I’m still trying to get over my writer’s block. I’ve got the urge to write. I just don’t seem to be able to make much headway. So I thought I’d do a series of blogs on ‘My Heroes’. Not the people like Einstein or Gandhi, who everybody has heard of - just very ordinary people I’ve met or read about, who I think are special. They’re all candidates as characters for my books of course. But writing about them will help me get them into focus. First up, is:
Anyone who has read the explanation of the name of my blog, knows a little about Mrs Bennett, my very first teacher.
When I was four, my family moved to a small town in the north of England. When we arrived, our neighbour told Mum what a good school the local school was. We would be sure to learn our tables quickly, she said, because the teachers walked around with rulers, smacking the hands of any student who didn’t! Mum immediately enrolled us in the small school in the next village and we soon got used to the two-mile walk there and back.
Mrs Bennett taught the ‘Infants’, four to six-year-olds. She’d started there as an Infant herself, stayed until she was in her senior year, then became a ‘monitor’ – a student who was in charge of giving out the slates and filling the inkwells etc. When she was too old for school, she became a teacher’s aide. Then, when teachers were in short supply, she became the Infant teacher, with no formal training whatsoever. She lived in house right next door to the school.
When she became my teacher, Mary Bennett was close to seventy-years-old. Her blonde hair had faded to the colour of buttermilk and her shoulders were stooped. Now you’d think at that age, having been in the school that long, and with no real qualifications, that she might be an old dragon, set in her ways and lacking in stimulation. Far from it. She was the best teacher I have ever met. Her class was a fun place. We made jam, we made butter, we made toffee for bonfire night. We played and laughed and learned. Every one of us felt special.
I’ve already told you how her words affected me. Here’s another example of her style as a teacher: At the age of six, my brother decided he wanted a Meccano set. They were, as they are now, very expensive and, with six children, Mum and Dad simply couldn’t afford it. Mrs Bennett heard about it. Every afternoon she gave him a duster and asked him to clean the boards. Then she gave him a ruler and sent him outside to clean the dusters. Every Friday she thanked him and slipped sixpence into his hand. Within months he had enough to buy his own Meccano set. And off he went on his dream of becoming an engineer.
Having written this, I don’t know if Mrs Bennett would make a good story character. Maybe she was too perfect. Of course she did get cross. A chalk mark across the front of the classroom always seemed to have someone who’d misbehaved standing on it. (I only remember being there once – for talking too much). But I’m sure other people’s memories of her are just as happy as mine. It’s a shame there aren’t more teachers like her.