Reasons to check everyone in the classroom has a pen

Happy New Year to you all! Yes, I know it's the 8th already, but saying Happy New Year only at New Year is so Last Year. 

I thought I'd kick off 2020's blog posts with a story from the classroom about two boys called Scott and Randall. It's fictional but not fictional .... there are Scotts and Randalls in every school and I've taught many of them. People like Scott and Randall are what make teaching both extraordinarily joyful and extraordinarily maddening.   

Imagine yourself in a secondary school classroom on a rainy Thursday. 

The pupils are hard at work delighted when there's an 'incident'. 

Not an accurate representation of the scene to be described below 

Scott and Randall provide a welcome 'incident'

Within two minutes of entering the classroom, Scott had to be ejected.

'What d'you do that for?' Randall had swung round, clasping his shoulder, to face Scott.

I'd managed three words of my introduction to the lesson's activities. ('First, I'd like -) 

'Do what?' I asked Randall. 'What did he do?'

Randall shook his dyed-black, shaggy hair as if in shock. 'He's stabbed me in the back, Miss!'

I hadn't seen anything. 'Er - metaphorically or physically?'

His forehead creased.  'What? I mean, with a compass.'

'I didn't mean to hurt him,' Scott said, pugnacious.  'I only prodded him. I asked if I could borrow a pen and he wasn't listening.' 

I walked over to Randall, ordering 10A meanwhile to turn to Act 3 Scene 1 and find Macbeth's speech about Banquo.

Instead, they all stood to gape while Randall slipped off his blazer and undid two shirt buttons to reveal a bead of blood on his shoulder blade.  'Ooooh,' said one girl, which seemed less 'Ooooh, look at that injury' and more 'Ooooh, look at that shoulder.'

Randall was a popular boy anyway, a talented singer who astonished us at school concerts and who sang like others breathed, often interrupting lessons with tunes as we worked. Much of his repertoire was pre-1970s: 'I live with Grandad. It's his fault,’ he’d tell us. But it differentiated him from the wannabe rappers in the school, convinced they were a threat to Jay Z.      

The previous week, I'd suggested that the class could get a 'little help from friends' with the work, and for half an hour Randall ran us through the Sergeant Pepper playlist. In the end, I wrote his name on the board and threatened a detention.

'That's harsh, Miss,' he'd said. 'Don't expect an invitation when I win a Brit award, that's all I'm saying.'  

'Don't bother sending one,' I told him. 'The last time I wore a sparkly posh dress, someone mistook me for a disco ball.'

Now, I had no option but to order Scott the compass-wielder to the ‘supervision’ room where a teacher on duty would receive him. I’d have to write an incident report. Something else for the to-do list. 

Scott had begun packing his bag, muttering. 

I put out my hand.  'The compass, please.'  He took it from his trouser pocket, looked as though he'd slap it into my hand, then clearly thought again.    

'Shall I get a plaster from Reception?' said Randall.  He didn't sound upset about having been perforated.

The rest of 10A were still rubber-necking. Someone breathed, 'It's like Waterloo Road!'

'Sit DOWN,' I said to them.  'Yes, Randall.  You won’t need a big plaster. I don't think he hit an artery.'

'Come on, Scott,' Randall said, turning round, as cheerful as a fresh lick of paint.  'I'll walk with you.'

'You will not,' I said, going back to my desk.  'Scott has just made a hole in you without permission.  You go first, Scott.  I'll let Reception know you're coming.  Take this work with you.'  I gave him a worksheet from my ‘Supervision Tasks’ file. 'And you’ll need this,' I said, passing him a pen.

'S'no big deal, Miss,' Randall said.  'We play footie together on Sunday mornings.'

'Yeah,' said Scott.

'I see them play footie on Sundays, Miss,' someone called out. ‘They’ve been mates since Juniors.'

'I don't care if they're conjoined twins,' I said.  'Scott, get going.  You can write an apology to Randall while you're there.'

Scott mooched out of the room, dragging his rucksack behind him and saying, 'Write one?  I can Snapchat him.'

Three seconds later, Randall said, 'Can I go to Reception now?'

'No, wait.'

'But what if I bleed to death?'

'Miss, you have to press on him hard with a clean cloth,' said Jenny on the front row.  'And if his lips go blue -'

'Thank you, Jenny. I don't think that'll be necessary.' 

