I've been teaching for a long time now: longer than many of my students have been alive. They view me as if I were a fake plastic dinosaur on display in a city shopping centre if they have the bad luck to encounter me outside school : a mix of incredulity that I'm there at all and a sort of amused indulgence that I've ventured out of my natural habitat. I have bored generations of students into quietness, noise and exam survival, but the beginning of November 2014 has brought me to my limit. I've decided that it's time to BAN THE BORED: that moment when you see two dozen sets of teenage eyes glaze over just because you're there; two dozen tousled heads lowering in a terrible moment of submission to the inevitability of teacher talk; the terrible truth of overheard murmurs about outfits for next weekend's night out when you set a ten minute exercise to be completed in pairs or threes. Above all, that moment when they notice that it's raining, hailstoning and sunny all at once becomes the only highlight of a morning of unredeemable monotony: that's when you know that it's time to take a stand. Let's make theatrically-expressed student boredom - not students chewing gum or forgetting to bring their books - the stuff that's punishable by detention. In schools everywhere, from my classroom to the sweeping lawns of the grandest public schools, we've got to ban the bored, before it takes over everything in some giant yawn of doom.
It's everywhere. Once you spot the signs, it's inescapable. From the emoted voiced yawn that travels around the room like the suburban commuter train which calls at every station, to the twiddled pens, the drumming fingertips, the rustling through a bag to find that book or homework which was never there anyway but the pretence of searching for it provides something to do - it's in every classroom and every school. Friendships are made and broken just for the sake of something to do. Teenagers looking idly around a classroom in the quest to look at anything other than the page of the textbook they've been told to read will catch one another's eyes and snigger. From opposite sides of a somnolent fifth form room, glances intersect and romance is born - before the teacher knows it, she's been told that these two people in her class are like, totally Facebook Official and they've overturned her carefully-considered seating plan. She notices that they've stopped working one afternoon, and are busy gazing into one another's eyes. Is it just very sweet, or are they just like, so totally bored that they like, totally had to find something less tragic to do in the frozen wastes of a double period on a Tuesday afternoon, so they decided to like, like each other?
And let's not mention the competitive man flu among the boys in that fourth year class: the coughing that went on throughout October, and shows no sign of abating now that Half Term has passed. Let's not mention the people who join school teams or take music lessons, mostly for the fringe benefit of getting out of class. Those dedicated young people who stand on sports pitches in the freezing November hail: don't fool yourself that they're ready to suffer for the greater glory of the school. They're ready to suffer for the privilege of missing double English that morning, or triple Maths that afternoon. Maybe the match will be tragically boring too, but at least the fresh air and hailstones will keep them awake. Is it just the mark of teenagers everywhere- like the lightning bolt scar across Harry Potter's forehead- are all teenagers simply marked with the theatrical boredom virus, a syndrome against which there's no valid cure or inoculation?
I tell myself it's everywhere: a virus like that common cold you know you won't be able to escape. Perhaps it's really only me. Perhaps I really am that dinosaur - out of touch with everyone around me and squeezed unnaturally into an environment inhabited by the young. Perhaps it really is that bad. I'm quite sure I was often bored at school as well. I've forgotten: blanked out the bits not worth remembering, those endless days when everything was the same. I remember the really good bits and the really bad - the brilliant discussions in English class, the arguments about the finer points of French or German, the time the scuttling mouse made my English teacher scream and leap onto her desk, the time the Home Economics teacher patted me on the head and told me she was sure I was good at something, dear. I'm sure I was bored. I'm sure I daydreamed. I'm sure, though, I didn't daydream about an adult lifetime full of making younger people than I ever imagined I'd meet so catatonically bored that they wished that schools gave 'rain and sun and hailstone days' when the snow days hadn't yet arrived.
We need to ban the bored. That feeling of wishing you were somewhere - anywhere - else. That awful feeling of realising you've made somebody feel like that. That certainty that your life's work is making other people despair, and that you've slipped from a youth of daydreams into a defining adult workplace of your worst nightmares.
That old, despair-inducing, dull, ancient, out-of-touch, humourless, clueless dinosaur. That's not a plastic statue in a city shopping centre, or a terrifying exhibit in the Natural History Museum. Unless I do something to ban the bored, that's me.
And maybe you should do something to end this terrible ennui. Because maybe it could be you.Suggest a correction