So today turned out to be monumental day in my teaching career, in that I went all out Mary Poppins with a year 7 class I only see once every fortnight. Let me explain.
There’s a stray year 7 class I see once every two weeks on my timetable. Usually when this happens we just have a silent reading lesson, but in the past I’ve been frustrated by playing the role of glorified cover teacher. So, I decided to try something a bit different. One off poetry lessons. That should be fun.
After a chat with colleagues, we joked about creating a full-on persona called ‘The Poetry Man’, who would wear mad outfits, speak only in rhyme, wield a harmonica and other props and generally be the kind of character you only find in the pages of Roald Dahl. Well, I say ‘joked’, but after some wine, I thought, screw it, let’s go for it.
Now, the first Poetry Man lesson was supposed to be two weeks ago, but the class were on a trip, so I’ve been waiting patiently for today, for, well, two weeks. Here’s what happened:
After a colleague got the class into my room, she left and I was cued in. I burst into the room in full mac (covered in words/ poetic terms) wide-brimmed trilby, semi-automatic umbrella, harmonica and Moleskine notebook. I stand stock still and glare at these bewildered 11 year olds for a full 45 seconds, in pin-drop silence. Then I say “stand up”, and up they stand. And so it begins.
I won’t go into too much detail, but real life just isn’t like this. I got them to all respond to a line in rhyme (in order to earn the right to sit down), waved my brolly, jumped on tables, screeched on the harmonica and pranced around like mayhem. Anyway, (and here’s the main bit of this blog post, so pay attention), I eventually burst into a riddle poem for them to guess. It went like this:
WHAT AM I?
You can throw me,
Blow me full of air.
Punch me with your fist before you kick me down the stairs.
Tie a string around me and give me to happy people,
Or let me fly away towards the heavens like an eagle.
I come in different colours like a rainbow in the sun-
Adults put me in the corner, children think I’m really fun.
I like to go to parties and I stretch like bubble gum
And though I’m light enough to carry, I can lift about a tonne.
I’ll carry you across the planet, hanging from a basket.
I’ll whoosh around the room and make a noise like someone farted.
Some people twist me into crazy shapes, just like an artist
(which is actually quite annoying really-
Especially when you haven’t asked for it…)
I can be large
I can be small
I can be short
I can be tall
I can be pompous and inflated
Or understated and deflated.
I’m squishy and I’m shiny
And I fly when you untie me –
You can bob me,
You can pop me,
You can find me, you can buy me…
What am I?
They all guessed that it was a balloon (of course – keep up) and I ordered two of them to open the cupboard, out of which pours… thirty inflated balloons. I told you, two weeks I’ve been waiting for this. The two TAs in the room are completely baffled at all this by the way, especially when I ask one, at volume, blowing a harmonica: “why is this one bigger than the others?” So, each kid gets a balloon and a marker, and turns it into a face. To cut a long blog post short, the next 30 minutes is a balloon adventure. I send one tiny girl downstairs, outside and shout out of the window.
“Can you hear me, whoever you are?”
“Yes, Poetry Man!” she replies.
“Good!” I shout. “We’re sending down our balloons!”
Then I tell each kid to run up to the window, chuck their balloon out the window and run down to retrieve it. Outside, we line up and go frog-marching round the school, umbrella and harmonica in full action, chanting away some fizztabulous (shout out to Roald Dahl) song that I was making up on the spot. LOADS of classes are coming to the windows to see what’s up and some teachers start telling me off (you couldn’t make this up), but I just blow the mouth organ and dash away. We kick the balloons in the goal, give them showers in the water fountain, slap them about, et cetera, then head back to my room to immortalise the adventure in a poem.
The kids write, I prance, we have an impromptu jam session when one boy breaks out his drumsticks and then I call it all to a halt. I draw the curtains, tell them I’m turning the mood “from happy to sad” and (this has to be the best bit of the day) I hear one kid whisper nervously, “I think he’s going to kill us…”. That’s fantastic. Anyway, I tell the kids that nothing can live forever and line them up against the wall, with their balloons. Then, I produce… a pin.
Yes, that’s right. Each child is forced to come to the front and kill their balloon, after a few parting words. Sad and exciting and everything in between. With the massacre complete, they have to finish their poems with that final morbid detail, and (at the warning bell) I deliver a rhyme about shedding a tear and disappear – leaving the class in a mild state of shock. Teaching can be far more surreal than real life, and the Poetry Man is far more surreal than teaching.
So! That’s why today was ever so slightly monumental. It’ll all happen again in two weeks and I have a fairly big act to follow. Below are some of the poems produced by the class. Enjoy!