“Oh Ed, you are a treasure” says Miss Turncastle with a smile and a flick of her hair. Miss Turncastle is the head of English and Drama at the school and frankly, gents, I would agree to pretty much whatever she asked me to do. Flicking the hair is a sign of attraction, isn’t it?
I am a treasure because I have just agreed to cover Dinah’s drama class for the rest of the term. Apparently Dinah’s husband reversed his car over Dinah’s feet this morning and she two broken feet and can’t walk.
I know nothing about drama, but on Thursdays mornings between 1100 and 1230 I have something called ‘downtime’. Time where teachers can lesson plan, mark essays, read the paper etc, time which I tend to surf the internet and listen to music. Now I will be teaching a bunch of year eights how to act like trees blowing in the wind.
Carolina Drama (Acoustic) – The Raconteurs
I tell Miss Turncastle that I may not be that good at teaching children at things like pretending to be trees and she laughs, (laughing at my jokes, that’s another sign, right?) and tells me that there will be none of that. The Year Eight group are all currently competing individually for the Public Speaking Trophy.
Basically each of the Year Eights have to prepare a talk that lasts no more than 8 minutes on any subject that they like. The rest of the class are given a marking sheet which they grade their classmates accordingly – however the teachers marks over ride all of them, to stop rubbish talks by popular kids winning. Makes sense, If I’m going to pretend to be Simon Cowell for a term then I need to be front and centre. Oh, they can bring props to help them with them their talk, as long as they can fit them on a table. The Top five from each class group (so twenty five children) will then go through to the final, (where they must talk about a new topic). The final is held in the big hall with microphones, parents and the whole year group, afternoon classes are cancelled to accommodate it. It’s a big thing apparently.
Little Talks – Of Monster and Men
1100am arrives and I amble into the drama room a few minutes before the class starts. The class troop in and settle down and I introduce myself, I tell them what has happened to Dinah (or Mrs Stubbs as they know her as) and that I would be taking this class until Easter, there is some laughter. They seem a nice bunch, I ask who is due to speak first today and a small hand is raised. It is a girl called Zoe.
She does a talk on snow about how it brings communities together and makes things look pretty. It is a good talk, relatively entertaining. She wears gloves and a hat when she does the talk and has a snowman that lights up. People generally think it quite good. She gets quite high marks.
Enter Milo. Milo thinks he is cool. His talk is on magic. He thinks he is Paul Daniels, although admittedly his jokes are better. He does tricks and at the end he literally makes some fluffy rabbit sponges disappear in front of people’s eyes, children clap wildly at the end. The magic is good, but the talk is dull and halfway through I remind myself that I am out of teabags.
God Show Me Magic – Super Furry Animals
But if Milo was bad, pity poor Fleur. Fleur looks likes one Milo’s fluffy rabbits that has been caught in the headlights of a passing bus. I can barely hear her talk on, wait for it,
She has wrapped an Olly Murs scarf around her and spends the whole time holding one of his CDs (A CD in this day and age!) like her life depends on it. There is a ripple of applause when she finishes. It feels like she has been talking for ever.
Next up is Victoria and she spends ages setting up – there are pictures and rosettes and a load of horsey stuff. She is obviously talking about her pet pony ‘Snowdrop’. She’s had him since she was five, she jumps at gymkhanas, Snowdrop attacked the postman one day blah blah blah. It’s a good talk, it’s boring but good, rather like watching Switzerland play football or listening to Genesis before Collins took over on vocals. I sigh, probably too loudly, I fear for Victoria, she will a member of the Tory Party within five years, guaranteed. I mark her down, knowing I’ll be right.
Leisure Pony – Pond
Last up is Jamal. I hadn’t noticed Jamal at all. He shuffles up to the front. He has one prop. It is a photo of a man leaning against what looks like a phone box smoking a cigarette. Jamal coughs before he starts and his voice croaks. It doesn’t look good for Jamal.
“This is a picture of my uncle Khawija standing on the street outside his carpet factory. Half an hour after this picture was taken he was killed by Islamic fundamentalists. They shot him dead as he walked to his church to pray. He is the reason that my family and I fled Somalia and now live here in England”.
Woah, beat that Milo and Victoria, with your silly tricks and your pony. There is a hush in the room as Jamal continues, talking brilliantly, passionately, poignantly about the struggles of his family. He tells us that his aunty is still in a detention centre somewhere and that nine members of his family have been murdered in the last ten years. He tells us about all the beautiful things that he misses about his home town, things and people that he will never see again. He talks about people’s attitude and their tolerance. His time flies by and when he finishes, he says just these words.
“Thank You, my friends, for your tolerance and support.”
People are in tears, I’m pretty close to be honest. Miss Turncastle appears from somewhere behind me and hugs him (how long had she been there?) Jamal gets envious looks from just about every male in the room.
I sit there gobstruck. Here is a boy that has been in the UK for four years, got himself to grammar school when English is his second language, and he has just spoken more eloquently, more reasonably about immigration and asylum than literally anyone else that I have ever heard speak on the subject. Children are amazing sometimes.
I write the following words on his marking sheet.
“Flawless. Give the boy the cup.”