• Eric Rushton

Eric Rushton: Supply Teacher

Updated: Jul 1, 2020

“But Sir, you’re a slag.”


“Jamie, what on Earth are you talking about?”

“It’s just, I thought you wanted us to call you a slag?”


Every time he said the word slag, the room erupted again.


“Jamie I don’t know what you’re going on about, but you’re in big trouble.”

“Are you a slag, Sir?”

“NO JAMIE I AM NOT A SLAG!”



I was teaching the other day and a kid decided to lock himself in the cupboard for the entire lesson.


It was a year 10 Maths lesson. A lot of kids find learning Maths boring, which is fair enough; I’m not here to judge, but I am here to violate their privacy by describing their behaviour in a widely read comedy blog. I don’t mean widely read in terms of numbers btw, I just mean I know my mum reads this thing in landscape mode on her iPad.


I should say, in case you’re worried, that events described here have been changed for entertainment purposes, and the characters in this piece should be thought of as fictional; any likenesses to real people are purely coincidental. Extremely coincidental, in fact. Uncanny, really.


Back to this kid who locked himself in the cupboard. To protect his identity, I won’t use his real name. I’ll just call him a little moron without a future. The cupboard thing was a prank. I get pranked a lot in life. So much so that when I ask a girl out and she says yes, I have to look closely again and double-check she’s not one of the lads from Impractical Jokers.


“Would you like to go for a drink sometime?”


“Yeah sure thing, sounds good.”

“Good – now, are you wearing a mic?”


“What?”

The main area of life I get pranked in is the workplace. Workplace pranking is something that we don’t talk about enough in society. I can see why tbf; we’ve got bigger fish to fry at the moment. But as soon as racism and sexual harassment are sorted, I’d like to see more people getting their p45s handed to them for switching the lids on salt & pepper shakers in staff canteens.


I work in schools, and I get pranked by the kids rather than my colleagues. Which is a strange dynamic when you think about it. That’s like working in a shop and getting pranked by the customers – going to start your shift behind the counter, only to find a massive dick drawn on your till, looking up and seeing a shop full of Poundland customers laughing at you.


I get pranked a lot because I’m a supply teacher. Kids already have very little respect for teacher’s in general. Teachers and kids are like two opposing armies, coming in as a supply teacher is like turning up in Syria as a boy scout and going, “Right, listen up, I’m taking charge now.” When I turn up to a lesson the kids literally celebrate because of how much of a piss-take their next hour is gonna be. “Sir, have we got you today?! Yess!!!!”


I’ve had all sorts of pranks. One that’s quite big on the pranking-the-supply-teacher circuit at the moment is The Switching Names Prank. In The Switching Names Pranks, the kids use complex combinatorial and statistical mathematics to switch their names around in a way that maximises hilarity. Then when the teacher calls out names in the register, the wrong kid answers and everyone laughs. Personally, I don’t really get it, but I guess that’s the subjective nature of comedy.


The lesson where the kid locked himself in the cupboard was a quiet one for pranks. There were no crude drawings on my board, nothing placed in my tea, no fake coughing (fake coughing is another common one I don’t get – a kid coughs really loudly and continuously, I tell them off, and then they go “Sir you can’t tell me off for being ill” and people laugh).


I was given a paper register that had the kids pictures next to their faces, so I know The Switching Names Prank wasn’t in operation. The kids seemed fairly sensible.

Sometimes you get lessons like this, and normally I just take the opportunity to relax a bit, maybe covertly write some jokes on my desk at the front. About 40 minutes into the lesson, I remember looking down at my notepad:


What’s the deal with the phrase “The best revenge is living well”? I really think that depends on the severity of what’s been inflicted on you. “You’ve just killed my whole family? You know how I’m gonna get you back? I’m gonna get really comfortable in my own skin. I might even take up Yoga and change my diet. That’ll show you.”


Not bad, I thought. Not bad at all, Rushton. I looked up at the kids all diligently completing their worksheets on quadratic equations and I felt a bit bored. I knew I wasn’t gonna come up with anything better than the revenge joke so I just gazed with a soft focus, trying to meditate like my Headspace app tells me to do. I did the thing where you imagine all your thoughts are cars on the motorway, driving past as you watch from the side – because picturing your depressive thoughts as high-speed metal death-machines makes them less scary for some reason. After that, I focused on my breath, and then the sounds around me.


I heard something at the back. The kids were all super quiet and concentrating on their work, so it wasn’t them. I realised it was coming from the cupboard, someone shuffling around. The cupboard doors flung open and a kid jumped out and shouted “WAYYYYY!”


