“I’m telling off you!”
Year 2, quiet reading. A single voice had piped up. Not the teacher’s. Miss couldn’t let it pass. The child’s tone, she said, was sarcastic and nasty. She didn’t want that kind of thing in class. She didn’t ask why the child was cross. It couldn’t have been important. Instead, she explained the difference between off and on in the phrase which the child had used. She sorted out two things at once. I’d just sat down, but Miss was looking good already. She must have thought so too because she went through the whole thing twice.
I wasn’t sure why I’d been put with that class. Normally, I fill in for an absent teacher, but Miss was there, no doubt about it. Miss Times-two, teaching things twice.
It was Handwriting next. A few of the children had finished their books the day before. Miss asked me to get some new ones. The stock room was down the corridor. She can’t have had the time. When I returned to class, she was solving the complexities of upper and lower case. The children watched in silence as she modelled both forms of the letter p, coaxing out each trick and turn. I waited at the door, books in hand. After a moment, she turned to me.
“What do you think you could do with those?”
“You don’t mind me handing them out while you’re presenting the work?”
Silence. I had forgotten the first lesson. She could do two things at once.
After Handwriting, it was Maths. Subtraction. The children sat together on the carpet, where they could listen better. Miss thought a number line would help. She was right. They knew what a number line was. They could draw one on their whiteboards, and then go on to answer in their books. Looking good again. Very carefully, the children filled their little boards with glistening, black strokes. Lines appeared, train tracks, herring bones and millipedes, mostly crammed with numbers, not always the right numbers, perhaps more numbers than were needed, or fewer, numbers that were not in their usual places, with upside-down digits, fancy, half-imagined numbers, or no numbers at all. They had English after break. I wondered what would happen when it came to words.
Miss looked over at the table next to me. On it was a pile of number lines, stiff, laminated strips. An assistant put them down at the start of the lesson. Miss asked me to hand them out. Without getting up, I passed a couple to the children who were closest to me.
“Quickly!” she snapped, at me, not the children, then snatched up the strips herself, as if showing me what to do. She couldn’t stop teaching for a second.
Listening now? She wrote an example on the board, 43–15, drew a number line, and started counting back on it. She used partitioning as well. The kids are pretty smart here, I thought. The assistant pointed out that the plastic lines only went up to 30. She kept on with the same example. It didn’t really matter. The kids were still drawing on their whiteboards.
Time to put the learning down on paper. Different groups were given different tasks, for each ability. Miss typed the group names into her computer, along with the question numbers, and it all came up on the big screen at the front. Pyramidss, Shperes and Cyinders.