BOOK SYNOPSIS: So What! Stories or Whatever! is a collection of stories about the people who are found in a contemporary High School in England; tales that will make the reader laugh, cry, think deeply or differently, and maybe even be inspired or impressed. It generally follows the early and subsequent career of Robert Jeffrey, as he attempts to prove to himself that he can motivate the children he teaches to want to learn about Science – and maybe become scientists one day. All through the book we are made aware of the joys and disappointments experienced by pupils and their teachers.
The book tends to concentrate in the latter part on an unpleasant boy Kyle, who is a bully, and his effect on two other boys, Adam and Nigel Shantra. Unknown to Mr Jeffrey he also affects the way his teaching job changes at the exact time that Robert really feels he has become a “good teacher”. The three paths of Nigel, Kyle and Robert Jeffrey converge several years later, in the concluding chapters, to provide an unexpected twist to the tale.
Waterloo Road or Grange Hill meets Gervase Phinn? – well, maybe! Whether you love this book or hate it you will discover that the stories about its individuals will stay in your memory for a long time. With over twenty years teaching experience behind him, G J Griffiths has brought to the reader some of the stories about the children he taught, in this amusing and often poignant book. Parents, teachers, pupils and students will all recognise the characters and their tales. With the ever-present controversy about changing the education system this is a timely illustration of what is to be found in the classrooms of the contemporary High School.
‘Please, sir, what are those animals called with eight testicles?’
Mr Jeffrey could not help blinking, open-mouthed, at the two girls standing at his desk. His long, slow intake of breath gave him a chance to think. His first thought was This is a put-up job! But when he reminded himself they were only just out of Year Seven, and that two of the cleverest but most naive pupils in the year group were Claire and Samantha, then he told himself No, this has to be a genuine question. They were always so keen; they were always asking or answering questions in their own enthusiastic way; they were so artless. The artlessness that he often witnessed in the children he taught worried him greatly at times, while, at the same time, it was one of the main attractions for him as a teacher. It was one of the things that helped to counter-balance the unpleasant events often experienced by teachers in the course of their duties. Girls like these two were so vulnerable and occasionally he felt concern for the children he might have as a future parent himself. But for now he was both concerned and amused by Claire and Samantha.
With exercise books in hand and pens at the ready, they looked up at him in wide-eyed innocence. And he did not know the answer. Mr Jeffrey mentally rejected hydra, sea horses and anemones then replied, ‘Is this for your poster?’ They nodded vigorously. ‘I’m not sure what you mean, girls. Can you tell me anything else about these animals? Do they have fur or feathers? Do they lay eggs in water or on land? Don’t forget our new topic is called Classification. So you should be able to narrow it down a bit more. Don’t you agree?’
‘Well’, Claire said wistfully, ‘I’m not sure. It is quite unusual. It lives in the water. In the sea, I think’.
‘And it can grip things with its testicles. It can squeeze you to death with them! Or squirt stuff at you to escape!’ said Sam, triumphantly.
Now Mr Jeffrey’s mind went into a spin…
OK, he thought, My subject isn’t Biology but I’ve always been interested in the natural world and I’m sure I would have read about a sea creature that can grip things with its testicles.
The thunder of a hundred pennies dropping in his silent brain made him exclaim, ‘Oh! You mean an octopus, girls! An octopus has eight arms - or tentacles - but not testicles!’ Mr Jeffrey tried not to collapse with tears of suppressed laughter. ‘It’s an octopus that has eight tentacles, girls. They have suckers on them. And, yes, it does live in the sea. You’ll find more details on it in the blue text book over there.’
He waved his left hand vaguely in the direction of the bookcase, and drew their attention towards the correct spelling, which he wrote on the board for them with his right. Then he fished for a paper tissue from the box on his desk. Mr Jeffrey now regularly kept a box for small emergencies with the children: runny noses, cut knees and quite often for tears of sadness. He thought that he should stuff some in his mouth to suppress his laughter. But of course he could not easily do that in front of the class, so he coughed loudly, blew his nose even louder and wiped his eyes, trying hard to recover his composure.
As they went over to the bookcase Mr Jeffrey saw the two innocents put their heads close together. He heard Claire mutter, ‘Well, what are testicles for then? I know I’ve heard of them.’
Mr Jeffrey wanted to bottle the moment and save it for their parents’ amusement on Open Night… But that wouldn’t work. Claire’s mum and dad have just split up. She had already needed some of those tissues. Why was it that kids always seemed to feel it was their fault when their parents decided to live apart?
He came back down to earth with a heartfelt bump. The two girls were the closest of friends, luckily for Claire since she missed her father a lot. He had moved out of the family home and into their Chinese fish and chip shop for the time being. Claire was quite small for her age, pretty, with a shock of straight, jet-black hair. She had warm, deep brown eyes that twinkled with harmless mischief. All of the teaching staff thought that Claire was just so cute. Samantha was a typical English rose; long blonde hair, blue eyes, strawberries and cream complexion. Sam was about six inches taller than her very best friend. The loyalty between the two girls was fierce and often caused problems with their peers, although they each had time for Bobby.
‘Here’s a picture of an octopus’, said Claire, triumphantly holding the blue book in the air. When she arrived back at her desk there was a crumpled note on top of her exercise book. As Claire read it Samantha demanded, ‘What does it say? Who’s it from? Let me read it! Please, Claire!’
Claire started to weep silently. Sam became quiet and put her arm round her best friend’s shoulder.
‘Are you alright? What does it say?’ she whispered.
‘What does it say?’ asked Bobby, who was also in their group. A couple of boys glanced across at the girls in a very shifty way. Lyle watched for a reaction but Carl looked innocently to the ceiling while silently whistling to himself. Sam took the note from Claire and waved it in Lyle’s face, aggressively demanding, ‘Did you write this? I s’pose you think it’s funny. You’re pathetic, Pickman! I’m going to tell sir!’
Lyle Pickman tried to look innocent but he could not stop himself from giggling and glanced, mockingly at Claire. Meanwhile, the rest of the previously busy class had all stopped their work, and their discussions about fur, scales, number of legs and so on, came to an end. They needed all of their attentive faculties in order to focus on the dispute.
‘Mr Jeffrey,’ said Samantha, as she glanced first at Claire and then at Lyle. But by now Mr Jeffrey had become aware of the events...