Last lesson on a Friday afternoon
They were a mainly cheerful group. They were not at all serious about school but there was only one who was serious in his dislike of school. Any attempt to share a joke with him was resented; with his reluctance to answer questions and his muttered speech he made it clear that he would resist any attempt to teach him anything.
With most of my classes a word or a hint of what was required was enough to make progress and it was a happy school in which to teach. Lee was definitely the odd one out and so when there was an opportunity to play a practical joke on him, and amuse his classmates, it was something that could not be resisted.
On Friday afternoons we tried to put less pressure on our classes. Yes, they had to get some useful work done but we teachers realised that if we could slow the pace a little and make allowances we achieved more with our classes than we would have done by nagging and bullying the work out of them. For all of us it was a time to ease up after a busy week and stay on good terms with our students.
I think I was reading a story to them, something that required me to make an effort and them simply to sit quietly and listen. It was a hot, summer’s afternoon and we would have opened the windows before we started, and then I got going. After about twenty minutes it was Lee’s head that I noticed down on the desk; he was not paying attention, there was no doubt about that. Another five minutes passed as I continued the story, then, all of a sudden I stopped in mid-sentence. The class looked up and I lifted a finger to my lips. I was expecting at least one of them to call out, to ask what was going on but, to my utter surprise there was not a sound. Lee, of course, did not budge and, feeling that I had the class with me, I let them see that I was watching him.
We all watched Lee. The class was so still that we could almost hear the sound of his steady breathing and watch the slight rise and fall of his shoulders as he passed away the lesson. Someone coughed as if about to speak and I pressed my finger urgently against my lips and glared at the class. From them there was not a sound. It was not often that they managed to act in concert like this and an idea came to mind. The thing was, would they continue to co-operate, especially when it became clear what I was going to do.
I was sitting facing the class, on the top of an old-fashioned sloping desk, with my feet on the seat, using it the wrong way round. My first move was to slide around and stand up and this would involve turning my back on the class. Without my being able to glare at them there was a risk that one of them would call out and wake Lee, but they said nothing and I reached the chalk box – no board markers in those days. Any colour of chalk would have done and I grabbed a stick and turned to show it to the class – it was important that they could follow what I was doing and play along.
In silence they watched as I wrote on the board.
When we hear the bell ring, try to remain silent.
Please leave the room in silence – it would be such a pity to wake Lee up.
I turned to see whether the lads were taking all this in. Every face was lit up with a huge grin; they would have suffered torture rather than see the joke fail. I regained my place and continued with the story, a little quieter now for we were all committed to making this work. Soon, from the quadrangle, the sound of the bell reached us and, instead of pushing one another towards the door, the class sat in silence as they listened to the noise of neighbouring classes leaving the building.
Then they arose from their desks, not as a mob, but in twos and threes as I directed them, and left. For a few moments some of them gathered round the back of the building to look through the windows and see the fun continue but eventually they had all gone. Then the heavy quiet of 4.0.pm on a Friday descended over the school as I made my way to the staff room. There some chores occupied me for a while.
A glance at my watch told me that nearly an hour had passed since the end of school. Perhaps I should walk over to the classroom to make sure that Lee had left for home. I was half-way across the playground when he barged out of a doorway in front of me. I was the only person to be seen and he came over, all anger and righteous indignation.
“Why didn’t you wake me up sir?”
He was quivering with anger, realising how his classmates must have laughed about him.
“Well Lee, when you decided to have a kip during my lesson you didn’t tell me how long you wanted to sleep for. I simply didn’t want to wake you up before you were ready.”
He left without a further word; it was the easiest detention I had ever imposed.
What reaction does the writer get when he asks the class to leave in silence?
What amuses the boys about this incident?
What amuses the teacher about this incident?
Why do you think Lee left without a further word?