One heckuva Monday morning

By Nina, a supply teacher in the South West


9.30 am on a sparkling beautiful Monday morning, in a school slap bang in the centre of Plymouth City, I’ve been charged with teaching RE and we are all meditating. It’s a good start.

In another time and setting, this could have been a nightmare, but this particular loveable bunch of year five and sixes made it work. I’ve been doing supply work with some of these children for twelve months and, if I am not mistaken, we immediately hit it off. Buddhism is not a subject I know much about but I was able to begin a discussion that evoked real thought. My lesson was a reflection of what the class teacher had prepared for me and I received what I gave.

As I am probing the class with open questions on the Buddhist faith, I am peering at faces that are happy, engaged and keen. With the quality of these responses, I am starting to believe that Bradley could imminently become an MP and Lisa is sitting her GP final medical exams this weekend. I pinch myself. Even Akeem has stayed in the Buddha pose for the entire session and at least Jumpy Jimmy has been using his ears and eyes because it looks like he is trying to mimic my attempt of a tree pose at the back.

We began to explore the heart of the awe inspiring pillars of the faith – the noble truths and the ultimate truths. I showed enthusiasm for how significant these concepts were, for I was aware that today I am very much a learner myself. Pennies are dropping as we realise money doesn’t matter and we discuss the favourite things we own. D. S. Derran admits he has once, and one time only in his life, got bored with his computer and Kali audibly gasps as she realises the mobile phone she was once so desperate to get for Christmas she no longer wants (which anyway just stopped working last week for totally no reason and in any case it wasn’t so cool any more as it had a diamante cover and she wasn’t into the design now she’s into something better).

‘I want happiness’ as a sentence gets destroyed. Try removing the ‘I’ from the sentence because that is ego. Remove ‘want’ because that is desire. Then you are left with ‘happiness’. Flip me! This is one ‘heckuva’ Monday (for those unfamiliar with Plymuff slang, heckuva in many contexts means extraordinary)!

In groups, we talked and wrote notes about how Buddhists would live their lives. Euan made it tricky for Jessica because they wouldn’t share, but I reminded them not to bicker with each other because Euan is only a product of his actions right now – in the next moment ourselves and others can behave differently and nothing is permanent. Besides, could Euan perform an action that is genuinely a gift for someone else and return the pens to Jessica?

I listen attentively to Ryan’s discourse about who exactly was wrong and who was right in the last squabble with his neighbour Simon. However, as I see him forgetting to breathe, I remind him that every human has suffering and what matters is that these feelings will pass.

“Was Buddha greedy?” I ask and the discussion that follows concerns obesity, exercise and the importance of deep breathing. We couldn’t be serious for too long so we take ten belly breaths then giggle – we were choosing the middle path. The bell rings and the class leave calmly.

What on Earth is going on today? I ask myself as I complete my play time duty. Not a squabble on the playground and the fight I went to break up was, in fact, genuinely good humoured play. I have an earnest Aaron on my side who I ask about his upcoming secondary education but he returns to say how he is actually thoroughly enjoying his present school. I recall how children do that so well – living in the moment.

“Well done for this morning; it was a good lesson” he says, kindly. I nearly choke on my snack, first with shock, then suspicion, before I remember that Buddha advised us to say only nice things to others. “Get off the grass…” I shout across the playground yet incredibly I hear the reply “Sorry Miss” so I feel almost honoured to holler back “Thank you!”

Numeracy comes and goes like a dream as I link the complications of having thirty children building cuboids from paper with the struggle to attain enlightenment. Before long, the bell rings and the lunchtime supervisor made responsible for break time detentions arrives at the door.

“Any naughty ones?” she asks expectantly.

“Nope,” I reply and I see her tired eyebrows rise up in silent surprise and relief.

Perhaps today, I got closer to Nirvana.