There are always stories of teachers that we love to tell, whether they are cherished memories or nightmare tales. It’s one of the reasons I just couldn’t keep out of the teaching profession in the end, although I spent four years in exile, doing mostly dull and undemanding office work. Teachers are interesting people. They’re often peculiar people, and they generate lots of stories. This is a fairly self-indulgent ramble through a few of my favourites.
Mr Scott was a legendary history teacher at the local comprehensive where I was educated. He looked about seventy, with thick white hair, wore corduroy with leather elbow patches, and had a wonderful bushy moustache like General Melchett in ‘Blackadder Goes Forth’. His main interest was prehistory. Dinosaurs. It all got a bit dull, he said, once there were written records. He would write on the blackboard in a curly script that became increasingly illegible as he neared the edge. Sometimes he would write smaller and often curve downwards to avoid having to continue the sentence on another line. He told us stories about when he was in Africa in colonial times. He once explained that they used to play football with elephant dung, miming holding the turd in his hands and giving it a good kick with remarkable agility for his years. He was a wonderful splash of colour over our school existence. God rest him.
Another favourite was a PE teacher who will remain nameless. He specialised in long ranting lectures in the changing rooms, so long sometimes that we never reached the field. He usually aimed these lectures at the ‘wasters’ who were misbehaving and not working. We all knew who they were. Sometimes he would aim a diatribe publicly at one particular boy for ten or fifteen minutes at a time, and he was quite capable of reducing these boys to tears. I must admit to experiencing some satisfaction at seeing some of these individuals, who got away with making others’ lives miserable so much of the time, being publicly humiliated in this way.
Once I reached sixth form, I encountered an increasing number of teachers who used thoroughly traditional methods. Our economics teacher made use of a textbook and some whole class discussion, which he always chaired, but often he would just close his eyes and dictate notes. He really knew what he was talking about, and I had great respect for him.
And then there was the lovely Head of English. He was a softly spoken Cambridge graduate. I heard that some of the classes lower down the school took advantage of his gentle nature, but I was lucky enough to be taught by him in sixth form. He relaxed with us and often allowed digressions and debates to meander through the whole lesson. It was such a novel delight for me to have a male English teacher, and also one for whom I had great respect intellectually.
I didn’t intend this when I started, but it seems that all of these favourite memories are of men. Interesting. Doesn’t prove anything of course. Just anecdote.