Ian McMillan: Lessons from the ghosts of teachers past

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As schools settle into the long holiday, and the corridors are quiet and the various assembly and dining halls echo with their own complex and ever-changing silences, I’ve been thinking about teachers and the effect they have on us, and the fact that we’ll never forget them, for good reasons or bad.

I won’t name them, but here’s a few of mine and a few others I’ve encountered along the way during my many visits to schools: there’s the one with the vivid red lipstick who told me I had promise; the one who wobbled his glasses like Eric Morecambe to make us laugh; the one who rolled up a copy of a model railway magazine to shout at you through, like it was a megaphone; the one who went running every lunchtime and once came back with frost on his beard and said, “Nobody laugh at the frost on my beard”.

There was the one who kept nipping out for a fag, leaving us to fail to work out impossible mathematical conundrums; the one who played the piano with surprising delicacy and who once took me aside and said, “Satie’s the man, McMillan, boy: his music’s as delicate as a spider’s web”; the one who loved to tell us scary ghost stories rather than teach us history; the one who, on his first day, burned his hand when a faulty light switch blew up as he flicked it and shouted a word we’d never heard a teacher use before.

There was the one who decided to scare the infants by putting a sheet over his head and wandering around outside their classroom window shouting “WOOO”; the one who wore a green corduroy suit and pretended he hadn’t heard when my mate said, “Why is he wearing a corrugated iron shed?”; the one who ran out of the class weeping every time we started to read Wuthering Heights; the one who brought her guitar into class every day for a whole year but never, ever, played it.

There was the one whose pen leaked all over his shirt for an hour but who tried to pretend it wasn’t happening; the one who picked bad lads up by their sideburns; the one who would rush out of school as soon as the bell went, mount a tiny Lambretta and putter off into the afternoon.

There was the one who pretended to find pennies behind your ear; the one who could catch a chucked paper aeroplane in one hand and divert it to the bin without breaking off what he was doing; the one who said “Wouldn’t you rather be watching Rugby League than doing this, because I know I would!”

There was the one who renamed her lessons “Fact-finding missions”; the one who insisted that you bound your exercise books with wallpaper; the one who we saw in the shop buying sherry and laughed at our visible shock; the one who, at the end of term, would solemnly shake our hands.

And there was the one who wrote in my report, “McMillan thinks that by being the form wag he will get a career. He is wrong”.

Have a good holiday, all of you. And we’ll see you in a few weeks when the leaves start turning.