They say that most people have a special person – a teacher or a work colleague – who had a profound effect on their lives. Sometimes they disappear and you never see them again, sometimes they come back into your life in a most unexpected way.
In my third year at primary school I was a horror.
I was the original temper tantrum kid and if anyone – teachers especially – dared to cross me, I would leave the classroom with a screech and spend the rest of the morning or afternoon swinging and singing to myself in the playground until it was time for lunch or hometime.
This never occurred at home. My mum wouldn’t have let me get away with such behaviour.
It really began in the second year when Miss S broke a ruler across Lesley’s calves. It was a wooden ruler and Les had a knack of tightening his calves just as the ruler hit, causing it to splinter and have no impact on his legs at all.
Miss S was not pleased and we all got detention because of Les’s legs. She stopped using the ruler though.
Up until that point I had quite liked my teachers; respect went right out of the window that day.
In my third year Mr M was our teacher. He had a goatee beard when they weren’t fashionable. He shouted a great deal, wielded the gym slipper when punishing the boys but saved his most savage criticisms for the girls. Not the pretty girls, but those like me who wore National Health glasses and hand-me-down clothes.
If I failed to answer a question in class I was stupid. If I answered correctly I was being a smart ass – and nobody likes a smart ass.
There were a couple of us that he routinely picked on with an unprofessional glee, but one day the worm in me turned. I had tried to shut out his noise for months but when the weather improved and the world outside seemed more appealing, I broke free.
I got up from my seat after a particularly scathing reprimand and walked out. He grabbed my cardigan as I left the room but I shrugged out of it, screamed in his face and ran. Torn between running after me and deserting the class, Mr M stayed where he was and I sat on the swing in the playground; cold but happy to be away from the shouting that made my ears ache and my heart pound.
It took a few more of these episodes before Mr M stopped picking on me. The school secretary spotted me on the swings two days running and brought me into her office.
She gave me a sweet and asked me why I was out of class. I told her about the shouting and how Mr M pulled my cardigan off me and made me cry. I told her that I sat on the swings to make the bad noises go away.
The head teacher got my mum to come up to the school. I hadn’t told her about Mr M because I thought I would get into trouble.
Mr M disappeared within half an hour and we had an elderly supply teacher who looked like someone’s grandma and read us nice stories till the end of term.
My teacher for fourth year was Mr W. He was a games teacher with a reputation for using his spare gym shoe on any boy who messed around in games or PE. He didn’t use it often because he tended to keep his pupils busy.
On the first day of term we had a general knowledge quiz. I won.
At playtime, Mr W called me to his desk. He smiled and spoke very softly.
“You are very good at general knowledge. I hear that you also write stories and poems, and that you like to draw.”
I nodded. I had been expecting a telling off although I wasn’t sure what for.
“I like poems and stories, music and art. I like people who enjoy learning. Do you enjoy learning?”
I nodded even more vigorously.
“Good. I also need you to let other people learn too, so from now on, even if you know the answer in a quiz, don’t put your hand up. If no one else answers then I will ask you. Okay?”
Still dumb, still nodding, but smiling too.
“I also want you to promise me that if you feel upset or angry, you won’t leave the classroom but you will write me a note about it and we will sort things out later. Promise?”
I wrote poems and stories. I answered questions when Mr W asked me. I danced and sang and acted in Mr W’s productions. From then on, I only went on the swings at playtime or lunchtime.
He loved Greece and was a great fan of Nana Mouskouri; he used to bring her records in to play to us. I like to think that we loved him enough to listen quietly.
Not surprisingly, for such a good teacher, Mr W was offered a better position at another school and we both left at the end of the year. I organised a whip round and managed to find three Nana Mouskouri albums that he didn’t have. We both had watery eyes that day.
Winding life on, and at twenty-two years of age I was working as a revolting houseparent in a local authority children’s home. One of the girls had been caught smoking behind the bike sheds at school (where else?), and I had to accompany her to a formal telling off by the new head teacher.
I think both of us felt nervous as we sat in the corridor outside the head teacher’s room. The school secretary came out to usher us in. part of me wanted to ask her for a sweet, then I remembered that I was a responsible adult now.
The head teacher was Mr W. I grinned hugely as I said his name. He hadn’t changed – well his black hair was turning grey at the edges and his moustache was more bushy than I remembered it. He blinked a couple of times, then smiled just as hugely as he recalled my name. No more National Health glasses or hand-me downs; I’d gone upmarket, had designer specs and penchant for jeans and rugby shirts.
The next ten minutes were spent updating each other; his progress through the ranks to his first head teacher position and my more chequered career through drama school, bar work and after the soda syphon incident, a spell as a volunteer in a children’s home that led to my current permanent post.
My naughty girl was temporarily forgotten. She had the sense to sit quietly whilst we talked, and when we eventually remembered her, Mr W merely frowned and told her that he didn’t want to see her in his office again.
In the three years that I worked at the children’s home, I had cause to work with Mr W on several occasions; our children were not the easiest to deal with. Most of them had spent years being rejected and neglected, so solutions weren’t always easy. Mr W could always be relied upon to look beyond the issues and use his imagination to motivate rather than punish. Our children thrived in his environment.
We lost touch after I qualified as a social worker and moved to another children’s centre.
I met my Hub whilst working there, and two years after we married, a familiar name caught my eye one evening as I leafed through the local newspaper.
Mr W had retired at last and was going to relocate to his beloved Greece.
Three weeks after he retired he was killed instantly by an uninsured boy racer. The boy t-boned Mr W’s beloved Jag as he pulled out of the local Spar shop car park one Sunday morning when he went to collect the papers and some milk.
‘On and on like the sea
Love goes on eternally
Troubles come then they’re gone
Love goes on, on and on
Like the sea
Love goes on eternally’
Love goes On – Nana Mouskouri 1970