So What! Stories or Whatever!
By G.J. Griffiths2 out of 5
STORIES FROM THE CLASSROOM! HOW DO THEY SURVIVE? WHETHER STUDENT, TEACHER OR PARENT THEY WILL HAVE YOU LAUGHING OR CRYING! Waterloo Road or Grange Hill meet Gervase Phinn - well maybe! Whether you love this book or hate it you will have to admit that the stories about its characters will stay in your memory for a long time. With over twenty years teaching experience behind him, G J Griffiths has brought to the reader some of the stories about the children he taught, in this amusing and often poignant book. Parents, teachers, pupils and students will all recognise the characters and their tales. All through the book we are made aware of the joys and disappointments experienced by their teachers, Mr Jeffrey and his colleagues. With the ever-present controversy about changing the education system (again!) this is a timely illustration of what is to be found in the classrooms of the contemporary High School.
Slow to start, but the second half runs smoother. I can see this appealing to those that want to relive their teaching days.
Normally I give a mini-synopsis at the start of a review; as well as being a nice round-up, it helps remind me remember what the story is about. Unfortunately, I couldn't work out what this was about beyond school.
There was no story.
So What! is described as a "collection of school stories". Which implies mini-stories, which logic would dictate have beginnings, middles and ends. The different stories might intersect, share information and timelines; their might be running jokes or themes; but they are different stories. Beginning. Middle. End.
Unfortunately, G.J. Griffiths has taken everything above and thrown it into a huge mixing pot.
I feel I need a diagram to explain the timeline. Everything is the present, except for when its six years in the future or three months ago; or was it the other way round. There are times in the chapters where one paragraph plays today, the next visits nine years ago - but the voice is still in the present tense. Then the next time there's a skip, it's in memory form, so the voice is recounting in past tense. There is no consistency! And often no reason for a time skip!
If you want to read a good example of time skipping, and use of reflections, try Existence is Futile or The Time Traveller's Wife.
The time skips completely ruined any chance of relationships developed. Robert and his wife are a prime example. The book starts with us knowing that Robert is married. Then it's back to the past where he acknowledges there's a woman called Jenny at school he fancies. Then it goes off on a tangent. Then skips. Then Robert changes school. Then he went on a date with Jenny and two years later they were married.
That is almost how it is laid out, very staccato, where we are told everything. There was no fluidity, no detail, no feeling of "What if?". We are given the conclusion before the question is even asked.
Then there's the perspectives. There are far too many. It centres mainly on Mr Jeffrey/Robert - he is our main character. But the book starts with the kids. Then it switches to other teachers and heads of year etc for no real reason. Again, this could work well if the book was broken up - say chapter one told the story of the kids' homework. Chapter two told the story of the headmaster. Then I could understand the switching between so many characters, and their would be logic, and I wouldn't be feeling lost and confused every other paragraph.
Then we have the whole tone of big sections of the book. Something that I could have overlooked if I wasn't already in a fairly annoyed state by the previous points.
There are parts that feel like "Teaching 101", giving us the pointers and breakdown of how to give a certain look, or what phrases to use. How to stand, and hold yourself. I found myself wishing that the author had approached it a little differently - sure you want to express the nuances of teaching (after teaching for 14 years myself, I get it), but if this book is supposed to be entertainment, can't the people discussing this have a little character? This would have been a perfect opportunity for an Alan Partridge-esque character to be giving teaching tips.
Instead all the characters were flat and merged into one. The adults were all amiable and agreeing. I will admit the children had a bit more colour to them.
Even Mr Jeffrey felt... ok, honestly, I couldn't read it without thinking of a certain prick of a teacher I had at A Level (who shall be known only as CP). Coincidently, CP was a science teacher too. He was the best there was, and I mean table-thumping, hearty-cheer best. No other opinion could possibly match up to his expertise. He stood at the front of the class and played the role of teacher, knowing exactly how to put his foot down and shout when he found a victim; and when to give that practised look. It's only fair to point out that I used to correct CP's daily mathematical mistakes; and although he thought the other teachers were laughing with him, the truth was a little harsher.
Sorry, I digress. Back to Robert. The way he was written it was like a gratuitous biography. My Jeffrey had learnt how to put his foot down, he would punish the disruptive child from his colleague's class, because she couldn't manage him. Or he would give that perfect look that would command respect. Again, we are told all this about Robert with no modesty. Can't he be imperfect? Clumsy? Or OCD? Can't he have a hint of uncertainty?
Right, I'm going to go read Flour Babies to cheer myself up.