One of the highlights of the teaching profession is the number of laughs it provides. At the Environmental Protection Authority, my former workplace before my career in education, the funniest thing that ever happened was that time that Sharon put sweetener instead of sugar in Keith’s coffee. At my previous school, however, children like James* kept the laughs coming more regularly than an episode of Peep Show. James, bless him, is one of those people whose soul shines brighter than their mind. He won’t be receiving the Fields Medal but you know he’ll go far on charisma alone.
It is 10 minutes after the bell in just our second lesson of the year and James is yet to appear: without a reasonable excuse, this is a detention-worthy offence worthy in some of my stricter colleagues’ classrooms. There’s a knock at the door and, without invitation, James struts in with a grin.
“How’s it goin’ Sir?”
I’m taken aback and don’t answer immediately.
James is shorter and rounder than his peers, adding to the comedic effect as he trots towards me.
I decide to engage with his swagger and fist bump him, “What’s happening James?”
“Not much Sir!”
And he’s about to move onto his seat before I bring him back to correct everything about the entrance and style of engagement.
The rest of the year reveals that he had nailed the art of being cheeky and self-assured without being arrogant, no doubt the product of having two older brothers.
It is some months later and my hair is longer as the weather has got cooler. Year 9 are taking down questions from the board and James’ hand goes up at the front of the room.
“Sir, do you like your sideburns?”
“Yes James, I do”
James turns around to address his peers.
“Fellas, don’t you reckon you can picture Sir with sideys in the womb?” He tousles his own non-existent sideys. “Like he came out as a baby with the sideys already on?”
James is talking nineteen-to-the-dozen at his diligent neighbour and friend, Tim, who is trying to ignore him so that he can get on with his work. Tim has an angular facial profile which is staying impressively calm given the gibberish that James is undoubtedly spouting at him.
“James, cut the chat, leave Tim alone, get on with the questions”.
“Sir, I was just asking Tim how much he’s getting paid for his modelling work”.
“It’s not relevant to the task at hand and stop distracting Tim from his work”.
“Sir, who do you reckon has the better jaw structure?” he asks, as he grabs Tim’s chin and juts it, and his own chin, towards me.
The boys are doing a unit on the Legal System. A passage on a famous Australian legal case, the Eddie Mabo decision, is displayed on the board and one of the exercises requires a summary of the main points. The Mabo Decision refers to a late 20th Century legal motion by an Indigenous man named Eddie Mabo, and five other men from his community, that challenged the initial British declaration of Australia as “Terra Nullius” – “land belonging to no one”. Mabo’s community is from a small island group just off the northern Australian coastline called the “Meriam Islands”.
“James, can you please read your summary to the class”
“The Eddie Mabo Decision was a famous decision in the Australian Federal Court. Eddie Mabo and five Mexicans went to the Federal Court – wait“ James shoots a look at his neighbours work.
The class erupts and my face contorts as I struggle to suppress my own laughter.
James shakes his head.
“I’m sorry Sir, I misread Tim’s writing! ”
We’re all familiar with the challenging and dispiriting parts of the job too. Here’s to the students like James who keep the smiles and giggles coming on those days where we’d rather play truant as well.