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.