Ms Raven is old and cross and walks with a limp. I am seven years old and labelled a chatterbox. Summoned to the front of the class, I stand before my teacher.
Open your mouth she says.
I open my mouth and Ms Raven puts a wafer of pale green soap on my tongue. Stop talking she snaps.
I close my mouth and pull a ghastly face. Ms Raven glares.
Take it out she instructs, holding out a little bin. I lift the soap off my tongue and chuck it in the bin. Walking back to my chair I stick my tongue out as far as it will go and try to wipe the perfumed taste away with the flat of my hand.
I am talking and drawing with wax crayons when one of the crayons rolls off the table and is gone. I slide off my seat and go down on all fours to retrieve it. The front of me is under the table engaged in the search and rescue. Shockingly, I feel a stinging smack on my protruding backside. I reverse out and turn my head to the side. Ms Raven bends over me, her grey helmet of rigid curls hairspray hard. WHAT are you doing? she snaps (again).
Ms Raven is perpetually exasperated.
Yet, when we have our school photograph taken she softens, stepping forward to put my sausage-curl ponytail over my right shoulder (pre-lice days), saying Must get that hair in the picture.
I’m nine, sitting at my school desk, watching my teacher read ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’.
I’m watching, not listening, because Ms Mooney has a distracting collection of white slime in the corners of her mouth. Her pleasant, round face is chalky with powder. Her lips are chili red, making the elastic slime-string that stretches from bottom to top lip hypnotic.
She pauses to run her thumb and forefinger from the outer corners to the center of her lips, trying to remove the annoying stickiness. All this does is shift the white slime to another location.
Ms Mooney is kind, big and puffy. Her floral, polyester dresses are smooth and shiny as they ride the waves of her rolls. Her brooch sits smug and content on an ample bosom.
Ms Mooney finds the angle of my exercise book when I practice writing disturbing. As she passes my desk she turns the book clockwise, saying I don’t know how you can write like that, dear. I stick my elbow to my side and write uncomfortably for two minutes. After two minutes Ms Mooney is behind her desk again, sighing into a creaking chair. I turn my book anti-clockwise and write at a comfortable 70º angle.
Miss Giddons is a fresh, young teacher fated to be adored and crushed on.
For the last five minutes of every school day she sits on her desk, ankles crossed, and swings her legs gently to and fro to the rhythm of the stories she tells.
Stories about her Rag Queen days; being kidnapped and held hostage by friendly protesters who likely had the hots for her and wanted to keep her close and confined (my assumption, not hers).
Her smile is huge and her hair unusual – prematurely streaked with grey. She leaves it that way and it adds to her charm. Brown eyeshadow shimmers as she blinks mascara laden lashes and grins at her besotted class of ten-year-olds.
Miss Giddons tells us how naughty she is because she brushes her teeth before eating breakfast (the sum total of her oral hygiene lesson).
When she returns from an Okavango Swamps holiday she brings her slides to school. We sit in the hall in the dark for the slide show. I marvel at her bikini top and shorts, how many men she went with, and how at home she looks paddling a canoe.
The following year I find a love letter from a boy in my class in my homework book.
His name is Michael and he looks like a turtle. He’s got pimples picked to bits, crusted over with dried blood, all over his face.
Our teacher is Mr Golin.
Mr Golin stinks of tobacco and stoops, making his jacket look shorter at the back. He wears thick-frame glasses and points with nicotine stained fingers. We are stuck in an obscure classroom, apart from all the rest, and Mr Golin is fond of ‘popping out for a moment’.
This school year is smog dull. My malaise is briefly interrupted when my initials appear on the interior wall of the local train station shelter. Underneath is a fat heart and the initials of one of the enigmatic, good-looking boys in my class – Wayne.
The romance stays on the wall, but still, it’s a welcome upgrade.
Miss Stewart has the biggest buck teeth I have ever seen. They’re the size of Chappies bubblegum.
Miss Stewart takes the girls in our class for needlework and knitting. We agree she is good at this sort of thing because she’s a ‘spinster’, sewing and knitting layettes for all her married friends.
Miss Stewart also knows how to get a knot out of cotton thread and what to do about headaches. You don’t look well today, my girl. You feeling alright?
I’ve got a bit of a headache, Miss Stewart.
Do you sleep with all the windows in your room closed at night?
That’s the problem. You must leave a window open, just a little bit, for fresh air. Do it tonight and you’ll see how much better you feel tomorrow.
Okay, Miss Stewart. Thanks.
Miss Stewart will be a good mother. I think she’s great.
And so does an astute member of the opposite sex. He sees beyond her overbite and marries Miss Stewart. It came as no surprise to us that she was not married but we are even more surprised when she does marry and we must call her by a new name.
We are knitting shrugs. A shrug is a massive sleeve that travels from the wrist of one arm all the way across your back and shoulders and down the other arm to the matching wrist. Shrugs are the ‘in thing’ and the fashion-conscious girls knit with the fattest needles and thickest wool, finishing their shrugs before the trend dies.
Soap and smacks and stories and slides and cigarettes and shrugs…my 1970’s primary school teachers.
And that’s not all of them.
And, yes, I did have my turn at being ‘teacher’s pet’ – and I loved it, shamelessly.
Did the lessons educate me, or were the teachers my education?
I think I learnt more about life looking at Miss Giddons and Miss Stewart than I did looking at the blackboard.
The bell has rung. It’s the end of a period.
See you in the playground!
P.S. Names have been slightly changed.