It got nothing. I mean literally, nothing. The kids looked around, confused. The little moron without a future’s face dropped. After having endured so many pranks, so many humiliating, demeaning pranks, it felt great watching this kid bomb. He obviously thought he was gonna be a legend for doing it. He’d have been sitting in the cupboard, imagining this entire new identity for himself where he would be the coolest kid in school. Now his dreams were shattered. It was amazing. It was honestly one of the top 5 moments in my life and I’ve kissed 6 girls before.


“Go stand outside,” I said.


“But, Sir—“


“NOW!” I shouted.


“What was that?” I asked, as I joined him outside the classroom.


“I… I… I just thought it would be funny.”


“Well, you’ve just earned yourself a detention,” I said, as smug as a bug on a rug having a tug (I dunno). “Have you got anything to say for yourself?”


“No.”

"Excuse me?”


“No, Sir.”


“Thank you.”

We re-entered the classroom, and Jamie (I’ve gotta give him a name at some point, genuinely not his real name though) sat quietly at his desk, defeated.



I felt restless, itchy; there was this feeling in my stomach. You know like that heavy feeling of dread? Guilt, maybe?


I kept thinking about Jamie. His face when I was telling him off. The way he stuttered when he spoke to me. The resignation in his body-language when he returned to the classroom. All this after him jumping out of a cupboard with a huge grin and shouting WAYYYYY!


All the images kept going round in my head, like a sad Instagram story playing on repeat, but from an account that you can’t mute or unfollow. It’s just there, constantly. I tried to picture his sad face with a silly sombrero hat filter on top, but it didn’t help, if anything it added a racial dynamic to the whole thing that made me feel even worse.


Was I too harsh on him? Should have I just left it? Did he really need a detention on top of the humiliation of the prank bombing?


I kept tossing and turning. He was trying to get a laugh. If anyone knows how much that means to someone, then that’s me. There’s a reason that defeated face was haunting me so much, and that’s because it’s the same face I pull after every bad stand-up gig. It’s the face of someone who’s questioning their worth as a person. My identity is so wrapped up in being funny that when it comes into question it can properly shatter my confidence.


How could I do that to Jamie? What if he goes around thinking he’ll never get a laugh again?



The next morning in school, I went straight to Jackie Marshall, the Head of Year 10.


“Jackie, would it be okay for me to take Jamie Beesley out of his detention today?”


“The one you placed him in? Why?”


Jackie doesn’t respect me. I’d only been on supply at that particular school for about a week, but it was enough time for her to come to the conclusion that I didn’t know what I was doing. On my first day, she mistook me for a 6th Former and asked me why I was walking into the staffroom. When you think about it, that situationnshould really be more embarrassing for her, because she’s been totally unprofessional. But I definitely came off worse.


“I’d just like to go over the work he missed, one-on-one. Is that okay?”

“Do what you want, Derek. It’s no odds to me.”

I didn’t bother correcting her. At lunch, I went to the detention room to intercept Jamie before he arrived.


“Jamie, come with me,” I said. “We’re gonna do the detention in my room.”


“Erm… okay, Sir.”


He seemed a bit apprehensive. When we got to my room, he started apologising again.

“Sir, I’m really sorry about yest—"


“Forget it,” I said, interrupting. “We have 40 minutes left of lunch, we’ve got work to do.”

“What do you mean?”


“We need to write.”


“Write?”

I looked at Jamie, and I felt more connected to him than ever. I realised that he even physically resembled what I looked like as a teenager: bad posture, bad spots, bad dandruff. Jamie and I were the same, even if he didn’t realise it.


“Listen, Jamie,” I said. “You may not believe this, but when I’m not working here, I’m actually a stand-up comedian…”


I paused here because I thought he’d be impressed. He didn’t react. I`m slowly learning as I get older that people don’t think stand-up comedy is as cool as I do. I continued:


“So I know what it feels like to not get a laugh when you’re expecting one. I know how it must’ve felt yesterday when you jumped out that cupboard. So we’re gonna write. We’re gonna come up with the prank to end all pranks.”


Jamie’s face was a mixture of excitement and confusion. We got to work. It was like a movie montage, each of us pitching ideas, me writing on the board and furiously rubbing out idea after idea as we discovered their fatal flaws.


12:48. Twelve minutes until next period and we had nothing. Five or six initially promising pranks had been scrapped by this point.


“What now?” Jamie said to me.


I sat at my desk, not knowing how to reply. I anxiously flicked at a post-it note that had some instructions about the cover work I was to do this afternoon. It was Jamie’s class next, and that’s when I was hoping this redemption-prank would come to fruition. I looked back at the post-it note.


“I’ve got it!” I screamed.


“Sir?”

I began writing on the board. Getting it all down. There’s something magical about when writers block subsides and this state of flow takes over.


I stepped back from the board.


“What do you think?” I said.


“Sir… it’s… it’s brilliant.”

“Okay, you need to memorise it. We’ve got five minutes. I need to rub this off.”



Five minutes later I was welcoming year 10 maths into the classroom.


