Half way through secondary school I started to come out of the other side of puberty, stand on my own two feet and develop the confidence necessary to take my place in adult society.
I had been moved up to the top class in English. Hurrah! At last I felt I could compete with the best in the school.
The teacher, however, did not see it that way at all. He was a terrible snob who used to tell his class ‘You are set one. You are the cream’. I was the interloper he would glare at as he chanted his mantra. His eyes would bore into me and I would redden with embarrassment and squirm in my seat. Cheeky set three girls who worked their way up through the sets had no place in his world. This reverse psychology worked a treat – if he saw me as a challenge; I saw him as one as well. Determined to prove my worth, that term I came 16th out of his beloved 32 – the following term I came 6th. We clashed no more as I felt I’d proved my point.
Life became easier after that. My next English teacher was wonderful, he instilled a love of literature I still have to this day. To quote the old cliche ‘He made a difference’ and I felt I had come home to roost. He read ‘It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen’. I was utterly hooked. I devoured Brave New World, 1984, Animal Farm and anything by John Wyndham. I remember sitting there one day and fleetingly imagining myself as an English teacher, but quickly dismissed the notion. Girls from Secondary Moderns didn’t go to university – depending on their exam results they worked in supermarkets or banks.
Ironically, I ended up doing both.
It wasn’t all plain sailing though. I detested some of the school rules we suffered. We weren’t allowed to go home lunch time if we had a school dinner and the break was 75 minutes long. Mother had become a student nurse so it was my job to go home after lunch and let our elderly dog out. She was as furious about this silly rule as I was so we carried on regardless. Needless to say, one day I got caught coming back into school and hauled into the Year Head’s office. I suppose I was belligerent – and consequently mother was called in. She was accused, in front of me, of teaching me to flout authority and I’m afraid we both left feeling bloody minded and glad my school days were nearly over.
Prefects were a law unto themselves. We weren’t allowed into the buildings at all in the bitterly cold winter breaks and they would mercilessly turf us out. Not before searching our bags for cigarettes though and stealing them, telling us they’d dob us in if we split on them. My teacher couldn’t understand why I didn’t want to be a prefect and I couldn’t bring myself to tell him the truth.
How times have changed. Respect has to be earned and is a two way beast – relationships between teachers and students need to be built on mutual respect and trust.
Students thrive when they are valued and although I went into teaching late I feel it’s a place where I belong. My experiences, both good and bad, made me the person I am today.
School has its lighter moments and students say the funniest things. Many years ago I marked an essay on Macbeth in which a student had written ‘The three witches are mush birds because they have beards’. Another wrote a story in which his dog had ‘Grabbed me by the balls’. I told him he couldn’t write that and he looked shame faced. ‘I wanted to write testicles Miss’, he explained, ‘but I didn’t know how to spell it’...
I’m so lucky to have found a career where I’m happy and feel valued by both the staff and the students. I never look at the clock and think ‘Is that all the time is?’ but I often wonder where the day has gone.
How many people can honestly say that?
See Part 1 here.
See Part 2 here.