, presumed sick with the flu.
I bit my pinkie nail and followed Miss. N into the Principal’s office.
Mr. A glared at me over his spectacles. ‘Sit down, Mrs. K.’
I sat on the edge of the seat opposite Mr. A, so distant at the other end of his massive desk. Miss. N perched on a chair at my side.
‘We’ve had some complaints about you, Mrs. K,’ the Principal said.
‘A couple of parents.’ Pause, then pointing his pen at me. ‘And where there’s a few concerns, there’s usually plenty more out there. We have reputation to uphold, you realise.’
‘I think you know what I’m referring to.’ Mr. A adjust his weight in his office chair. ‘So how do you think you are managing your classes? Discipline, I mean.’
‘Erm, I’m improving, I think.’
Mr. A leaned back and took a deep breath. ‘I don’t believe so. I believe you are still having difficulty controlling your classes. You’ve been here over a year now.’
‘I’m doing my—’
‘In your English class, for example, some parents are concerned that your lack of discipline has affected their children’s learning, and they’re not happy.’
I nodded, remembering those particular parents who grilled me at the Parent-Teacher interview. Not good enough for their precious “snowflake”.
‘And another issue,’ Mr. A continued, ‘there’s been a complaint from a fellow teacher that your class has become so rowdy, that their class had their test disturbed by the noise.’
Mr. A dismissed my question. ‘That’s not for you to know.’
But I knew. She’d given me an earful after her class test. Never mind that I’m teaching a language class. Are language students meant to learn to speak Japanese in silence?
‘But the—I’m a—’
Mr. A raised his voice, cutting off my reply. He stabbed that huge empty desk of his with his index finger. ‘Mrs. K, I’m putting you on notice. You need to lift your game, or you’ll be asked to resign.’
Lift my game? What’s that supposed to mean?
‘You lack the respect of the students. How can you teach effectively without respect? You’re too soft. You’ve become a scapegoat. You need to get your act together, although, I seriously doubt that you will. Once a scapegoat, always a scapegoat.’ Mr. A waved. ‘Now off to your class.’
My eyes burned as I shuffled out of the Principal’s office. Miss. N put her arm around me. ‘I’m so sorry about that. Just to let you know, you’re not the only one. He’s been speaking to a number of the younger staff.’
A lump clogged my throat and I nodded.
‘Here, have this lesson off, it’s only twenty minutes to go.’ Miss. G guided me to my desk. ‘I’ll bring you a cup of tea.’
In the days that followed, I scanned the employment section of The Age newspaper, plotting my escape.
Towards the end of a roller-coaster term, I found a job as a Research Officer and announced to the rest of the staff that I planned to pursue a career in writing. I endeavoured to learn from my eighteen months of failure as a secondary school teacher, reinventing myself as no longer a “scapegoat”.
End of term assembly. August, and the sun’s rays through the glass panels of the hall warmed the blazers of the five-hundred students sitting in rows waiting for their afternoon of “entertainment” with the Principal. A soft buzz of chatter filtered through the air. Class teachers narrowed their eyes and snapped at errant talkers and fidgety students. The offenders would stop for a moment and then when the teacher wasn’t looking, continue their conversation or squirming around.
The Principal strode to the portable podium. Now, when the Principal takes the stand, out of respect (remember that word “respect”), the students must rise. They didn’t.
Mr. A gripped the sides of the podium. ‘Good afternoon, everyone.’
The end third of the assembly stood up and chorused, ‘Good afternoon Mr. A.’ Then they sat down.
The next third rose and in a sing-song voice, said, ‘Good afternoon, Mr. A,’ then sat down.
The final third stood up and said, ‘Good afternoon, Mr. A.’ They sat down and the whole school erupted in laughter.
Red-faced and with beads of sweat glistening on his forehead and cheeks, Mr. A hammered his fist in the air and barked, ‘Silence! That’s enough!’
As the masses persisted in resisting the Principal’s control, I asked my neighbouring colleague, ‘What just happened?’
They sniggered, ‘It’s a Mexican Wave.’
I laughed. Who’s the scapegoat now? I thought.
I reflect on this situation and others since when I am labelled. I remember whose I am and Jesus’ words:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
© Lee-Anne Marie Kling 2017
Photo: School House Port Fairy, Victoria © L.M. Kling (nee Trudinger) 1986