Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Apartheid East London, "Murder At The Vicarage," Cadets, Teaching Hassles, 1991

1991 Guild Theatre, East London. Mark Esslemont's 'Murder at the Vicarage' Cast. Like Miss Marple's raspberry pie: "Fresh, warm and without maggots." (Pollock)

In 1991, I directed Agatha Christie's Murder At The Vicarage in 5 weeks, working a 70-80 hour week. Going deafer, I worked my gat off, and the teacher-librarian, who did costumes for me said, "I've never seen anyone direct a full-length school play so fast." Spiteful Mr. Gordon delegated impossible schedules. He timetabled me general -science and biology teaching up to matric. He scheduled me cricket coaching. I refused.

I watched international forces on TV thrashing Hussein's Iraqi forces, then gloating over their oily victory in Kuwait.

Again I carried Malherbe, by begging, borrowing, negotiating small props for the play, and scavenging props at rubbish dumps with Xhosa bush-dwellers. Cronje erected a box set. Protege Paxton, new music master, stage-managed the play at Guild Theatre.

Unknown to me, a Selborne College boy screwed a Clarendon girl backstage. Mr. Gordon, staff and pupils hushed up the screwing. Mr. Gordon dissembled by calling me to his office over his intercom, then saying, "Type capthionth for play phototh..." (Years later I heard about the screwing). While white pupils screwed and play-acted, township blacks were killed.

Unrest, Alexandra: 45 blacks killed by Inkatha. (Martin Meredith, Nelson Mandela, A Biography, Hamish Hamilton, London, 1997).

While I taught in Piderit's lab, a boy was disruptive. I sent him out of the lab, as I'd reached deafness breaking-point. When I called him inside, he was insolent. I shut his bad mouth with a slap. Had I bunched my fist, the boy would've been hospitalized with blood on the walls. Despite caning being rife at Selborne, slapping was unacceptable, as Mr. Gordon ruled that bad boys were not to be sent outside classrooms, unless sent to management for (no) punishment. Mr. Gordon had no disciplinary code, just a brief, vague disciplinary policy. Mr. Gordon placed staff in impossible positions, then liked to kick arse when discipline deteriorated.

The bad boy ratted to his father, so I made an appointment to see the father, who avoided me, then phoned me, threatening court-action. (Post-apartheid, the father became principal of a local primary school).

When I asked Mr. Gordon what support teachers got from him, he sent me memos calling me, "childish."

"Maybe I should leave Selborne to find anther job," I said. Later, I found a letter in the slapped boy's file. Mr. Gordon had written to the father: "I suggested Mr. Esslemont find a job at another school..." (Paraphrased). Mr. Gordon distorted my words, and hadn't given me a copy of his letter.

While Mr. Gordon and his cabinet harassed me, I realized I could go beyond endurance. Polonius's words helped: "To thine own self be true..."

For the next five terms I hit back, playing Luister, upwardly -delegating bad boys to Mr. Gordon, according to his vague disciplinary policy. Mr. Gordon procrastinated, cacooned behind closed doors, fingering his red button, spinning bad boys against me. After I sent one bad boy to Mr Gordon for (no) punishment, the bad boy returned threatening, "I know where you live sir!"

Once an oaf grabbed me round my neck. I tapped his balls saying, "I'll rip 'em off!" Masters lashed bad boys in offices, and punched bad boys in corridors. I too lashed and punched bad boys. Post-apartheid, one of those lasher-puncher masters became Discipline VP at Selborne.

"Siddown an' Shuddup!" was my favourite classroom saying.

"Siddown!..." was echoed by cheeky boys.

I consulted an Afrikaner ENT quack, confirming I was going deafer. He suggested I buy another hearing-aid from an audiologist next door - his wife. I paid his fee, but didn't buy another hearing-aid, as I didn't approve of their conflict-of-interest.

Major Bossie listed my name as a cadet-master, 22 years after my army basic training. He hadn't bothered to ask me about my military service. I said to Bossie: "I've been at Selborne for over two years. I'm listed to do cadets, without consultation. Why?"

"Mr. Gordon listed you. I need more cadet-masters."

"I'm not interested. I'm not discussing the matter."

"Ja-nee. I'll tell Mr. Gordon."

"How can he do this?" bawled Piderit in the staffroom, after Bossie bugled my refusal. Mr. Gordon didn't try that stunt again. The iniquity of school cadets was that conscripted teachers strutted about white high schools in army uniforms brainwashing boys that militarization was normal in schools. By the time they left white high schools, most white boys were groomed to be fully fucked by SADF. My six years of two-fingering Selborne cadet-masters didn't make me popular.

Norman vetted subject-choices, and annually advised fourth form biologists to continue HG biology, despite poor HG results. It lowered battlers' self esteem and my teaching pleasure. Battlers became disruptive, or disillusioned, or both. Boys were forced by Norman to continue HG biology, deluded they might achieve HG matric. Some boys only changed to SG biology during their matric year. Teaching biology to aggrieved and disinterested boys in a mouldy classroom was farcical.

After being Selborne boss for 8 years, Mr. Gordon tried reducing class disruption by timetabling 8 forty minute periods per day, but mass-hysteria continued. Mr. Gordon's feckless responses: "Cut your hair!... Tuck your thirtth in!... Pull your thockth up!... Polith your thhoeth!..."

Note: Malherbe is a composite character.

Copyright Mark JS Esslemont.

1 comment:

Mark JS Esslemont said...

Received an email from a Selborne College ex teacher, living and teaching in England since 1999. He helped me with "Murder at the Vicarage" stage props.