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Sunday, 16 September 2012

First Time in an Inner City School

I'm halfway up the staircase, paused
on the half landing, looking down
on to the playground - the very one
I just walked through. So peaceful then,
a total mayhem now. 
Thirty or forty boys, have formed a ring,
inside which another ten or twelve
do battle, no holds barred.
Already some are showing blood.

I hammer on the window glass - to
no effect. The window's locked.
I hare back down the stairs the way I came
and out through the main door.
I'm standing now atop a flight of brick 
steps, wide and curved, high above the melee.
I stay put. Survey the scene.  They
do not know me, nor I them. There
seem to be no staff around.

I'm rummaging inside my throat
to find my loudest voice.
SILENCE! I call. STAY WHERE YOU ARE!
It works. The maestrom calms.
Muddied boys rise slowly from the heap.
A hundred faces (probably) look up,
peer through the eerie silence - and see me!

Now I descend, but as I do,
a voice from somewhere, thin
but carrying, calls out:
I CAN'T HELP WONDERING...
IS HE THE RIGHT MAN FOR THE JOB?
The rest is instinct. All this time,
I've been considering 
who are the major culprits here.

Time for action now: YOU,
YOU, YOU, YOU, YOU and YOU:
INSIDE! LINE UP IN THE TOP HALL!
I sort out the injured, best I can,
then follow my chosen six upstairs.
They've done exactly what I would have wished.
They have spread out in one long line
the full length of the hall. Some Brownie points
for that! But not all good; the nearest boy
looks wild: You've only picked on us
because we're black! he says.

I truly hadn't noticed until now.
I look along the line: black, black, black, black,
black... wait: the last boy's white. As white as me.
And what of him? I ask. Why do you think
I picked on him? BECAUSE HE'S IRISH, HIM!

The cavalry at last. The deputy.
I brief him first, then leave.
The staff room and a coffee call.
................................................
Written to Hobgoblin's (Fred Rutherford's) prompt First Times at dVerse Poets ~ Poetics

21 comments:

Claudia said...

wow..being a teacher is not an easy job at all..my daughter is studying to become one and she already collected some experiences in a big school in bolivia with kids from a difficult background as well...i have high respect for teachers that do their job in a good and skilled and wise way

Brian Miller said...

wow def not easy man...and in the moment it is hard to determine who is at fault...interesting the feeling you get that perhaps your prejudice has come into play...probably because of the doubt niggling at your consciousness...nice write man...

A Cuban In London said...

The power of your narrative echoes the brakes you had to, probably, slam down on in the actual situation. I was rushing along with you, "haring down" those stairs. And then, you stopped. And so did I.

This is one of those pieces that invites feeling, not judgement. Thank you very much for this morsel of your previous teaching life.

Many thanks.

Greetings from London.

PS: By the way, I've read it twice more whilst commenting. It's great the pop up window for feedback. A very raw poem. Brownie points to the author, too.

manicddaily said...

Wonderful vivid poem - so many layers of complexity -
the personal, the political, the social - and simply the story. Very well done. k.

Daydreamertoo said...

Peeeew!
Not easy to get in amongst a mob... however old..and try to bring order back from chaos. I'm amazed race came into play but then, thinking about it, not really. it must have needed nerves of steel to have dashed in and tried to stop the fighting Dave. I bet you needed more than a coffee too. When you think about it, most of keeping any type of law and order is bluff and, courage.
Very powerful poetry Dave, had me gripped.
Well done! :)

Sabio Lantz said...

"to hare" -- chiefly British for "to run". How fun!

My first day teaching in a Chicago school was deceptively safe.

Fun poem -- did you keep teaching inner city schools?

Heaven said...

Nicely spun Dave ~ I was with you haring and shouting along, then pausing to see the color of the boys ~ Tough to make a choice, but instinct comes to the fore, along with our perceptions too ~ I enjoyed this one Dave ~

Grace

Ygraine said...

Just goes to show how anything at all can be misconstrued as racially motivated!
Do you think there will EVER come a time when people will just be people?
It would certainly make the teacher's job a whole lot easier, wouldn't it? :/

Laurie Kolp said...

There
seem to be no staff around.

