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Previous Challenge Entry (Level 2 – Intermediate)
Topic: Teacher (10/26/06)

TITLE: An understnding man
By Margaret Watson


An Understanding Man

If you look up this word in one of those old pictoral dictionaries you will almost certainly get a picture of someone, probably male, wearing a mortarboard and black gown. I've even met a few like that. I can still envisage the imposing figure of Mr Barmby, my fifth form English master. Door flung back so that it banged into the wall, his slightly portly figure filling the space as he came in with briefcase, pile of marked books, his copy of the Times turned to the crossword, often a cooling cup of coffee and of course his pipe which he would spend the next ten minutes fiddling with until he got it to a satisfactory glow. He was a good teacher. He taught us the refinements of English grammer with precision. No one escaped his classes being unable to use a colon or past participle correctly. He was also a very accurate shot with chalk or even the blackboard eraser woe betide the youngster in the back row making spit balls or ink blots, or even just looking bored.

I liked him, but I didn't like his classes. The grammar I could tolerate but twice a week we had English Literature. The trouble was I'd read all the books in the school holidays and I really didn't want my enjoyment of them spoilt by having them minutely dissected in class. So I switched off. Archeology became my passion. Every English lesson I would have a book open on my knee usually one on the Minoans. I thought I was getting away with it. I did the homework set and got good marks. I never drew attention to myself in class. These classes were an escape for me. A quiet time to myself. At home things were busy. My little sister to collect from school. Meals to prepare, ironing or washing to do, shopping and all the rest. Here in room 510 I could relax.

Then one day, six weeks into the school year, Mr Barmby did what he never did. He came down the aisle towards me. I was sitting in the back row, right in the corner. I held my breath. Would he stop at Chris's seat? What could she have done? Or the boys on the other side of the aisle? Ray and Ozzie. The Stewart twins maybe. But he came on.I quickly raised the lid of my desk and slipped the book in. Seconds later the lid was raised again and the book lifted out.

'You've read the books haven't you. All of them.'

I muttered something.

'You are wasting your time Margaret. Go away and find something better to do. If I could let you take the exams today I know you would pass, but unfortunately the exams aren't until next summer. Come back then.'

Which is how I came to be taking extra French and R.E. And he was right . I got top grades in both English literature and in grammar. Thanks Mr Barmby.

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Member Comments
Member Date
julie wood11/02/06
I enjoyed this story--I could see the teacher and felt as though I were there! Great character study!
L.M. Lee11/04/06
Bella Louise11/09/06
I could understand your teacher-I suppose I am in the wrong generation of English schoolchildren to have a teacher exactly like this, but I've had some similar ones. I loved the phrase: "his copy of the Times turned to the crossword"-it is very reminiscent of teachers who speak with Received Pronunciation and have a real passion for their subject.

The only think I would suggest it that you find a way of rephrasing the last line-it is nice, but it could probably be more... conclusive.

Anyway, great story :)