A Grammar of Dead Souls – Episode 1


My classroom is empty. It is two weeks into the start of my first year here and my classroom is empty. 

It has been so for two weeks. No student has set foot across the threshold into this classroom. I don’t know why this is the case and I’m too afraid to ask.

The walls are covered with students’ work that I have produced. I have painstakingly created personas for each child; I have begun to keep records of their attainment, including their successes and their areas for improvement. Each one of them has distinctive handwriting, each one a foible (a misspelt -ed ending, an omitted full stop, an undotted ‘i’) – the work on the wall reflects back each one of these many foibles and more.

None of these children exist.

Before the start of the academic year, I prepared their homework diaries. My new school has a bespoke diary, with a week spread across two pages. In the back of the diary is a section for their reading record. They must write the title of the book they have read and their parents must sign in an adjacent box. I tick and initial and date each of these signatures.

After the first few days in this empty room, I began to write the names of the books these non-existent children had read in these diaries. I have a register of names and so I took these names and began to prepare the diaries for them. I wrote a name and forename onto the cover of each diary. As the days go by, I have been writing the names of books into each diary; I have been adding notes into the weekly sections (homework tasks, reminders for exams, that type of thing). I have even begun to graffiti the diaries of students that I imagine to be naughty.

Every day, I sit at my desk at the front of this room. Usually I am either writing in the students’ diaries or I am producing their work, marking it and recording each student’s attainment in the school’s cloud-based markbook. I can see other teacher’s names, blinking, in the corner of other highlighted cells in this spreadsheet. I can see them enter data for other children. I haven’t seen any other children. I think I have heard them, but not seen them. In two weeks, nothing.

Sometimes I hear footsteps in the corridor outside the classroom (I keep the door closed). Sometimes I see the silhouette of a face in the frosted glass of the door’s single window. I have learned to start to my feet at the sound of footfall. I have started to speak loudly into the empty classroom when I hear someone passing.

“Connor, sit up, please.”

“Which of these do you think is not really a sentence?”

“Has anyone seen Adrienne this morning?”

I have begun to think about adopting voices for the replies to these questions. Not yet, but soon anything to keep those footsteps from drawing to a halt before my door. It seems to be the thing to do.

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