It was playtime. While the children were out in the fresh air, Miss stayed at the computer, checking lesson plans, or something. English was next. The windows were closed. The room was starting to smell.
“Have you got a cold?” I asked. I’d heard her coughing.
“I don’t want to sound bossy, it’s your room, but is it OK if I open a window?”
She looked up from her screen, without much desire. I was wasting time again.
“I open the two windows above the door.”
She went back to her screen. I glanced up. The windows were shut.
“I don’t like to interfere.”
“Stop going on about the windows, would you!”
I was impressed. She was sharp. She had seen through my elaborate politeness. Miss understood words and their real meaning. English was going to be fun.
When the children came back, she typed the lesson objective onto the big screen:
WALT (we are learning to): Descibe a character, personailty
It had to be a character from the story they were reading. She stressed the importance of powerful language, and not using the same word twice. As good teachers do, she gave an example of her own.
The big bad wolf,
Whatever she was doing at playtime,
is a huge scary beast.
sitting at the computer,
He tal pointy ears
she wasn’t preparing this.
She typed the words now, as they came into her head.
with a long point jaw
It wasn’t just a lesson in descriptive writing.
and ferocious sharp pointy teeth
It took us to the quick of the creative process.
She didn’t explain the meaning of alert. They would have known that already, the six-year-olds.
When she finished her presentation, Miss sat at the table with the higher achievers. She liked to challenge the brightest children. Good teachers do that, too. She put me with the weakest group. There was a new boy who had no English, nothing, so I sat next to him. When he realised someone was helping him, he woke up from his doze. I thought we could try the date. It wasn’t easy. It was taking a long time, but his face began to shine. He saw I wasn’t giving up. Miss noticed too. You know her eye for detail.
“Words in the book!” she snapped.
She was right. The date was just a number. I wrote the word pointy on a piece of paper and made foreign Abid copy it. The whole class had got this word, and now so would he. Even nicer if he knew the meaning. I found a sharp pencil, and tapped my finger on the point. Abid watched closely. I wasn’t sure. In case he thought pointy was the word for pencil, I drew the wolf’s ears, big, pointy ones, and got my finger out again. He smiled. I smiled. It was clear this time. Pointy meant ears.
I started talking to someone else, and Abid went back into his private coma.
“Write the question down first.”
“Write the question down first!” Miss repeated, loudly, to the whole class. She had started doing this. It sounded peculiar. Was I not always wrong? I couldn’t see any malice in it, and I had looked quite hard. I think she just agreed with me on certain things when I didn’t expect her to. I tried to keep my voice down, and spoke as little as I could, but you can’t stop saying things completely, not when you’re a teacher.
“Be careful with your handwriting,” I whispered to a little girl.
“Be careful with your handwriting!”
My instructions kept coming back, amplified, on cue, like a responsorio. It wasn’t my last day in a British school, or I might have tried some other kinds of phrase. Abid, foreign Abid, would have understood.