March 4th, 2011

Arty Evil Icon

Writer's Block: Life's lessons

If you could confront the worst teacher you've ever had, what would you tell him or her?

Dear Mrs Murray

If it wasn't for you I'd have been a linguist. I was one of only a few girls in your class who had neither learnt French before nor been to France before, because I had come to grammar school from a bog-standard, council-estate primary, not a posh leafy-suburb primary or an independent prep school.

I was thrilled to be learning Latin and French. I loved Latin, and Miss Goldsmith rewarded my enthusiasm for it with encouragement and loans of books and gentle admonitions about how I shouldn't assume I Claudius and Caesar and Cleopatra were historically accurate.

In French, however, your 'established professional technique' of teaching French conversation without recourse to the written text meant I could never get the hang of how things were said because I couldn't see how they were written. Therefore I didn't want to speak aloud, and when I did, you were brutally critical of errors of pronunciation and scathing about my residual trace of a cockney accent. It never occurred to you to adjust your methods to meet the needs of the few of us who only had an ear for language when we had an eye for it, you miserable, intransigent old bag. I had a blissful interlude in my second year, when lovely Mrs Snaith took us for French and German, and I got As and Bs in all my language classes. Then she left and I had you again. You still didn't quite crush my spirit; I did the O Level, then the A level. But finally I read English at Uni, when I might have read French. Thanks to you, I never felt I could choose between the two.

A few years ago there was a TV ad campaign to recruit new teachers. The slogan was 'No one forgets a good teacher'. That's rubbish; there are lots of perfectly competent and industrious teachers who sink out of the memory, but no one forgets a bad one like you. You will have seen this yourself, from the outpouring on Friends Reunited of unhappy memories of your soul-destroying dreariness. There are grown women with largely happy lives who still refuse to go to France on holiday because being unable to communicate effectively in French will remind them of you. They are reminded of their youthful insecurities, which you exacerbated, when your job was to eradicate them.

I still owe you a great deal, though. As a teacher now myself, I use you as a model of how NOT to teach. When I was a novice teacher, I had occasional failings in class where it occurred to me I was behaving a bit like you, and I altered my behaviour accordingly. Unlike you I have never stamped on the green shoots of enthusiasm with the jackboot of scornful negativity. I am a very good teacher, according to my pupils, who, bless them, have nominated me for awards (and according to Ofsted, for what that's worth).

You will probably remember me most from your outpouring of vitriol on A level results day, when you pointed out that I didn't deserve the grades I had achieved, considering I was a bone idle, dope-smoking slacker with an attitude problem. Your own daughter was sobbing, having missed the grades for her uni offer by a massive margin. Your methods hadn't worked for her either. And you still didn't have the wit or the will to change them, you sanctimonious old cow.