Charlie Caroll was a successful 28-year old teacher in a great school, who loved his job. In 2008, he decided to become a supply teacher in different cities in England. His encounters bewildered him so much that he wrote a book about them. After reading ‘On The Edge’, I wrote to Charlie and asked if I could share extracts from his book on this blog. Charlie kindly agreed, so here is the first of two blogposts sharing a supply teacher’s experience of tough schools in England, starting in Nottingham.
Tompkins Technology College. Children were running around, yelling and tussling wherever I looked. ‘Morning, Year 10,’ I hollered over the din. ‘Time to sit down, please.’ Chairs were being flung over, snatches of insults occasionally broke free of the general hubbub, and it appeared that no-one had heard me.
‘Year 10!’ I shouted again, this time louder. ‘Seats, please!’
I looked at my watch; by the time I had everyone seated and looking in my general direction, seven minutes of the lesson had been wasted.
I started to introduce myself. ‘All right,’ I said. ‘My name is Mr Carroll, and I’m here for the next week or so. Today, we’re going to be working on…’-
‘For f*ck’s sake!’ one girl exploded. ‘Give it back, you bitch!’ More yelling, more chairs falling over as they fought over a stolen object. I tried to make them return to their seats, but three minutes passed before they tired of fighting and sat back down. Other pupils ignored me completely and talked amongst themselves. The noise grew. ‘Look,’ I said. ‘We need to …’ ‘No-one’s listening to you,’ one lad told me. I wrote the task on the board: Write a letter to your Headteacher, persuading him to get rid of school uniform.
‘Right, girls,’ I said. ‘What I need you to do is…’ ‘I’m doing it!’ erupted one of them, Tracey. ‘God! Just f*ck off, will you?’
‘I can’t have you talking to me like that,’ I said, calmly. ‘Please go and stand outside.’
She clapped her hands, hoorayed and rushed out of the door. When I checked a moment or two later, she had vanished, taking the opportunity to go for a 20-minute walk around the school.
Suddenly a boy burst into the room. Ignoring me, he reached into his bag and produced a large box of fizzy sweets.
‘Who wants some?’ he shouted. ‘No!’ I protested, but I was ignored by all as they swamped the newcomer.
I had just about got them seated again, when a fight between two 16-year-olds erupted outside my room, and the entire class rushed out to chant and holler. Another five minutes wasted.
Once they were all back inside again, a dark-haired lad suddenly leapt across his table and began stabbing another boy in the back of the hand with a straightened paperclip, drawing blood. Tracey came back, and her return sparked a loud argument among her front-row friends. ‘F*ck off, ya white bitch!’ ‘That’s racist!’
Five minutes before the end of the lesson, the class unanimously decided to pack up and walk out, despite my protestations.
As the bell for break-time went, I tried to set up the classroom for the Year 8s and ready myself. The second bell sounded, and they arrived. There followed two hours of noise – of frantic, urgent, unstoppable noise – which echoed about the room with deafening resonance.
Omar had a penchant for sneaking up to the board whenever I had my back turned to draw large and often spurting penises. Zoe had to be moved five or six times after starting loud arguments with anybody she happened to be close to. Raymond made his best friend cry when he graffitied the words ‘Mr Carroll swallows’ on to the cover of his book, held it up for me and the rest of the class to see, and then exclaimed ‘Sir! Look what Dimitri wrote!’ Sharn, after ceaseless taunting from Zoe, unloaded her tormentor’s bag all over the floor, kicked aside her chair, and then stormed out, never to return. And just when I thought it could get no worse, Luke calmly walked over to Habib, and spat on his head.
‘Luke!’ I shouted, my temper close to ripping. ‘Go and stand outside of the room now!’ The boy’s face filled with anger. ‘You can’t send me out,’ he spat. ‘I didn’t do anything! If you send me out, I’ll break your nose.’
‘It’s a very serious thing,’ I began, ‘to threaten a teacher, Luke –‘
‘I don’t care!’ he yelled. ‘I didn’t do anything!’ With that, he ran from the classroom. I followed, but by the time I reached the door he had disappeared. I came back in. A paper aeroplane sailed over and bounced lightly off the top of my head. ‘Oi, sir!’ Terry called out, ‘Chuck it back!’
I spent five days in Nottingham, enduring insults and continuous disobedience, having to make any request at least six times before it was even acknowledged.
I vividly remember a Year 7 lad obnoxiously shouting at his classmate, an orphaned Somali refugee, ‘At least I’ve got a family to go home to! At least I’ve got a family to go home to!’
On entering my lesson, a year 10 girl sang (to the tune of ‘If You’re Happy And You Know It, Clap Your Hands’):
‘If you think Sir’s a waste,
Clap your hands.
If you think Sir’s a waste,
Slap him round the face
If you think Sir’s a waste,
Clap your hands’.
I stopped her at the door. ‘Tracey,’ I said, ‘there is no way I can let you into this classroom now.’
‘What the f**k are you talking about?’ she hollered, spinning in circles and addressing the gang of youths surrounding her. ‘I ain’t done nothing!’
‘Tracey, I heard full well what you were singing,’ I said. ‘I cannot let you into this classroom after that.’
She shouted back: ‘Are you f**king mad? I wasn’t even singing! What the f**k is wrong with you?’ I tried to start the lesson. But it was difficult. Tracy was outside screaming so loudly that she drowned out my instructions. Abdul threw a chair at Peter. Vicky began playing loud dance music on her phone. Alan stole Tyrone’s left shoe, and ran about the room with it ululating. Charmaine produced a lighter, and tried to set fire to Tyrone’s exposed sock. And, all the while, Tracey stood outside, shouting that I was a twat, a prick, a wanker. Kris, a quiet lad, came up to me and, with a wry smile, said: ‘You know, the Head would probably have come and got her by now if you was a normal teacher. But you’re just a supply teacher.’
Then, out of the corner of my eye, I saw Will advance ominously towards Ashley. ‘What did you just say?’ Will hissed, squaring up to Ashley. Will pushed Ashley hard. Ashley fell back a few steps and then flung a wild swing at Will’s head. It was all Will, the larger of the two, needed. Grabbing Ashley by the jumper, he struck him twice in the face. ‘Stop that!’ I shouted, but Will ignored me. As Ashley careered backwards, he advanced, smashing him in the face with another resounding punch which spun the smaller boy around. Will kicked him hard in the back, sending Ashley flying out over a chair and on to the floor. As he lay there, Will stamped on his stomach.
As Will stood backwards, I stepped into the gap. Heady with adrenalin myself, both arms splayed outwards to prevent him moving any closer to the floored Ashley, I said, ‘Get out!’ He looked at me, and then at Ashley. ‘Get out now!’ I said. Will turned and left. The class, for the first time that day, were completely silent.
Violence in many tough schools is a reality pupils and teachers have to deal with. In one year alone, 740 children were permanently excluded for assaulting teachers; 8,240 were temporarily excluded. In many cases, nothing is done about it.
Next week, I’ll share extracts from Charlie’s experiences in Manchester, Sheffield, Birmingham, Yorkshire, Liverpool and London. His book is called On The Edge.