Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Never believe all that teachers tell you

Never believe what your teachers tell you.

I wish somebody had come to me 25 years ago and whispered those precious words of wisdom in my ear.

They would have put me out of my misery as I languished in my bedroom, convinced I was no good at anything.

You see, I was  “fat”, “lazy”, “thick”, “lacking personality”, “slow, “not academic”, to revive just of a few of the labels that were pinned to my vulnerable and impressionable psyche at a young age.

I remember my mother and father coming back from parents’ evening having  been told by my biology teacher that I would “never amount to anything”.

Mr X, I imagine you are still delivering your yawn-worthy drawl about photosynthesis and reproduction to bored teenagers as I present national television and have my writing published daily in a national newspaper.

I even have website forums discussing my work, suggesting I present my own television show – never expected that did you Mr X.

I’ll not name you, not through any sense of  misplaced loyalty, but because I don’t want you in any way to ride the crest of my wave.

It was not just you, though, Mr X.

For some reason my slight lack of confidence in the classroom sparked the ire of others entrusted to guide me through my education and deliver me mentally and physically able to take on the world.

Mrs R, you once branded me “a lazy little toad” as I sat in one of your brain-numbing computer lessons, not understanding anything you said.

I remember the day clearly, your face contorted into a twisted snarl as you spat those vile words at me.

I was not, and am not, Mrs R. It was your uninspiring delivery and lack of concern for the young people you were in charge of that left me cold.

And unlike the other yappers in my class whose precocious and self-promoting “look at me” enthusiasm you fawned all over, I was just a little bit shy.

There were one or two teachers who gave me a different message, and I am eternally grateful to you.

Those sparse “I know you will surprise a lot of people” nuggets have stuck with me to this day.

I remember who you are, there are only a handful, but I still thank you for the fragments of self confidence you planted in me.

My school days, as you can imagine did not make up the most enjoyable part of my life.

I went to a private school, full of Old Boys’ sons, nephews and cousins who knew the game.

They knew the only way to be nurtured and encouraged was to be on the rugby team, be good at football, top the cricket league and belong to all the right clubs and societies.

Either that, or suggest at house meetings (I know, pompous to the extreme) that you have a burning desire to start rowing, to take the school to glory through pulling an oar.

To suggest “I am not good at contact sports but I still have a lot to offer” would draw laughter from the teacher and the other pupils.

Not just that, it would probably get you enlisted in the rugby team just to give the games teachers the joy of seeing you humiliated.

It did, it also landed me in the dreaded "bottom stream" despite my results in English and French putting me at the top of the class the year before - I was doomed because I just didn't fit.

I couldn’t wait to finish school, and move out into the adult world where people treated you with respect.

For all my “lack of ability” and accusations of “unwillingness to work”, at the age of 18 I found out I was one of the hardest workers I know.

I was and still am driven with ambition, to be successful and to push myself to achieve every goal I have.

Within a few years of leaving school I was teaching English in Japan, it was something I did for a couple of years as I had a burning desire to live in the Far East.

I remember telling a Japanese student, who felt stifled by his parents and wanted a western perspective, that he should never give up on his dreams, and follow whatever path he felt driven towards.

I told him about my journey thus far, and how it took me time to trust my own instincts and believe that I could achieve anything I set my mind to, no matter who had tried to brainwash me in the past.

He told me that I had inspired him, and he would not forget what I had told him. So in that respect Mr X and Mrs R,  I might have something to thank you for, I was able to use your acrid, sour and irresponsible influence to advise others.

But for the record, and it might be a bit late now, I was never lazy, or stupid.

You had no right telling my parents “he won’t come to anything”, on the contrary, I think you might find I have.

I am not the only one to have been at the receiving end of someone else’s desire to put them down at a young age.

Joan Collins, Michael Heseltine and John Major were all told not to bother, and they all went on to prove their teachers wrong.

There is a valuable lesson to be learned here, just because they are paid to teach children to read and write, teachers are not oracles of destiny.

Many of mine were little more than wannabes who appeared to have failed in their other ambitions and were left with the only thing they could do to earn a crust.

Was there a hint of jealousy there?

If I am wrong, you only have yourself to blame. To be so  determined to dash a child’s self-confidence, you must have been very unhappy with your own achievements.

So for that, rather than bear any more grudge against you, I pity you.

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