I let Randall go after a minute.  'When you get to Reception,' I said, 'can you tell them that Scott should have arrived in supervision? Then come straight back here when you've got a plaster.'

'Okay, Miss,' he said, and left, clutching his shoulder like a war hero.  I swear he limped.  Some of the girls' faces were pink with hope.

'Right!' I said. 'Back to Act 3 Scene 1.' I nearly added, 'Someone else who goes round stabbing people for no reason,'  but stopped myself just in time. As I often tell pupils, just because you think it doesn’t mean you should risk saying it.

Ten minutes later, Randall came back, reporting that he'd been given a plaster and that Scott had reached the supervision room safely.

'How do you know?' I said.

He began to pull the shirt off his shoulder again. 'Here it –'

'No,' I said, stopping him before the girls abandoned literary analysis again for Randall's musculature. 'I mean, how do you know Scott got there?' 

'I popped in,' he said.  'Look. He gave me my apology letter.'

'What do you mean, you popped in? It's the supervision room, not a drop-in social club. And I told you to come straight back.'

He passed me a piece of A4 paper. On the top line was the word 'soz' and a smiley face. Under that, a passable illustration of a dagger.


  1. Oh my goodness, yes, I recognise the scene very well. Happy days in the Year 10 English classroom. Glad I'm not the teacher. :-)

    1. Thanks for your comment, Philip. And it's great that you can now relate to all this, given your recent experiences!

    2. And I was delighted to see your forthcoming release included in the latest SPCK catalogue through the post. If you haven't seen that, I'll bring it on Sat 18th Jan. :-)

    3. I had the catalogue through the post, too, Philip. Feels so strange, to see my book cover there, as though it must belong to someone else!

  2. Thanks for putting a smile on my face after a long work day Fran. Laughed aloud at your 'disco ball' comment. And I loved the ending - is that bit true? I can believe it! x

    1. Joy, it's all fictionalised but totally believable once you've been a teacher in a secondary classroom! Thanks so much for reading and commenting, and I'm pleased it made you smile :)

  3. My mother spent most of her teaching career working with Grade 9 students (age 15 or thereabouts, in case there's a difference between the Canadian and UK systems) and she has told me enough stories for me to know this is very close to the real thing. She chose to teach that age group and has many fond memories, but it takes a special kind of person to teach them day in and day out! My hat is off to you :)

    1. Your mother sounds a special lady! I'm not teaching in classrooms currently, Jenny, but the memories are very much still there!

  4. I'm sure my classes had their incidents, but I don't recall anyone ever getting stabbed. most of the kids communicated by flicking rubber bands or erasers to the kids they wanted to say something to or borrow something from. If the person was close enough, sometimes the chair got kicked.

  5. Yep. Took me right back to the English classroom of 17 year-olds that I left a few years ago.

    1. I can't work out from your tone, Marty, whether this was a good thing or not!!

  6. Love it, Fran. Makes me look forward even more to your upcoming book!

    1. Thank you! I hope I fulfil your expectations ;)

  7. Anonymous9/1/20 03:00

    Fantastic! I am amazed that teachers ever get round to actually teaching children at all in the classroom.This shows how the pupils are always one or two steps ahead.

    1. Ha ha - that's so true. I do remember some lessons where not a lot was learned - at least, not a lot was learned about English! But, fortunately, those were very few, especially as I got less terrified and more terrifyING!

  8. You will actually miss it when you retire.

    1. I'm working from home already, teaching pupils privately, but I do miss the cut and thrust. (I typed 'cut and thrust' before I realised it was an unfortunate description, given the above story!!!)

  9. Ah, the old stabbing with a compass trick. It's nice to know that in this digital age some old classroom traditions are still remembered. And do they still do that thing with the bunsen burners attached to a tap (water not gas)? Happy days...

    1. Happily, Paul, I don't teach Chemistry and it's just as well, as I remember being dangerous with bunsen burners when I was in school myself and I'd hate to come across anyone like me.

  10. Haha! Brilliant, brilliant, brilliant. Like others have said - can't wait for the book. My favourite part was your natural link with the text that you refrained from saying out loud! Loved it.

    1. Oh my word, how OFTEN does that happen, though, with teaching, that you desperately want to say something you know could be unwise or even career-ending!? You'll know that as well as I do, Mrs J!

  11. I know this is an old one but as soon as I saw the very, very relatable.


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