Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Et tu, Magistra

A short story I wrote some time ago. It's not one of my best.

In British schools, there has been legal requirment for a "daily act of worship, of broadly Christian character." I imagine that sounds completely bizarre to Americans. These 'worship' ceremonies are called assmblies and typically involve no more than the headmaster telling a story with a moral lesson ('broadly Christian character'). It's not a rigidly enforced, but it is still technically a legal requirement (please don't argue with me about this).

These assemblies are often held in gyms, hence this story. I remember when I was eleven years old, our head of form used to wear really high heels and kick them off for the school assembly in the gym.

Kate was just grabbing a coffee in the school staff room when she was approached by Judy, the headmistress.

"I liked the display you put up in your classroom, Jane," said Judy. "Those kids put some real effort into that work and it shows."

"Thanks a lot, Judy," replied Kate.

"Um, I know this might sound awkward, Kate, but I have noticed that when your class take their shoes off in the gym for the assembly, you keep yours on," said Judy, looking slightly embarassed.

"Yes, I do. I always make sure the class take their shoes off before they come in the gym though," replied Kate. "I've always kept mine on. Jennifer and Helen keep their shoes on too."

Judy nodded.

"Um, yes. Well I was going to speak to Jennifer and Helen too. I just caught you first," said Judy.

"You want us to take our shoes off too?" asked Kate, making a face.

"Well, yes."

"Seriously? Is that really necessary? I mean, the kids take their shoes off in assembly, so it can't make that much difference," argued Kate.

"Yes, but their shoes are all flat. Your shoes have heels. And I have noticed a few scratches in the gym," said Judy.

"I'd rather not take my shoes off. I'd feel a bit silly with my class in my stocking feet," said Kate.

"You're not the one giving the lesson. I'm the one standing in front of them all and I take my shoes off," said Judy.

"You don't feel at all silly?" asked Kate.

"No. And it gives my feet a break," replied Judy.

"But you know what my class are like. When they are coming in for assembly, they are pulling each other's hair and talking. How am I supposed to keep my authority with them when I'm standing their with no shoes on? I'll be a good deal shorter as well," protested Kate.

"You really think it would make that much difference, Kate?" asked Judy, who was starting to look exasperated. "I'm not sure why you are being difficult about this."

"I dress for work. I dress to present an image of authority and elegance. And now you want to take that away from me."

"I'm not asking you to teach the class in a boiler suit. I'm not asking you to have your shoes off all day. I'm asking you to take your shoes off for twenty minutes during assembly. Is that so difficult?" asked Judy.

Kate said nothing.

"You can always wear slippers in the gym," suggested Judy.

Kate gave a disgusted look.

"No thanks! I'd feel ridiculous in my bedroom slippers. I'd rather be barefoot if I have to be," she replied. "You are absolutely firm on this?"

"Yes, Kate. We spent a lot of money on that gymnasium. There is no money in the budget for replacing the floor."

"Fine, but if you get ill, I'm not leading the assembly," said Kate with a shrug.

"Sure Kate. Get the vicar in to give a talk if that happens," said Judy, satisfied with winning the argument.

"If he does, I'll leave it to Helen to ask him to take his shoes off."


Paul said...

Not plausible at all. Either Judy is obsessive-compulsive or the floors in that gym are rotten. I could see this story possibly happen in Japan or Korea, but England? No way.

Matthew Celestis said...

Judging by my experience, this is plausible in England. No headteacher is going to be happy about an expensive gymnsaium getting wrecked.

Paul said...

Then why not move the assembly to some other large room without ridiculously impractical floors? Have you actually seen such assemblies held in the gym?

Matthew Celestis said...

Assuming such a large room is available.

Yes, I attended those assemblies as a kid and the teachers did take their shoes off.

Paul said...

I thought each school had a room specifically designated for an assembly.

Did the teachers change into slippers or proper gym shoes when the assemblies were held in those schools you mentioned?

Matthew Celestis said...

No, they were just in their stocking feet

Paul said...

Mmmm and did they still look professional and authoritative when they were there in their stocking feet?

Matthew Celestis said...

That's probably not a question I would have thought about being, eleven years old at the time. I certainly wasn't used to seeing adults take their shoes off. But I didn't see anyone being cheeky or disrespectful to them.

Paul said...

I do remember two teachers take their shoes off when they had to climb the chairs to reach something on the high shelf or above the blackboard. They both were standing on a chair in their stocking feet. One of them did mention to the whole class why she had to take their shoes off. I remember it felt very unusual to see these female teachers take their shoes off.

Paul said...

Did the teachers in your case explain to everyone why taking shoes off was important?

Matthew Celestis said...

I think that was rather obvious- to protect the gymnasium floor. I don't think they needed to explain.

Paul said...

I don't think it is obvious at all. Surely the athletes practicing at the gymnasium wore their shoes there?

Matthew Celestis said...

We normally did PE in the gym barefoot

Paul said...

Did you play soccer and basketball there barefoot????

Matthew Celestis said...

Soccer and rugby we played outdoors. I can't remember playing basketball in the gym. It was for gymnastics and dance.

Do you live in the UK? Doing indoor PE barefoot is pretty common here.

Mark said...

We always had to do gym in bare feet throughout my schooling days. At comprehensive the teachers were very strict about outdoor shoes on the gym floors. Also any boys who were excused gym with a "sick note" had to sit on the sidelines and were made to remove both shoes and socks before entering. The floors were slippery and socks could have presented a danger
Incidentally, at first and middle school,we were not allowed to wear outdoor shoes. the whole school had new floors so we had to change into plimsoles when we came in. Anyone forgetting them had to go bare foot all day.
These regimes instilled into us the habit of removing shoes and it gave us respect for property.
All of my friends at the same school always took their shoes off on their own home and when they came to mine.Sometimes simple education can teach us some important things.

Kelly said...

Mark - your story reminds me of my elementary school days when I was in a choir. The choir rehearsals were in the large room with a stage. The teacher wanted students to stand in three rows where the first row was standing below the stage, the second row was standing on soft chairs below the stage, and the third row was standing on the stage. The teacher made sure that everyone standing on the soft chairs took their shoes off - she was very strict about it. Some students didn't like it but she would not budge. By the end we were done with that class everyone was trained to take their shoes off before getting up on the furniture.