Another thing about teaching – English.

OK, so they gave me year Nine English. The ratbag class. For those of you who need an explanation, ‘ratbag’ means that they were badly behaved, bored, angry, misogynistic, homophobic, rude, lazy and they hated being at school. The boys were just as bad. To make matters worse the English Co-ordinator had proscribed an English textbook that their parents had to buy at a horrible price. We struggled for a few weeks. They tried to behave because I had threatened them with death.

Then we got to the chapter on Poetry. The night before class I read through the chapter and knew, straight away what I would do. I would would mess with their tiny little minds. I was cleverer than all of them.

The first poem in the chapter is one I remember well. Not because it is brilliant but………I will let you decide. It goes like this.

Sit down in the back of the bus.

Sit down in the back of the bus.

Sit down in the back of the bus.

Sit down in the back of the bus.

Sit down in the back of the bus.

Sit down in the back of the bus.

Sit down in the back of the bus.

Sit down in the back of the bus.

Read with emphasis on the italicised word. So I made them read it. Out loud. One after the other. Then I asked them what they thought of it. There was a general non comment. Some of the goody goody two shoes (there were some) said, it was OK.

Then I said, “So no one in this class is brave enough to stand up and say it is garbage.”

But it’s in our textbook.

It must be good.

Why would they put it in the textbook if it was garbage?

So I said, “If I didn’t know that your parents had paid good money for this I’d tell you to tear out the whole chapter. Of course it’s Garbage.”

We then had a bit of a chat. So why did we all have to buy the book? I want you to leave it home from now on. What can we use from now on?

The second best book about poetry that has been written!

What’s that? Anything by Bill Shakespeare.

What is the best book?

The King James version of the Bible.

My dad says, (this is the son of a local Pentecostal pastor) that the King James version of the Bible has some major flaws.

Yeah, maybe. But I’m talking about poetry. I’m talking about the English language.

But Sir, said one of the lovelies, Shakespeare is boring.

What bits, I said.

All of it.

Then I gave them my ‘come and get it’ speech.

“The school, and I mean most schools, leave Shakespeare until year twelve because they think it is too difficult for you babies in year nine. But I think, no, I know, that you are all smart enough to get Shakespeare now. In year Nine. Tomorrow we will start. And if you aren’t ready to give it a go then play woosey little sick kid tomorrow and don’t come to school. But if you do come then be sure you are ready. And don’t bring any books to class.”

So next day they all traipsed into class, a bit nervous, and sat down as I wheeled the TV monitor into the room and we watched “West Side Story“.

Now none of them had ever seen “West Side Story”, and some of them, the worst, were in real teenage gangs and they all sat, transfixed.

When it was over I told them it was a movie adaptation of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. The next day I read C.J.Dennis’s version. C.J.Dennis was an Australian poet who wrote during the twenties and thirties. I had to read it aloud because much of the language is dated. By reading it aloud they didn’t have time to dwell on the anachronisms but could concentrate on the story.

Here it is for your edification. Read it yourself. Out loud.

