I’m always worried (it being a fundament of my character’s formation), but since my last blog, I’ve become particularly so. You see, my musing upon not being entirely happy that I should be exhorted to apply a growth mindset in my judgement of the works of children and yet oh so tempted to apply a rather more fixed mindset judgement of the nefarious doings of Donald J. Trump (I love using the ‘J’ as much as I assume does Donald J. Trump) has me wondering thusly: am I a modernist trapped in the body of a post-modernist? That is to say, do my efforts to reserve judgement and foster ever-present possibility in the minds (and even the pudgy, ink-smudged fingers) of children run counter to my instinct to judge with the finality of Saint Peter.
You see, judgement is something of an anchor in my world of rating, ranking and sorting. Not a week will pass by when I am not agonising over whether to give four or five stars to a taxi driver because his taxi smelled like the inside of a packet of salt and vinegar crisps. Not a week will pass without me obsessing over whether my procurement of a productivity app has increased my productivity or in fact served as an elaborate masking of procrastination, whilst I surf the App Store for an app to help me sort my productivity apps, thereby streamlining my non-existent workflow.
I once wrote a critical review of a Primal Scream album on Amazon. I said that I thought each song on the album was curiously lacking, two-dimensional – as if each song lacked a crucial element. Typically, each song seemed to veer between verse and chorus without the fabric softener of a middle-eight (not untypically Krautrockian of Primal Scream, but in this case rather too motorik even for them). A couple of days after I’d posted the review, someone replied to it, politely telling me that I had in fact reviewed a deliberately-truncated version of the album posted by Primal Scream via a torrent-sharing site in order to spoil attempts to illegally download the album. Now, quite how such a thing had come into the possession of one so hallowed as myself is anyone’s guess and should be politely left on the platform of the passing station to my train of thought.
But I was still worried. For one thing, I’d been publicly called out for illegally downloading an album. It was all the more exquisite that I should be caught whilst pontificating about the very album in its deliberately-bastardized form. I was the judge found to be wearing lingerie under his garb whilst passing judgement upon the moral probity of others.
Now, I have let these scandalous revelations shoulder me into a digressionary cul-de-sac. I’m standing in Privet Drive with gavel and wig, fishnets and clacking heels, like some lost baby boomer on a long-suppressed and explosive bender. And yet, judgement (the passing of judgement) still burns in my chest like cheap, knock-off cola. I want to judge. I want to write ‘A’ on things. I want to write ‘B’ on things. I want to write ‘good work’ so hastily that its misreading raises the one eyebrow my TA can raise without raising the other one.
When I write an improvement statement, oh, you should see my face. I am cursed with a highly-articulate face – there are muscular minutae in my eyebrows that can express the finest increments of emotional intensity; my lips can purse to an almost infinite mega-pixelage. But there are certain dark missions that even my face cannot illicitly be sent upon. I can write an ingraciating “You have used a full stop and a simile” on your written work, but I just can’t get my face to express the same sentiment of small celebration.
I tasked my TA to take a photo of my face every time I commented on a child’s piece of writing in their presence. Over a period of a school year, we collected over 7,500 of these mugshots. Sat with eyes forced open, like Alex in A Clockwork Orange, I had my, admittedly by this point quite impatient TA project these ‘judgemental otherlies’ onto our interactive whiteboard in rapid succession on a continuous loop.
I must have sat there for a good two hours (it being a slow lesson) and watched myself flicker; the minute gradations of eyebrow tension; the tautness of my hollowing cheek, lips ready to blow out a breath once the child had returned to his or her seat bathed in the twin afterglows of my positive comment and improvement statement. The bulb of the projector burned yellow in the centre of the whiteboard and I saw at last what my children must see every day: a tense, fracturing fabrication of warmth and possibility through which bore the eyes… the eyes of a judge.
Callum, one of my students, came over to me as I was sat quietly sobbing at the buzzing static of my own face projected upon the whiteboard. “Don’t worry, sir,” he said, somehow reading the condition of the broken teacher before him, “We know that you keep a red pen tucked into one of your stockings.”
Through a blurred vignette of tears I looked up at Callum. “Thank you, Callum.” I said.
“You’ll get there, sir.” he said. “In time.”
And I looked back at the interactive whiteboard, into my withering eyes.