My daughter Megan is training to be a teacher. She's recently started her final teaching practice, with a class of five and six-year-olds, and each night she comes home with a story of something that's happened or something the children have said. In just a few days she's gone from 'they're all too little and annoying' to 'I think I'm starting to like them'. I guess they might be starting to like her too.
It's funny how well I can remember my teachers from primary school. My favourite was Mr Griffiths. I know he was my favourite because I can still recall the sinking feeling when I lost my temper and shouted at him. Even then I knew he was disappointed with me. I don't know how it started, I vaguely remember it was something to do with a tennis ball, but I don't really know what turned me from my usual goody-two-shoes to a tempestuous ten-year old in a tantrum. Though all I hollered was 'It's not flippin' fair', word soon got round that I'd sworn at him. I realise now that I missed the opportunity to exaggerate my waywardness and so gain the credibility of my school friends, but I was too busy hoping to win back his approval. My rebellions have always been somewhat low-key.
Miss Da Gama came to us as a supply teacher, part way through the year. Perhaps that's why she always seemed a little odd. I don't think we were particularly kind or welcoming to her. We'd been taught about the famous Portuguese explorer, Vasco Da Gama, so we teased her about her name and her possible connections, but I don't think we were especially cruel. One day, when we tried to go back to the classroom after lunch we were ushered away downstairs to the hall. Later we found out that she'd had some sort of a break-down, smashing up the classroom and ripping down all the carefully mounted paintings and stories from the classroom walls. We didn't see her again.
After that we got Mr Campbell. Perhaps he'd been told to treat us kindly; perhaps he was just that sort of man, but for a whole year, all we seemed to do was art and drama. I spent hour after hour making 3-D structures out of paper drinking straws - tetrahedrons and dodecahedrons. Hour after hour sitting on cushions on the floor because he'd cut all the legs off the tables.
Of course it all changed when I got to secondary school. I had to smother my irritation with the maths teacher, whose name I refuse to remember, because she insisted on pronouncing mine 'Share-on'. But I loved that we had an art teacher called Miss Brushett and a physics teacher called Miss Newton. It was right that our religious knowledge teacher was called Miss Theophilus, and our skinny nervous history teacher was Miss Lean. Nowadays it's not the bizarre coincidences of their names that I think about, it's realising that I spent so many years being taught by single old women, in an all girls' school - small wonder I married too young.
It was at secondary school that I was taught by Miss Wood. She had short hair, like Ingrid Bergman in Joan of Arc, and she was the first person I'd ever met who wore contact lenses. I think maybe she was a little afraid of losing a lens in class and having to crawl around on the floor to find it, so she was always very careful. When she looked from side to side, she'd turn her whole head rather than just her eyes.
She was my form teacher in class 2D, the year I became a teenager, the first and only time I was voted form captain, but that isn't why I remember her. She taught us English and I began writing my first romantic novel while in her class. She made me read it out to the rest of the girls, chapter by chapter. While they yawned and giggled, and pointed out the glaring inconsistencies in my characters and actions, she sat on the edge of the desk listening and nodding approval. It didn't matter that it I never finished it. She introduced me to the thrill of putting words on a page for others to respond to, even though she was the only one who showed any sign of appreciation. She made me think I could write.