Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Schoolteachers and society

Recently, I read with great sadness in the local newspaper that a teacher (who I remembered from my schooldays about 100 years ago) had passed away. Let's call him S.

Often we don't have time to think about small events like this and all the thought and feelings they evoke. But I like to think, to flesh out exactly what I feel about matters at this point in time. In this respect alone, perhaps, I am very much a writer. I photocopied the meagre obituary and it has been sitting on my desk since then, and when I see it, then I realise there are some interesting thoughts there that would stand examination.

There were rumours going about that S "watched boys going in and out of the showers", and he certainly insisted that we all take showers after games. He also very assiduously did up 13 yr-old boys' ties if they were slightly misaligned. I think some teachers knew about this and it rankled with them, without ever becoming a serious problem. Another teacher once lectured us to bring both coloured jerseys to a rugby game, otherwise a "certain person" would pick up on the fact (meaning that the miscreant boy might find himself playing without any jersey at all)

The joys of attending a 20th century English school! I'm very near the point of saying "It never did me any harm". And in actual fact in my case I can say it didn't. There were 2 other teachers of mine (in a different school) who had to leave their posts because of alleged approaches to, and 'friendships' with, boys in their care. Rumours were legion. I had one-to-one lessons with one of the teachers, and evening sessions of 4 pupils with the other. I never saw any hint  of impropriety, though I'm sure it eventually did happen with others. One of the two actually lived for a time with an ex-pupil, after both had left the school, I've heard.

Conversations with others of my age show similar stories from different schools. As a parent now, of course, I would be very wary, on my child's behalf of entrusting them to the care of such a person. But I've always wondered how life would be if my (ordinary heterosexual) feelings for women were illegal, condemned in hushed tones, and created such anger as even the mild behaviour that these teachers mostly repressed. You get an idea of it, occasionally, when a woman calls a man a "pervert" for looking at her "in a particular way". But I don't have to keep my feelings a secret from everybody, I don't have to exercise such care, or be aware of quite the same risks*

I should say I never heard of any such stories concerning S, though again I think there was at least a little substance to the rumours.  There he would stand there in his warm coat, scarf, looking very comfortable in the freezing weather, and he'd have a line of freezing schoolboys repeating after him that pain was "good for the soul!", telling us enthusiastically that even better was 'agony'..  It was one way of dealing with the list of complaints and cries of "It's not fair, sir", that largely make up a teacher's life, I suppose. He earned the nickname "Sadist", which didn't find it's way onto his obituary.

* oddly, as soon as I write that, it strikes me as obvious that single straight people DO often exercise great caution in their decisions, DO often worry a great deal about what everyone will think, and DO sometimes find their sexual behaviour angrily criticised. But not to the same degree, I would think.