I miss teaching. I really do. I was talking yesterday to an old friend – the friendship is old, not the friend, about her desire to retire as soon as possible from the profession, and I can quite understand why she wants to. We met about 27 years ago in one of the toughest comprehensives in West London, where I survived eight years. When I had finally had enough, I resigned, not before quite accidentally getting another job, this time in a special school. This is a link to how I got that job! https://barbarakorzeniowska.com/2013/07/27/what-an-excellent-lesson/
I thought that would be difficult but after Walford any challenges were so much more easily overcome. After another 14 years or so I left there, then three more years as a nurture group teacher, and when that job finished for the school’s financial reasons I ended up in a PRU or alternative provision. It was (and still is) just round the corner from wher I live and was filled with the most endearing and extraordinary characters, both adult and teenage. Oh, I do so miss the teenage boys who would cheerily greet me with a hallo c*** and watch for my reaction Or those who one day decided to upend all the tables so that we were in a forest of legs. I would smile my way through all this, never betraying how at a loss I sometimes felt.
But one day I realized I had to do something. There was a thirteen-year-old girl who had missed a lot of school for various reasons, and was in many ways utterly spoilt. She had a lovely face, gorgeous long brown hair which she would flounce around provocatively and throw her not inconsiderable weight around the corridors of the part of the unit where children were taught one to one. My job was to teach her English – if I could get her into a classroom. I found that difficult, not to say impossible. She would run away from me, interrupt other lessons, shout, swear, and once she even pushed me aside quite hard and laughed when I said she had hurt me.
All in all I felt utterly useless until one day one of the mentors decided to help me. She managed to get her into a room and when I came nonchalantly by, M realised she couldn’t actually get out. She had sat behind a table far from the door and now she was blocked in! I started by asking her what it was about me that she hated so much that she couldn’t bear to be in a room with me.
I looked her straight in the eye and told her to be as honest as possible. She looked at the mentor for confirmation and then back at me and began;
“I hate you, I hate your face. I hate your voice. I hate the clothes you wear. I hate; I hate…. “- she was beginning to run out of steam, and started looking me up and down ever more closely and then her eyes darted to it. -“I hate your handbag.”
“Ooh,” I said, after she drew breath from this tirade. “What would you like me to wear? I can’t change my face or my voice, I said, “but I could possibly change my clothes. Would that make it easier for you to do some English with me?”
This stopped her in her tracks for a second. And then she looked at me very quizzically and asked me, ” Do you know that programme AbFab?”
“Yes, ” I said . “Why?”
“Well, you remind me of that woman.” (Where’s this going I wondered?)
“You know the one. The horrible posh one.” (Ah)
“You mean Joanna Lumley?”
“Yes,”she said – “you’re like a Tesco Value Joanna Lumley.”
She delivered her insult, for thus it was meant, with great glee and panache. She had thrown down the gauntlet!
I’m afraid I just burst out laughing. “Oh, M,” I said, “That’s the nicest thing anyone has ever said to me in this school. Thank you. I shall treasure this and dine out on this story for years,” I said. And I walked out. giggling. If she had said Lidl value, I wouldn’t have minded.
Apparently she was flabbergasted.
The following day I arrived for the lesson, and she tentatively agreed that I could teach her provided I taught her GCSE (she was only thirteen) and that I didn’t speak throughout the lesson. Fine. I set her an exam paper, she sat at the teacher’s desk and completed the work. I ignored her as agreed. When she finished she handed it to me. I put it aside and waited. I was not going to break my silence. A few moments passed and suddenly, “Aren’t you going to mark it, then?”
I said not unless I can talk you through it. Again, I had no idea what she was going to do – I was more than frightened that she would tear the paper up. But she agreed and I could honestly tell her that she had a lot of talent. She had obviously been well taught somewhere previously and I let her know. She beamed.
We then proceeded to have a good working relationship for the next few weeks until she stopped coming to school. Then I left and I am sorry to say I don’t know what became of her. She was bright.
Tesco Value Joanna Lumley eh? It still makes me chuckle.