In (Maths) Class

(written in 2009 when I was in Year 12)


We arrive late, glancing in at all the other classes, with their rows of students already sitting, waiting, at their desks, pens perched in hand, ready at a signal to start copying down notes, and slowly we make our way to the last classroom in the corridor; a classroom situated at the very edge of our school, from whose large back window, one can see out over the buildings beyond, into the lives of other people.


As we drift closer, the noise levels start to increase rapidly- the few people who have arrived on time today are making noise disproportionate to their number.  We hear shrieks of laughter and a few loud ‘shhhh’s before we are yanked by the arms and pulled inside.  The door is shut firmly as the details of our class’s latest plot are whispered into both my ears at once, by different people, at different speeds.  I smile- the idea is nothing new- just another of Tona’s Plans.  We are to pretend for the forth time this week (the other three times failed to launch) that it is our teacher (Mrs Van Schalkwyk)’s birthday.  People have already drawn presents wrapped up in such a way that one can see exactly what is ‘underneath’ them all over the board.


Footsteps approach.


Immediately, and simultaneously, all over the room, the various members of our class freeze mid-conversation, jump down from desks, return the whiteboard pens to their holds, run to their seats, pull out their books, finish their homework, pick up their pens and attempt (hopelessly) to look like their less rowdy neighbours –the classes further down the corridor.


Two seconds later, Mrs Van Schalkwyk walks through the door, glances suspiciously at us, looks to the board, confirming her suspicions before remarking, for not the first time, that whilst usually as the maths sets get higher, the classes become more and more well-behaved, the trend this year has proved the opposite.  We allow her this, then immediately burst into song:

‘Happy Birthday to you, Happy Birthday to you, Happy Birthday Dear Mrs Van Scalkwyyyyyk… Happy Birthday to you!’, all of us singing at the tops of our voices and missing the high notes each time.

‘Open your presents Mrs Van Schalkwyk!’ someone shouts.

‘Yes!’ says someone else.

‘Happy Birthday Mrs Van Schalkwyk!’ shouts one.

‘Have you had a good day so far?’ someone asks.


Mrs Van Schalkwyk looks at us amusedly, concedes that At Least we have Spirit she supposes and then proceeds to rub out our presents, which are to be replaced with work more core to our curriculum.  At the sight of work on the board, our entire mood changes.  We change our focus instantly; we are not lazy and we know when the time is to work.


For a while the lesson passes easily, us watching the logical progressions taking place on the board with only remnants of our ‘birthday presents’ showing through where they were not properly rubbed off.  I sit at the back of the classroom, making notes and at intervals, trying to finish some of my homework, so that I will not have to spend my free time doing it.  Next to me, Tona is cutting out little paper animals to be placed on the window at the back of the classroom where the light will shine through and create shadows.  The air is still and everyone is content, occupying herself in her own way.  Anri is copying down notes diligently so that Tona, when she comes to her senses, will be able to access some of our maths notes.  Someone yawns and someone coughs.  All the while, more maths is being written on the board and the people outside the window continue with their everyday lives.  I lean back and look out the window and watch as a car drives by, leaving in its wake only the soft purr of the engine.


Homework is now being marked.  People are leaping out of their chairs to copy down their solutions onto the board –the novelty of using a whiteboard pen on a whiteboard never seems to wear off.  People are asking Maggie for explanations  and are lining up alongside Mrs Van Schalkwyk’s desk, asking how certain questions should have been answered.  Doyle is leaning back in her chair and talking to me about something not related to maths and Anri is telling Tona to concentrate.


Suddenly, the bell rings, and all activity accelerates.  The people at the board hastily finish writing up their solutions, Maggie quickly explains, Mrs Van Schalkwyk quickly answers, Doyle quickly finishes talking and Anri simply sighs.


Two seconds later, the once people-filled-classroom is deserted and all that remains of us is our chatter slowly disappearing down the passageway and the few remnants of birthday presents left on the board, that were not properly rubbed off.

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