In my first year at secondary school, I saw two dogs copulating. It was lunchtime, on the grass. The one on top had his tongue hanging out – hanging out, too, I mean. I ran inside with another boy to find the Science teacher. We weren’t telling on the dogs. Sir had just been teaching us the facts of life, and we thought he should know. We were only thirteen.
He told us it was normal, the dogs’ behaviour, but talking about it obviously wasn’t. The smile dropped off his face, the half-smile that was always on his lips, like a euphemism, his own fact of life, which meant: I know more than you. He was embarrassed. It didn’t occur to me, but he wasn’t the best teacher in the world.
On the shortlist this year – that’s right, The Best Teacher in the World, 2015 – there was another Science master, the UK winner. He sings and dances during lessons. I think this was crucial for the judges. The finest teacher in the land! Animal sex won’t bother you. Get your dance steps from it.
As for my old master, the only shortlist he could make would be in centimetres. I mean his height. Let’s move on from the dogs. He was bald, too. His head was as smooth as an electric bulb, although I never touched it, and came with a laboratory shine. The room he taught in was set up for experiments, like a real laboratory where discoveries are made. The boys loved it, though each new fact was merely new to them. Standing at the bench, I saw my partner slip away to a place I couldn’t follow, and didn’t want to, a world of Bunsen flames, test tubes and powders.
One day, the Science master came to Latin, a folder in his arm, and gazed knowingly around. No randy dogs up here. Freaky, gentle Freaky, was behind his desk, where he mostly was, facing several rows of pink-cheeked boys. To be honest, when the old chap was sitting there, it wasn’t just a desk. It was a rampart against us. In Freaky's room, which looked dusty even after sweeping, and was full of ancient words, experiments would fail.
Baldy (I’m just calling him that now) stood inside the door, smiling his little smile, the half-crack in the breakfast egg. You felt he was making phrases in his head, quips that would explain the little smile, but were too clever to waste on us.
He had some test results. He opened his mark book, deliberately, the way a priest holds the Bible, and found the right page. Then he read out the scores. He wasn’t the best teacher in the world, but I wasn’t the best pupil either. There was a boy who used to come bottom, until he got expelled, and vacated that post for me.
When Baldy finished reading, he closed his folder and addressed the class, but he was looking at me: “Spaid has no interest in Science.”
He asked Freaky how I did in Latin,
“Oh, he’s not too bad,” muttered Freaky
“He’s going to be a lawyer, not a doctor,” Baldy smiled, still looking at me.
A lawyer, not a doctor. We know how things turned out. He was being kind. How could a boy not like Science?
How could a teacher not wait for his own lesson? He interrupted Latin, and the modern world’s most deferential master. It made your tongue hang out.
He didn’t butt in on Geography. I was good at that, too. He’s going into the jungle. He didn’t trespass on PE. It’s just as well. You can spend your life running.