I remember the name Tommy Bailey with great pleasure. Many years ago he was in my class at school. The class had a great debate lasting well over a week and decided that they wanted a fish tank.
The tank arrived in due course. All the children then poured over books on tropical fish. We raided the local library and borrowed every book on tropical fish the librarians would allow out.
Orders were placed in local pet shops and one by one the fish arrived. Every child had the opportunity of bringing his or her own fish.
The tank looked wonderful. Children came from other classes. Even the teachers stooped over the tank and made encouraging noises. It was a great success.
Little Tommy was a border. He lived on a farm many miles away. He did not have the opportunity of going to the shops to buy a fish – so he took the matter into his own hands.
One Sunday evening he rushed up to me and asked for the key to the classroom. I was the teacher on duty in the hostel and could see our classroom from the veranda we were standing on. Tommy grabbed the key and ran over the field to the classroom. A few seconds later he locked the door and returned the key to me. The bell for the evening meal rang a few minutes later and we all went in for our food.
I walked across to school the following morning – and saw a group of children crying at the door. The children rushed up to me.
They all yelled at once: “There is a big fish that has eaten all our fish!”
“Something has eaten our fish!”
In the bottom of the tank lay a very large fish. Tommy had caught the fish in the dam on his farm. He had brought the fish to school in a plastic bag. This big bloated fish had simply eaten over thirty tropical fish.
Tommy arrived a little later. It took some time to calm the children down. Little Tommy grew quieter and quieter. We said a few prayers for the fish – because I had provided one too.
After break the children discussed the tank and the fish. The talking revolved around the feasibility of buying replacement fish or abandoning the project. Almost every child wanted the `big bad fish’ to pay.
The class decided to abandon the fish element of the tank. They appointed Tommy to look for lizards.
The tank lay empty for three weeks. Then one Sunday evening Tommy arrived at my hostel door clutching a paper bag and asked for the key to the classroom.
He was in the classroom very early on Monday morning. All was forgiven – but not forgotten.
One of the girls pointed out very strongly that there was a big difference between watching three lizards and over thirty brightly coloured fish.
The whole point behind this story is that it is very important to listen to not only what children are saying – but what they really mean. If on that Sunday evening I had asked Tommy why he wanted access to the fish tank we may have had a different story. Tommy, you see, was the boy appointed by the class to feed the fish every Sunday evening. So I was accustomed to giving him the key on Sunday evenings.
So for all the new parents setting off on the eleven plus journey – every now and then question your child’s motives – and don’t take too much for granted.