‘No weekly prize will be awarded from now on,’ said Mrs Tarrant.
Every child in the classroom groaned with disappointment. The three boys in the back of the cross-legged huddle took the opportunity to rough-house with each other. Benji wrestled Ollie to the ground, which meant that his twin, Harry, rolled on top of Benji.
‘M-mm-mmmizzz Ta-ta-ta-tawant?’ Billy Jones asked. His hand nervously raised in the air, bent at the elbow. A loner this one. His stutter didn’t help matters, nor his lazy eye. Poor thing was going to be fodder for the bullies in a few years time.
‘Yes, Billy. What is it?’ She smiled kindly, crouched to his level.
His face screwed up, concentrating so hard to speak without disfluency. ‘Why…no pwize?’
Eleanor Tarrant took a second to gaze at her pupils. Only her second year of teaching preps; she’d been in the ‘big’ school—the upper end of primary teaching—for nearly twenty-five years. But the new principal wanted to shake things up, as they so often do. New broom sweeping clean and all that shite. Here she found herself, and she loathed it. She’d been vomited on, peed on and yes, even discovered poo clomped in one poor sod’s undies after he’d been too busy playing at lunch to bother with the toilet. Add to that, the parents! God, every one of them helicoptering over their precious child. Interfering in the classroom. Calling to ask all manner of questions: ‘Are you aware of Tommy’s special needs?’ ‘Have you received a copy of the kindergarten teacher’s report?’ ‘Did Myrtle eat her sandwich at lunch or recess?’ It beggared belief.
‘Well, Billy, you see, I have to make these tough decisions. And I don’t feel that as a group, you have each behaved appropriately enough to be awarded prizes.’ Even as the words flew from Eleanor’s lips, she braced for the inevitable barrage from the parents. She’d be fielding emails and phone calls tomorrow, nothing surer. Parents were a drain on her time, her mental health. Everything.
‘B-b-b-but I’ve…been g-g-g-good, Mizz Tawant,’ Billy whined. Tears even fell down his cheeks.
Was she being harsh? These kids were only five. She paused a beat. ‘Grab a tissue, Billy, then you sit on the Captain’s Chair until recess.’
Billy bounded to his legs and with a grin that closed his lazy eye, snatched three tissues from the box on the counter and fairly threw himself into the Captain’s Chair, where he would become Designated Helper to Mrs Tarrant.
The class broke into laughter at Billy’s enthusiasm. Eleanor clapped her hands together five times. The class responded. Silence fell, except for the three boys at the back.
‘Alright you three!’ Her tone clipped, measured, but firm. ‘Benji, Ollie, Harry. Separate now. Here. Here. And Here.’ She pointed around the room, and the three boys obediently went to their new spots. ‘That’s where you’ll sit for the rest of this week. Understood?’
‘Yes, Mizzuz Tarrant.’ In perfect unison.
Eleanor shook off her doubts about withholding weekly prizes. She was right to do it. How she despised this system introduced over the last decade where mediocrity was awarded. Bring on the parent interference. She was ready.