Mrs A, Mrs B and Mr C, you won’t remember me, and you’re probably dead by now anyway, but I must inform you that you were in the wrong business; there was no love of children in the ranting and terrifying tirades that you poured over our little primary heads. Somewhere in your lives you all took a wrong turn or were following a path that you should never have been on. I see you raising your hand with a ‘but’, but the fact is you are three out of perhaps six or seven teachers. You are the only stars of this show – none of the others left a mark either physical or mental on me; they are invisible. Almost fifty years ago, Mrs A, you made me stand in the corner of a cold cloakroom, alone, for swapping my blue pencil with the red one given to the boy behind me. I was four years old and you were my first experience of the education establishment; you certainly left an impression on me.
When I was seven, you, Mrs B, dragged me up the dining hall backwards by the ponytail, because I had done something awful, diabolical even; I licked mince gravy off my knife. I was a quiet and tender little thing and you were the monster from the black lagoon. There was no comparison in my reading matter; I don’t remember vile creatures in Enid Blyton tales. While I was asking my mother to serve me and my friends ginger beer and sandwiches at the bottom of the garden, you were the reality that was breaking into my life. Home and literature was a haven from the only school bullies I knew– the kind that didn’t need to wait at the gates; they got you in public, these 007s with a licence to maim.
I haven’t forgotten you Mr C, or the first time I felt your leather strap slap up my tiny wrists; I might’ve been eight or nine, and my crime was eating a banana in the lines. I’d probably been so busy playing that I’d forgotten to eat it at the correct time. You ordered me to come to your classroom which was full of eleven-plus students, all sniggering at me standing there, waiting for my punishment, aware of all my flaws. I had to be brave, ignore them and pay attention to your swaggering thick belt; I stood and took the two great whacks while trying to control my face. I didn’t cry; I stared wide as you verbally justified the beating and sent me back to my own class. I had that few minutes to get myself in order to face my friends, to pretend that it was nothing, that I was tough and cool before cool meant cool.
And then there was the day you belted the whole class, Mr C; I had finally reached the top, was a member of the eleven-plus, and looking forward to leaving for secondary school. We were usually quiet and studious, in your presence – there was no other way to be, and live. It began to snow, huge, soft flakes, and we stood up to see it. Of course you thundered that we should sit down, and we did at first, but when the blizzard really began to swirl we rose up again and were deaf to your threats; it was exciting. You must’ve thrown an enormous tantrum, I don’t quite remember that part but suddenly you had the whole class in a curve around the room, about thirty of us. You calmly walked along the line and belted every one, except for the class favourite who was crying, you told her to sit down; she was the fairy from the top of the tree. We were belting material; she was far too fragile for real life.
The three of you sent me out into the world with a hatred of teachers; a dislike of loud voices and discord – to this day I still have a little of the people-pleaser in me. When my first child was starting school, I walked the corridors, listening for raised voices, for the teachers who couldn’t command respect by just being kind and working at interesting lesson plans. I hope your kind are dead and gone; there is more pain in mental torture than physical – in life I learned to fight back with my tongue rather than my fists…so I did learn something from you after all, but should I thank you for that? Is it you I should thank for my cynicism, my quick wit and acid tongue? You battered a good Scottish education into the bones of me and I do thank you for that – perhaps the madness in your methods was thumped into you.