Tuesday, 25 May 2010
There were a couple of teachers at my school who I was particularly fond of. One was a little spinster lady with wild, wiry hair and spectacles who taught us geography. She had travelled extensively, especially to Africa, and loved nothing more than to set up slide shows of her adventures - inspiring us all with her tales of apartheid and the Berlin Wall. She wasn't your typical hero, dressed in her swishy patterned skirts and her orange lippy, but we all loved her, and many of us travelled because of her.
My history teacher was also a bit of a hero. She had a pair of bright red shoes, and a pair of bright yellow shoes, and we would take bets on which pair she would wear. She used to describe my history essays as Catherine Cookson novels - but it was her fault they ended up like that, because she brought the characters to life in my mind.
My ultimate hero teacher, however, was my PE teacher - no surprises there then! She was only about 10 years older than all of us, and when she arrived, she breathed new life into lessons that had previously been as entertaining as swimming the channel wrapped in a duvet.
She had energy, a sense of humour, and above all, she was bloody brilliant at hockey. Within a couple of years, all the school teams were winning things - even beating some of the scary teams from the toon. She even got our team through to the National School Hockey finals after we became 'champions of the north.'
She also had links with 'mentally handicapped' groups in the region, and in the 6th form, she had us all helping to take groups bowling, and ice skating. We helped at the Mentally Handicapped Games at Gateshead Stadium, and I remember chasing a young lad for 400m around the track after he'd crossed the finish line but hadn't realised that he'd finished! We both got a big cheer!
I looked up to this teacher hugely, and she inspired me in many ways.
20 years after leaving school, I was keen to track down this teacher of mine. After a couple of emails, I soon found her, but was devastated to learn that she'd had a stroke a couple of years ago, and had spent 8 months in hospital fighting for her life. They didn't think she was going to make it, but she did.
I've recently been reunited with this old teacher of mine. She can't talk, and has only recently started walking with a stick. Her best friend, who used to tag along on the school ski-ing holidays and who once played hockey for England, spends much of her time and energy helping to care for her friend. She is very quiet hero.
On Sunday evening, it was my PE teacher's birthday, and I was invited, with the kids, to go to a pizza place in town to be part of the celebrations. I was tired, I was hot, and so were the kids. My teacher doesn't know about my cancer thing, so I would have to wear my hot, scratchy wig. I nearly didn't go.
When my teacher came into the restaurant, helped by her best friend, her face lit up when she saw me and the kids. My 6 year old gave her a big cuddle, and my 9 year old smiled shyly. I think they struggle to imagine the dynamic young teacher that I have described to them so often, but they both know, because I have told them, how much this lady with a stick means to me.
My wig felt like a bearskin hat, sweat was dripping down the side of my head, and the pizza tasted of...cardboard, but I'm so glad I went. I think my face lit up when I saw her come through the door too, because despite everything that has happened to her, and everything that she is having to cope with now, she is still my hero, and always will be.