In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Teacher’s Pet.” – Tell us about a teacher who had a real impact on your life, either for the better or the worse. How is your life different today because of him or her?
As a sat to write this piece I was brought to remember the faces of more than a dozen adults who taught a little boy in what was a better, simpler time. I think that’s a cliche, but I think it’s still true.
I was bought up by mum first in one suburb then another. First Leyton, then Leytonstone then Woodford Green, then another part of Woodford Green. Each time trading up to a larger place in a better situation. My mum could teach Estate Agents and location scouts a thing or too. She never moved into a home which wasn’t better than the last and didn’t leave a place before she was ready to leave
She was focussed entirely on moving to get me into better schools in the days before the school catchment areas determined house prices in London to the extent they do now.
The school which determined HOW I am more than any was Woodbridge Secondary in Woodford Green. I hated it. The teacher who determined WHO I am, was my year tutor Mrs Tomlinson and I loved her as a second mother.
Her positive influence stopped me from going off the rails in my teenage years and giving up an on educational system which was leeching the happiness, direction and purpose out of every corner of my soul.
I had every opportunity to be another after school special or episode of a soap opera. I was talented, smart and a quick learner but I has no dad, my friends were drifting away or drifting into delinquency and I was just drifting as depression in all but name started to get to me. Angry, lonely a little bit lost. Knowing too much to be cool and not enough to be wise. from like to bullied. Befriended to bedeviled.
She reminded me of my potential, of my mothers efforts to bring me into an OK school in an OK area. She pushed me to be better when worse was easier and more entertaining. To not lose hope and not stop trying. Without her I’d be another black drop out who “used to be smart” but went off the rails when their hormones kicked in.
She was pleased with me, disappointed with me, proud of me, dismissive of me on occasion. She encouraged me to keep going, to keep trying. She could see I was suffering. Saw the bright boy go from top of the class to mid table. Saw I was in trouble. Subtly helped as only an expert teacher could. Hundreds of children to keep track of. Each one a triumph or a tragedy happening like slow motion explosions before her eyes. Some don’t want to be saved. Some don’t want to be reached. Some were broken before they started in school. Under her no child written off, no child abandoned to their fate, no child who could say they never had a chance.
A chat here, advice there. An earnest chat with some parents, a shoulder to cry on for others who couldn’t cope. Encouragement for one child, discipline for another. Nudges, nods, no’s and noticing when a young black boy is dying inside and he thinks no-one knows. Telling him it get’s better. You’ve done so well, don’t slow down now. Your mother has tried so hard, does more than all the other mothers. Are you OK? This too shall pass.
Hindsight is a thing and a half. I remember my first black teacher in primary school who made me feel comfortable in my skin. I remember my first Indian teacher who not long after taught me to be comfortable with everyone else’s skin. I remember my first male teacher who taught me “English isn’t just for girls”. I remember the headmistress who taught me manners, proper diction and respect were the clothing we dress our character and persona in to present ourselves to the world. I remember the english teacher who gave me her copy of Dune and made a nerd. The Craft Design and Technology, (Woodshop and metalwork), teacher who taught me some rules can never be broken not just for your sake but for everyone elses and wasn’t afraid to tell me “that’s rubbish, try again”.
Each one changing children’s lives a little every day. Not many Hollywood revelations. Perhaps a few Good Will Hunting “It’s not your fault” scenes, some “Captain, my fine Captain”s but not many. All day, every day tacking into the wind. Thousands of little ships, running aground, capsizing, sailing close to the Cape of Good Hope. So few steersmen.
In any other life they would have been MVT – most valuable teacher. In writing this though I have to examine my own self and realise Mrs. Tomlinson didn’t just teach me. She saved me and I didn’t even notice until now. There aren’t enough Mrs Tomlinsons in the world.
The system doesn’t encourage them into the profession and no-longer allows them to stay. It feels like teachers are supposed to grade and present and mark off those who can and try to let those who can’t down easily. and then move onto the next. It’s not enough, it ‘s not enough. It never was, it was never supposed to be. The children are not OK. Just saying.