Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Faux Pier

Today, due to a combination of wild enthusiasm and an out of control pencil, I inadvertently explained the concept of a pier to a Year 7 student by drawing what looked like a set of male genitals. I don't think she noticed; if she did, she was far too polite to snigger.

I didn't realise the full impact of my artwork until lunchtime when I was having desk tidy-up. And whilst I blushed a little, and laughed a little, my faux pier drawing reminded me of a teacher I had at secondary school who used to illustrate poetry with his own dubious drawings. This was in the days of blackboard and chalk and the teacher's name was Mr Cauldwell. He must be very, very old now - he seemed old when he taught me, and that was over 35 years ago. I remember quaking in trepidation when the whole of the First Year (as we were called then - none of this Year 7 malarkey) we called together to be setted. Mr Cauldwell took the top set for English and because English was and always has been my most favourite subject, I desperately wanted to be in the top set.

However, my desperation to further my literary career was tempered by fear from the tales that abounded around the school about Mr Cauldwell and his, well, how can we say...peculiarities.

And so very mixed were my feelings when my name was called to join Mr Cauldwell in Room 14.

As it was, he wasn't that peculiar. Many of the tales were unfounded, and I count him as one of my earliest academic inspirations. He inspired hard work, he enthused passionately about his subject, he gave praise where it was due whilst making you feel you had the ability to push yourself that little bit further.

And yes, he did have a range of interesting chalk drawings which nowadays would probably have him hauled up in front of a humourless Senior Management team to be given a formal warning for use of inappropriate teaching aids, and yes, he did spend the first ten minutes or so of every Monday morning lesson telling us about his latest weekend escapades at the naturist camps he and his wife used to frequent, but we had laugh in his class and we learnt a lot and I can still recall the poem 'Oh tender under her breast, sleep at the waterfall.' And the drawing that went with it.

The same school produced teachers who were actually mad. One taught Religious Education with the clear intent of debunking the entire content of the Bible whilst extolling the virtues of the blue whale. Another was reknowned for locking students in his store cupboard and was eventually dismissed for pushing a boy down the stairs. And the lads in my form used to wind up our form tutor to such an extent that he would turn from his usual shade of pink to a violent, luminous puce so quickly I was convinced he was having a heart attack.

Ironically, my old PE teacher ended up being my classroom assistant when I qualified as a teacher myself. Oh what sweet karma that was!

Eventually, at 13, I moved on to a girls' grammar school where my English teacher proved to be nice, but wishy washy, colourless and well, just 'nice'. Ne'er was a naughty sketch in danger of soiling her chalk stick, that was for sure.

But two years with Mr Cauldwell had secured my future as a devotee of the English language and I didn't meet anyone like him until I found myself being taught by a brusque git of a tutor at the OU for two years on the trot who clearly relished our verbal telephone spars, called one of my essays on Borges 'perverse but brilliant' and, on meeting me at a Summer School for the first time declared, 'Oh, I thought you'd be a blonde,' and had the cheek to look disappointed.

And so I come full circle. I tore up my drawing of a pier and consigned it to the bin. I don't know what sort of a teacher my students will remember me as, but I'd rather they spoke of me in terms of a good English teacher than a teacher who couldn't draw for toffee.

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