“Okay guys, sit in your normal seats, we don’t need to be talking,” I said, reeling off the standard teacher script.


The lesson started off in much the same fashion as the previous day’s lesson: no pranks, and everybody getting on with their work. I was sat at my desk writing into my notepad.


You know how people have those marriage pacts with their friends? Like “if we don’t find someone by the time we’re 40 we’ll just marry each other”? I do that a lot, but I really reduce the time-limit on it. I say to my female friends “You know, if we don’t find someone in the next 5 minutes shall we just marry each other?” They’re like “Are you asking me out?” I’m like “I see it as more of a pact, but sure.”


Fantastic stuff, Eric, I thought. If you keep this up you’ll be the finest comic of your generation.


But there was another creative project I was beginning to doubt, and that was the prank Jamie and I had come up with. It wasn’t due to kick off until around 45 minutes into the lesson, and that was enough to time to doubt every facet of it. How could I be sure it was gonna work? Comedy is subjective. Sure, I perform at comedy clubs every week, and do it very very well, but I haven’t pranked someone in years. This was a whole different fish kettle. I guess I just had to have faith, and follow the plan.


Abbey Baker put her hand up. “Sir, I need to go to the toilet?”


This was the beginning of Phase 1. It was risky, but the whole plan hinged on Abbey Baker making her usual request to leave the classroom. She always asks to go to the toilet around 15 minutes before the end. Students aren’t normally allowed to leave the classroom during lessons, but Abbey will come up to me and say she’s on her period and that she needs to go urgently, and I can’t really argue with that so I let her go.


“Can you sign my planner, Sir?” Abbey asked. If the teacher decides to let a student go to the toilet, they’re supposed to sign their planner so that the hall monitor knows they’re not loitering.


“It’s fine, Abbey, just go.”


Abbey left, and Jamie’s hand shot up. “Sir, can I go to the toilet?”


“No Jamie, you can wait until the end of the lesson.”


“But Sir, you let Abbey go.”


“Yeah, but that’s different.”

“How’s it different?” Jamie said. “I’m on my period too.”


A small giggle spread around the room. No matter how much progress feminism has made in the last few decades, periods are still funny to schoolchildren.


“You don’t have periods, Jamie. You’re a boy.”

“That’s sexist that is, Sir. That’s transphobic.”

Starting a discussion around gender politics, Phase 2 was in full swing.

“Jamie, you’re being silly now. You can wait until the end of the lesson.”

Jamie stopped answering back. The plan hadn’t finished yet, but the first two phases had achieved their purpose: changing the tone of the lesson. The mood was different now, and this would act as a foundation going forward, kind of like a good defence in a Premier League winning football team. Now it was time for the offensive to commence.


Jamie’s hand went up again. “Sir, can I borrow a pen?”

“Jamie, it’s nearly the end of the lesson, why have you waited this long to ask for a pen?”

“Mine ran out, Sir.”


“Fine, but I’m really not impressed, Jamie.”

Jamie walked over to my desk, collected the pen, patted me on the back and said, “Cheers, Sir.” Phase 3 had begun.


There was ten minutes of the lesson to go. “Okay, guys, I’m gonna go through the answers on the board,” I said, getting up from my desk. When I turned to write on the board, the giggling returned.


I turned to face the students. “Okay, guys, I don’t know what’s going on, but please don’t let yourselves down so close to the end of the lesson.”

I turned to the board again. The giggling resumed.


“Right, everyone,” I said, firmly. “Can someone tell me—“


“Sir, you’re a slag!” Jamie called out.


The whole class burst out laughing.


“Jamie! Go stand outside!”


“But Sir, you’re a slag.”


“Jamie, what on Earth are you talking about?”

“It’s just, I thought you wanted us to call you a slag?”


Every time he said the word slag, the room erupted again.


“Jamie I don’t know what you’re going on about, but you’re in big trouble.”

“Are you a slag, Sir?”

“NO JAMIE I AM NOT A SLAG!”


The room went silent. Standing in the doorway was Jackie Marshall, the Head of Year 10, alongside Abbey Baker. Jackie was on Hall Monitoring duties this period and Phase 4 had now begun.


Jackie walked over to me and peeled a post-it note off my back. After looking at me in the eyes with her resting bitch-face, she looked at the post-it note and read it:

“Call me a slag.”

The classroom went mental. Laughter. Applause. The kids spontaneously rose from their seats to give a standing ovation, something unheard of in the classroom prank circuit. I was well and truly humiliated, but this time I was glad to be humiliated. I looked over at Jamie, he had a big grin on his face. Other students were high-fiving him and calling him a legend.


He looked over at me. Our eyes met. His eyes said, “thank you.” Mine said, “No worries.”


You know, it’s kind of true what they say about teaching. You really can make a difference.



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