Excuses, Excuses: Part 2October 2, 2007
Continuing my run-down of commonly used excuses:
Excuse No. 4: You didn’t tell us what to do.
Used: Whenever a student has been sat (or stood) doing nothing when they should have been working.
Notes: There is no sense of shame in the users of this excuse. Children who have literally been told five times what to do, sitting in a room where the instructions are written in bright colours on the board, surrounded by other students who are quite clearly following the instructions, will still claim that they have not been informed about the task at hand. Sometimes a child who has been asked directly “do you know what you are doing?” and answered “yes” will still claim two minutes later to have never been told as to what they were meant to be doing. Another variation on this is to say “But you haven’t explained this to us”. Inexperienced teachers might then start to explain the work for a fourteenth time. However, a quick glance or a little questioning usually reveals that the arduous task the child needs explained is one of the following:
- sitting down
- opening their book
- copying the date from the board
- reading or copying down the explanation they had already been given
- reading the question they are meant to be answering
A further variation on this is: “You haven’t explained this to us properly”. This is quite frustrating if you have explained it seven times already in words of one syllable or less. It is even more frustrating if your class is a top set in year 10 and what you have repeatedly explained is something they should already know, and when you explained it to bottom set 7 a few weeks ago they all got it first time. Of course “explaining properly” means something quite different to Kirstie. It means “explaining it to her individually, rather than to the whole class, in such a way that she will then be able to do all the work without needing to think or even recall anything she has previously learnt”. Worse still is that as you explain it all once again to her, this time looking right at her and using words so simple that they could be understood by a three year old, or maybe a well-trained dog, she will break eye contact and start chatting to a friend. Alternatively she might say “you make it all so complicated!” and cover her ears, refusing to listen.
Excuse No. 5: I am doing it.
Used: When a child is asked to do something, particularly if they are being told off for not having done it yet.
Notes: A child wearing a coat that is still zipped up will say “I am taking my coat off”. A child standing behind their desk, with their chair tucked in, will say “I am sitting down”. Negative versions of this also exist: “I’m not talking” or “I’m not answering back”. This is one of those phenomena that a non-teacher might find difficult to believe. It can be a shock when you see it for the first time, particularly if you have an angry child shouting the denial at you as if you are being highly insulting by believing the evidence of your own eyes.
Excuse No. 6: I have to do it this way.
Used: When a student is doing something in an inconsiderate or inappropriate way.
Notes: Children with their feet on a chair will claim to have suffered some kind of leg injury that requires them to dirty the furniture. Children who are meant to take their coats off before they sit down will claim they have to sit down in order to do their shoe laces up. Children sitting in the “year 9 girl position” (turned sideways facing the rest of the class, legs over the side of seat, back leaning against the wall, exercise book turned ninety degrees) will claim that they have to work that way because they can only write on paper which is at right angles to the desk. Strangely enough this writing affliction only ever occurs when giving into it will make them face the class and never when it would make them face the wall. Another condition revolves around the fact that if you only have pencils to lend out then some students have to work in pen because they are physically unable to write in pencil. This affliction, never actually results in the student concerned bringing in their own pen.
On the plus side “I have to do it this way” is one of the excuses that actually allows the teacher a fairly good comeback, along the lines of: “And I have to give a detention for this”.