That seems to be the case quite often. This must've been a difficult situation! Love the ending...

Shadow said...

i can tell you that i sure am glad i am no longer in today's schooling system. you've captured it well.

jabblog said...

You've captured exactly why I could never work in a secondary school!

Fred Rutherford said...

Strong piece Dave, love your narration here, quite an excellent job reliving this scene. Must have been scary, but sounds to me as if you handled the situation remarkably well. The tidbit about the racism, well that really shows the personalities of these boys, and questions, are they simply using it as an excuse, or have they been subjected to racism their entire life they immediately suspect that is the reason? Very interesting, but most of all was your pause there, rechecking the line, surprised yourself- something utterly human about that. Really excellent piece, thanks for sharing today.

kaykuala said...

A teacher has to learn leadership, be an orator act as an army general and stay composed. Not easy but you did it Dave! Nicely!

Hank

Mary said...

Dave, you definitely 'stepped up to the plate' (American idiom you probably know) in this difficult situation and got their attention. If you hadn't, you would have had a rough year!

Linda said...

Very nicely done, Dave!

hedgewitch said...

Yes, it's a different world, as much for them(school and order and rules and whites) as for us...I think you both expressed this with a ringing clarity, and also put a little bit of light into dark corners--as Fred says above--is that an excuse, the racism(and zenophobia, I guess) or just one of the givens they've always had to live by? Excellent take on the prompt.

Anonymous said...

I have always thought it extremely unfair that teachers are expected to do lion taming jobs without weapons.

The Elephant's Child said...

Teaching is such an undervalued job these days it seems. Sad when a good (or a bad) teacher can make so much difference. This was a lovely piece - thanks Dave.

Speaking of teaching have you come across 'The Freedom Writers Diary'. Erin Gruwell struck me as the teacher I would have loved to have had.

Dave King said...

Claudia
This was my intro' to special needs schools. I survived it and stuck to that work.

Brian
At the time, I didn't think like that: just thought he was playing the colour card. Now, older and - I hope - wiser, I'm nay so sure!

A Cuban in London
Thanks for such an appreciative response. I guess I probably stopped to play for time and work out what came next!
And thanks for the tip.

manicddaily
Thank you so much for this. Really good to know that it came across like that.

Daydreamertoo
Interesting about the race: when I first joined the staff there probably 10 to 15 % of the pupils were non-white. All races played together in mixed groups at play times. By th time I left, 4 years later, it had become somthing like 30 -40% and the mixing no longer happened. There were white groups and there were coloured groups.

Sabio
To the last question: no. I did continue for a while to teach in schools of that characterm but not strictly speaking inner city.

Heaven
Yes, you're right: instinct and training usually, but in this case instinct - at that stage I'd had no training for that type of work.

Ygraine
Yes, exactly what I thought at the time - though the "he's Irish!" bit became a phrase that was bandied about quite a bit in the staff room for a time.

Laurie
That's so. There was no sign of staff. Infact the children were bussed in and wer e there too early - which obviously, the staff were not!

Shadow
Yes, very difficult these days. In many ways we had the best of it.

jabblog
I began to train for Secondary work, then discovered that I preferred the breadth of curriculum with Primary and switched. Later I worked in all-age schools - 5-16.

Fred
Many thanks for such a thorough response. I reall appreciate that. As I've said above, I really thought he was just playing the colour card. Thanks again.

Hank
Thanks Hank. Well said - in my opinion!

Mary
Thanks. I'd heard of the idiom. Does it come from base ball by any chance?

Linda
Thans so much.

hedgewitch
Many thanks for this. It's really interesting to see how others react. I thought at the time it was a knee-jerk reaction. I've questioned myself since.

Anonymous
Ha! I like that. Welcome and thanks!

The Elephant's Child
Thanks for those thoughts, with which I strongly agree.
I haven't come across the diary, no. I must try to track it down.



Sabio Lantz said...

@ Fred,
So you left the inner city. So did I.
I left it because I disliked the violence, I disliked the lack of desire to learn. And there was much more of the world to explore -- that part was hollow.

Did you leave for more noble reasons than me?

Sabio Lantz said...

Ooops, sorry, my last comment was meant to David King, not to "Fred". My bad.