Monday 2 December 2019

Interesting interruptions by Steve Way

I had just been thinking about one of the interruptions I had when I was presenting my stories in schools, which led me to thinking about other interruptions I had had over the years. I do seem to have had a number of interesting interruptions.

The interruption that sparked off this train of thought took place in a very large school hall. The children and I were located in the centre of the hall, looking like sailors in a boat in the centre of a huge ocean. As you can imagine in such a huge expanse sound was soon swallowed up so I was really having to work hard to project my voice and make sure the children could hear me. I’d just got through the introduction of a story and was getting into my stride when we were interrupted by a loud and regular clicking noise, like the firing of an old machine gun. It was the school secretary walking across the hall in stilettos accompanied by a man with a clipboard. The shooting stopped when the secretary stopped near us and started pointing up at the roof. Not unnaturally the children and I were all watching her to fascinated to discover the reason for this interruption. ‘Oh, don’t mind us,’ she declared cheerily and then proceeded to explain to her companion, who was clearly a builder of some kind, about the alterations the school wanted to make to the structure of the hall.

I looked back at the children and bless them they were as dumbfounded as me. Since she was largely pointing and looking upwards the secretary’s voice was echoing around the hall as though we sailors were now in a storm. As there’s always a tight schedule when you go into a school my instinct was to carry on but it was impossible. It was like trying to talk to someone at a rock concert. So I sat down and the children and I politely listened to the secretary’s detailed instructions. It took her a moment to realise that she had an audience. ‘No, no, please don’t mind us,’ she repeated. ‘It’s all right,’ I replied. ‘We’ll wait until you’ve finished.’ It took a second and then a penny dropped. ‘Oh alright then, we’ll come back later,’ she said sounding thoroughly piqued and then machine gun fire retreated into the distance, somehow managing to convey annoyance with every shot. 

What I found interesting about this minor event is was that I couldn’t fathom what it was that made the secretary think that I could just carry on regardless in the face of such a significant disturbance. She’s been far from on her own. When adults go to the theatre they don’t expect to be disturbed so why is it so often seen as acceptable to expect children to concentrate while being bombarded by a cacophony of sounds?

In one school I regularly worked with two classes and at the end of the morning we’d get together and the children and I would share the work we’d produced in our writing workshops. Rather than listen to us the two teachers would sit at the back and have a chat, the voices of the two men nearly drowning out the quiet voices of the children. I was put in an awkward position; I didn’t want to admonish the teachers in front of their class but their talking really disturbed our session. Significant looks in their direction were clearly too subtle for them it seemed. As ever with everyone, including me, having to dash off at the end of the lesson I never had a suitable opportunity to ‘have a word’ with them and the same pattern was repeated two or three times.

Another class in a school I visited for a day seemed to have a surfeit of teaching assistants. None of them unfortunately thought it would be appropriate to listen to the stories I was telling the children. Two of them took on the role of the teachers in the previous situation and enjoyed a hearty chinwag, while the other two employed themselves in putting up displays around the classroom. That might have been ok but they were using those kind of staple guns that go off like cannons. With two of them firing away it was like trying to tell stories in the OK Corral. We just needed someone in the corner plonking away on an out-of-tune piano! What made the situation more remarkable was that the class teacher was sitting near me passively watching all this mayhem going on. Not for the first time I wondered if many professionals in the teaching profession thought that children would ideally only listen to stories in the centre of a hurricane. God help them if they could listen uninterrupted. 

Once, in a case of unfortunate timing, at a school that had a hall looking onto a road, the council decided to dig up the pavement on the day of my visit. At least this time, as the whole hall was vibrating when an army of workers all switched on their road drills, the teachers realised that we needed to retreat elsewhere. (Indicating this via hand signals!) My highest decibel interruption however was made by the German Army!

I was visiting a primary school for the children of British service personnel at Bergen-Belsen. It was quite a remarkable school, looking within its boundaries like a primary school you would be able to see anywhere in Britain but completely surrounded by army barracks and training grounds, as if it had been built there accidentally. The hall looked out onto a playground that was bordered by a high fence. As it turns out on the other side of the fence was a roadway. Well you can probably largely guess the rest. Once more, just as I was getting into a tale, the German Army, or at least a very large portion of it, drove by outside the school in an assortment of very large military vehicles. Of course, the children were used to this and we all sat (or in my case stood) there for several minutes encased in sound. The modern German Army is remarkably big, thank goodness we’re now allies. After the final vehicle rattled by the silence seemed profound though that might have been because it took a while before our sense of hearing was restored. Bless them the children hardly blinked throughout the whole event and then we carried on as though nothing had happened. Perhaps this time the interruption was excusable.

Or at least armed only with a book and a couple of storytelling props I wasn’t going to argue with that lot!


Recently published books: Bongo the Armadillo (Volumes One, Two and Three) Despite Bongo being visited by a wide variety of characters and events, each story begins in the same way. ‘Surprising things happened to Bongo the Armadillo, usually when he was sitting in his garden having a cup of tea...’ May particularly be enjoyed by reluctant readers who enjoy the familiarity of a recognisable format.


Nick Garlick said...

I hope all your school visits aren't like this. (I've only made two, so have very little experience.)

Steve Way said...

Hi Nick, These were definitely the exceptions - and mostly going into schools is an absolute joy! I hope you have the opportunity to do many more visits!