keith at ela

Location: England UK and Philippines

Positions: Parent, Classroom Teacher Boy who could not read


“What are we doing now then?” David is trying to be good, though given his record in main school, I am obliged to consider potential repercussions should he be disappointed with my response.

He exudes a lazy menace, mitigated by, and possibly a result of, unfeasibly large ears.

“This is our Reading Session now David, up to break.”

“What sir?” He is trying. Sir indeed.

“We read. Your choice. Pick anything you want.”

“I can’t read “.

I know his reading age. It’s not great, but then it was so long ago, the last time the boy had come to grips with the written word, (according to available statistics).

In reality, it was about forty five minutes since I had watched him peruse the Daily Mirror.

“You were reading earlier, David, in our first session”.

“When?” His imposing lobes are taking on a pinkish tinge.

“In our Literacy Session. You were reading the Mirror.”

David gives the dishevelled evidence a dismissive glance. “I only looked at the pictures”.

David is with us for fifteen days, the consequence of fetching an illegal substance into school.

He’d have escaped retribution, had three year sevens not succumbed to a whitey in Maths, and grassed.

“You couldn’t have made those comments about Barack Obama if you’d just looked at the pictures, David. They were a great contribution to the debate. I told you so at the time.”

(Flattery, especially presented as cold hard fact, will get you everywhere).

“I got that off the news”.

(Or sometimes not).

“You added to the discussion about the news with something you read in the paper, remember? Anyway, I’ve got your reading age on file. You can’t get one of them if you can’t read”.

“How old am I then?”

“I can’t remember”. A white lie. “We can have a look later if you like”. ‘Nine’ isn’t going to sound good, and will guarantee combustive mirth from others.

David quits aggressive, and starts desperate. He appeals for mercy.

“I hate reading.”

“It gives me a bad head”.

He doesn’t need specs either. His last report intones, ‘David has completely failed to access our diverse curriculum, despite……’ No mystery there then.

The rest are still buried in their books, pretending to read, and with typical teenage cunning, failing to turn their pages. So for the common good, and all that, I conclude the conversation.

“We’ve got novels, footy programmes, magazines, and graphic novels; choose one and get on with it. If it’s not for you, fill in your review and find something else. This is the reading session David, that’s what we do.”

David glances at the haphazard, tumbling library. (Spines are the least interesting aspect of a book, I guess).

“Here”, I say, try this. “Everybody enjoys this one”. I pass him a slim novel. “If you can’t have a go at it, fair enough, just sit”.

“Can I draw?”


It’s a salacious effort, with a love triangle, drug fuelled crime, treachery, bloody retribution and lasses of the interesting sort. Popular enough to be stolen, and subsequently ransomed.*

David has a look at it, upside down. He opens it. He closes it. He puts it down. He looks around. He picks it up. He makes a tent with it.

He crouches and peers along the spine. He fans himself with the pages. He puts it on his head.

“Take care of your book, David. They’re expensive”.He puts it down, and pings it away, about three inches, just inside the confrontational zone. He looks around. He looks up, he looks down. He prepares to whistle. I shake my head, smiling. The pantomime continues. Then the cavalry comes.

Liam, a lifer, who is small, round, adjacent, and irresistibly fierce, sighs and says,

“You should read that Meadey, it’s mint. This one’s shite”. The sort of offer that you cannot refuse, apparently.

David picks the novel up. He turns it the right way up. He pulls back the cover. Page one…….


“Come on David, you’ve got coursework to do. Let’s go….”

“Can I just finish this chapter?”

“I’ll have my head in my hands if I don’t put some coursework on your file…”

“Come on sir, just three pages”.

I can’t let him beg. I deliver a carefully considered response.

“Yes David, finish your book”.



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