Lesson 18 Drawing Life’s Short Straws

Lesson 18 on Bad Luck and the Injustice of Life

I sometimes marvelled how my pupils came to end up with me in the bottom/Opportunity/remedial group.  Every group I ever taught was manifestly mixed ability.

Sometimes all you had to do was be bad.  You had to rebel against boredom and authority.  You had to make a nuisance of yourself.

Others were sad.  Life had been hard for them.  They had moved around from place to place.  They had to care for younger siblings and/or an inept parent.  They had lost people dear to them.

Sometimes all you had to do was speak another language.

Or be ill.

But with some pupils it was a mystery.  Natalie was one such.  She was a shy, quiet girl who constantly surprised me with her insights.  One of our regular lessons was poetry.  Everybody else did poetry in the “proper” English classes, so we made sure we did it too.  I just picked poems I liked, and ran them off on the dreaded Banda.  Books were too intimidating.

We were on e.e. cummings, because they enjoyed the freedom from punctuation, when Natalie fixed on the phrase, “as small as a world and as large as alone”.

“A world is small, Miss, when you think of your own little world, but if you have nobody, if you are all by yourself and have noone who cares for you, then nothing is bigger than that feeling.”

The whole group was impressed.  All I could think of was how on earth Natalie had ended up in my class!  As though reading my mind, one of the others explained.

“Natalie’s really clever, Miss, it’s just that she sat next to the budgies!”

Such a statement demanded explanation.  Poetry was put on hold.

“In primary at St Joseph’s we had a big budgie cage at the back of the classroom. ”

“With live budgies?” I tried to picture the scene.

“Oh yes, Miss, loads of them!  And Natalie sat next to them.  They made lots of noise!”

“Didn’t you mind, Natalie?”

“Not really.  I liked them and it was a nice seat.  Nobody bothered you!”

“But could you hear the teacher?”


“And could you see the blackboard?”

“Oh no, I couldn’t read the board!”

Given an eye test and a budgie free year, Natalie would never have been a dear and valued member of our group.

She had just been too polite to mention it.






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