Wot's in a name? -- she sez . . . An' then she sighs, 
An' clasps 'er little 'ands, an' rolls 'er eyes. 
"A rose," she sez, "be any other name 
Would smell the same.
Oh, w'erefore art you Romeo, young sir? 
Chuck yer ole pot, an' change yer moniker!"
Doreen an' me, we bin to see a show -- 
The swell two-dollar touch. Bong tong, yeh know. 
A chair apiece wiv velvit on the seat; 
A slap-up treat. 
The drarmer's writ be Shakespeare, years ago, 
About a barmy goat called Romeo.
"Lady, be yonder moon I swear!" sez 'e. 
An' then 'e climbs up on the balkiney; 
An' there they smooge a treat, wiv pretty words 
Like two love-birds. 
I nudge Doreen. She whispers, "Ain't it grand!" 
'Er eyes is shining an' I squeeze 'er 'and.
'Wot's in a name?" she sez. 'Struth, I dunno. 
Billo is just as good as Romeo. 
She may be Juli-er or Juli-et -- 
'E loves 'er yet. 
If she's the tart 'e wants, then she's 'is queen, 
Names never count ... But ar, I like "Doreen!"
A sweeter, dearer sound I never 'eard; 
Ther's music 'angs around that little word, 
Doreen! ... But wot was this I starts to say 
About the play? 
I'm off me beat. But when a bloke's in love 
'Is thorts turns 'er way, like a 'omin' dove.
This Romeo 'e's lurkin' wiv a crew -- 
A dead tough crowd o' crooks -- called Montague. 
'Is cliner's push -- wot's nicknamed Capulet -- 
They 'as 'em set. 
Fair narks they are, jist like them back-street clicks, 
Ixcep' they fights wiv skewers 'stid o' bricks.
Wot's in a name? Wot's in a string o' words? 
They scraps in ole Verona wiv the'r swords, 
An' never give a bloke a stray dog's chance, 
An' that's Romance. 
But when they deals it out wiv bricks an' boots 
In Little Lon., they're low, degraded broots.
Wot's jist plain stoush wiv us, right 'ere to-day, 
Is "valler" if yer fur enough away. 
Some time, some writer bloke will do the trick 
Wiv Ginger Mick, 
Of Spadger's Lane. 
'E'll be a Romeo, 
When 'e's bin dead five 'undred years or so.
Fair Juli-et, she gives 'er boy the tip. 
Sez she: "Don't sling that crowd o' mine no lip; 
An' if you run agin a Capulet, 
Jist do a get." 
'E swears 'e's done wiv lash; 'e'll chuck it clean. 
(Same as I done when I first met Doreen.)
They smooge some more at that. Ar, strike me blue! 
It gimme Joes to sit an' watch them two! '
E'd break away an' start to say good-bye, 
An' then she'd sigh 
"Ow, Ro-me-o!" an' git a strangle-holt, 
An' 'ang around 'im like she feared 'e'd bolt.
Nex' day 'e words a gorspil cove about 
A secret weddin'; an' they plan it out.
'E spouts a piece about 'ow 'e's bewitched: 
Then they git 'itched ... 
Now, 'ere's the place where I fair git the pip! 
She's 'is for keeps, an' yet 'e lets 'er slip!
Ar! but 'e makes me sick! A fair gazob! 
E's jist the glarsey on the soulful sob, 
'E'll sigh and spruik, a' 'owl a love-sick vow --
(The silly cow!) 
But when 'e's got 'er, spliced an' on the straight 
'E crools the pitch, an' tries to kid it's Fate.
Aw! Fate me foot! Instid of slopin' soon 
As 'e was wed, off on 'is 'oneymoon, 
'Im an' 'is cobber, called Mick Curio, 
They 'ave to go 
An' mix it wiv that push o' Capulets. 
They look fer trouble; an' it's wot they gets.
A tug named Tyball (cousin to the skirt) 
Sprags 'em an' makes a start to sling off dirt. 
Nex' minnit there's a reel ole ding-dong go -— 
'Arf round or so. 
Mick Curio, 'e gets it in the neck, 
"Ar rats!" 'e sez, an' passes in 'is check.
Quite natchril, Romeo gits wet as 'ell. 
"It's me or you!" 'e 'owls, an' wiv a yell, 
Plunks Tyball through the gizzard wiv 'is sword, 
'Ow I ongcored! 
"Put in the boot!" I sez. "Put in the boot!" 
"'Ush!" sez Doreen ... "Shame!" sez some silly coot.
Then Romeo, 'e dunno wot to do. 
The cops gits busy, like they allwiz do, 
An' nose around until 'e gits blue funk 
An' does a bunk. 
They wants 'is tart to wed some other guy. 
"Ah, strike!" she sez. "I wish that I could die!"
Now, this 'ere gorspil bloke's a fair shrewd 'ead. 
Sez 'e "I'll dope yeh, so they'll think yer dead." 
(I tips 'e was a cunnin' sort, wot knoo 
A thing or two.) 
She takes 'is knock-out drops, up in 'er room: 
They think she's snuffed, an' plant 'er in 'er tomb.
Then things gits mixed a treat an' starts to whirl. 
'Ere's Romeo comes back an' finds 'is girl 
Tucked in 'er little coffing, cold an' stiff, 
An' in a jiff, 
'E swallows lysol, throws a fancy fit, 
'Ead over turkey, an' 'is soul 'as flit.
Then Juli-et wakes up an' sees 'im there, 
Turns on the water-works an' tears 'er 'air, 
"Dear love," she sez, "I cannot live alone!" 
An' wiv a moan, 
She grabs 'is pockit knife, an' ends 'er cares ... 
"Peanuts or lollies!" sez a boy upstairs.

There is more to come on this story so hold your horse.


10 thoughts on “Another thing about teaching – English.

      1. I lived in Stratford-upon-Avon for a while and getting theatre tickets was easy as there were concessions for residents. I enjoyed most performances but I confess to being a traditionalist and I prefer his plays to be in period. Your idea about ‘West Side Story’ is a good one but it wouldn’t work for me. I am a historian at heart!
        I once had a part in the school production of Henry V in 1970 but only as an extra…

        Liked by 1 person

  1. I had good English teachers, but you were pretty darn canny with those kids. You have to be, of course, teenagers being preoccupied with lots of things other than certain classes in school.


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