I have very few memories of my first teacher or school. I was only there for a year because my parents’ move to their dream new-build bungalow was short lived, curtailed by my dad changing his mind about where he wanted to live. And who he wanted to live with. Turns out it wasn’t in this fabulous bungalow with the underground garage, three double bedrooms and a balcony. And it wasn’t with us, with my mum and me.
My next school feels like my first school. From what is now Y1 to Y4, teachers in a small village school, a hub for kids from even smaller Lincolnshire villages, kept my attention and allowed me to feel safe, secure and stimulated. Mrs Jacomb was our teacher in Y1 and 2. She and I spent lots of time together as my mum dropped me off early for school on her way to work, and I was that 5 year old who chatted away obliviously while the teacher wanted to get on with her preparation. This was 1972. Full time working mums, and therefore breakfast clubs, were as futuristic as hoverboards and mobile phones. I adored Mrs Jacomb. When I passed my A levels, and even though we’d moved away from the village nine years earlier, I found her phone number and called to give her the news. We’d kept in touch on and off through mutual acquaintances and a few cards. Her husband answered, and when I explained my reason for calling, to thank her for the time she’d given me in those early needy days, he told me that she’d recently died. She’d had cancer and declined very quickly. So I’ll say it now, thank you Mrs Jacomb, for making me feel happy at school when the rest of my world was in turmoil.
A few more years and a few more family upheavals later, and we moved again. My next school was bigger, a red brick Victorian complex with its old divisions of Boys’ and Girls’ playgrounds now repurposed into Infant and Junior areas. It transpired that my previous school had been a ‘better’ school and in this school I spent two years essentially doing nothing. In Y5, I always finished the work before the others – this was before the days when differentiation was a big thing – so I was sent off to do jobs. I tidied the stationery store, I made coffee for teachers and took it round to classrooms and I freshened up the corridor displays. By Y6, I’d pretty much given up trying with the work. I always worked through the hardest exercises. I always finished first. Luckily our teacher had also all but given up on our education too, and took healthy advantage of the fact the our school had its own swimming pool. We went swimming every day for months. So thank you school number 3 for my love of all things stationery and the organising thereof, and of swimming as often as possible for as long as possible.
Next school, the first of my two secondaries, and something of a culture shock. Mrs Brown was strict. She was our form tutor and our French teacher. She had the highest expectations and woe betide you if you didn’t do your damnedest to try to meet them. I liked Mrs Brown. I liked so many of the teachers in this school. Everything about the place was so grown up, clever and interesting. Of course another series of family time bombs detonated and I had to move schools again. You’d think I’d be used to this by now, but actually moving schools at 14 left me feeling the most vulnerable I’d ever felt. Yet again, the teacher who noticed my awkwardness, like Mrs Jacomb years earlier, became my hero. Roland Humphry was my English teacher for GCSE and part of A level until he had to retire with MS. He was bearded, snub nosed and small. He wore a sleeveless cardigan and an open-necked shirt. His speech and movement were already impaired by the disease that would eventually limit his career and his life. But he was so intelligent, wise, insightful, funny and fair, so knowledgeable about Literature with a love he passed on to every one of us, so amazing in his permissiveness in lessons, letting us talk and write about almost anything. I chucked a bit of anti-Tory message into an essay in 1982, during the Falklands War, and he loved it. Adrian Mack wrote a story about sex and he didn’t even get told off. Mr Humphry was a god to us.
When I thank a teacher, thank a few in fact, I’m thanking them for all they did for us as children but also all they did for future us as adults and as teachers too. I’m thanking them for showing us how a teacher makes a child feel, about themselves, their learning, their happiness and worries, and how teachers can help fill in the gaps the children didn’t even know were there.