I’ve found so often in my life that’s it’s really easy to make a real idiot of yourself without any effort at all or any assistance from anyone else – and doing it without any intention to do so, and sometimes… in actual fact quite often, without even realising it till some time later. Sometimes there are few consequences except for some retrospective blushes on my part, sometimes unfortunately the result might not be quite so inconsequential.
After I finished my degree, while my friends went straight to teacher training, and after a year’s post-grad course they got jobs ins schools in Manchester, I got a job in the civil service after a brief intermission working in a pickle onion factory. In those days there wasn’t the career advice available that there is now, there weren’t the training schemes and graduate entrance opportunities there are now; you came out with a degree and you were on your own. I wanted to be a journalist but there seemed no openings anywhere, so I got the job in the pickle factory. I didn’t mind it, it was a good experience, I made a lovely Indian friend, and at least I could pay my rent! I soon realised that the cicl service was the absolute opposite of what I wanted to do in so any ways, and I hated it; I was unfortunate that I was in an office where I had literally nothing to do – I spent many of my days writing on the office type-writer, and eventually I wrote my letter of resignation on it. I got a job at Manchester Airport working on the information desk which I absolutely loved, it was brilliant. However, after a while I realised, that much as I enjoyed it, I would never progress in any way, I would always do exactly the same thing, there was no career structure or other opportunities. So two years later, I followed my friends to teacher training.
This brings me back to making an idiot of myself. My first job was in a tough but fantastic school in inner-city Manchester. I stayed there for three years and it was a wonderful experience and I met some great kids and some inspirational teachers. I was lucky that I actually started there as soon as I finished college, at the end of May. I enjoyed it so much, and obviously didn’t do too badly as they offered me a job for September. When I first started in the May I was standing in for an English teacher who was off for several months. As I mentioned, it was a tough school, and the kids could obviously see I was an inexperienced ninny. I walked into the classroom where about thirty thirteen year olds were waiting for their teacher and were surprised to see me. There was a lot of calling out and shouting as I tried to introduce myself – nothing in the year’s training I’d had prepared me for this. Who are you? What are you doing here? they shouted as I rapidly felt the situation slipping out of control. Then one shouted out Where’s Mrs Gandhi? I was impressed they knew the Prime Minister of India and that they were testing me in this novel way. I replied that she was in India, obviously, and I rabbited on about the recent election there which led to more hilarity and ridiculous behaviour. Fortunately, at that moment, the head of department popped in to see how I was getting on and within moments order was restored. She was marvellous, she somehow managed to manipulate the class so it seemed as if I really was in charge and she just happened to be passing, and before long, I was somewhat shakily teaching the lesson. I don’t know why the kids were obsessed with Mrs Gandhi, but as they eventually left the classroom at the end of the lesson which had seemed to last an eternity, they were chanting, where’s Mrs Gandhi? She’s in India! Back in the staffroom, among the other teachers who of course I didn’t know, I was asked how I got on by one friendly person. I related the Mrs Gandhi thing and then the bell went and it was next lesson. I told all my friends about the by now hilarious seeming disaster, and the kids making an idiot of me over Mrs Gandhi. The summer term disappeared and thank goodness it was the holidays. I returned in September, more confident, better prepared, and teaching in a different area, English as a second language. At the end of the first day a very smart blond teacher who I’d not seen before came up to me, and thanked me for covering her lessons before the summer holidays when she had been on maternity leave. She was so pleasant and grateful I was just glad she didn’t know what a pickle I’d made of it. I asked the friendly person who by now was a real friend, who the teacher was. Oh, she said, that’s Carol Gandhi. I didn’t exactly blanche, but I felt as though I did. When the kids kept asking me last term where Mrs Gandhi was, I thought they meant the Prime Minister of India. My friend looked at me as if I was an idiot… Well, obviously not. which kid here would even know where India was, let alone the Prime Minister? Anyway, Carol’s surname is G A N D Y…
There are a host of other idiocies I uttered while teaching, and I was reminded of one the other day. I had progressed through the ranks and moved from Manchester to Oldham, via Wembley in London. I was a head of faculty, and one of my duties was to fill in a government form listing pupils who were born in other countries, or whose parents were. It was very important and I did it carefully and conscientiously as some areas of funding depended on it. I was amazed at the different origins of our students, almost every continent, and I forget how many different countries. Many Eastern European people had settled around the Oldham area after the war, many people from Asian countries had come to work in the mills, and there were many of what is now known as ‘the Windrush generation’. I had to keep track of these students and when one day I realised there was a lad I’d not seen for a while and I asked his friends where he was, they told me he had gone to Brazil. His family were from Bangladesh and I guessed they had moved on from England to Brazil in search of work, just as they’d arrived here years earlier. Brazil? Ashraf has gone to Brazil? How amazing! Let me know if he keeps in touch, I hope all goes well for him! I must have asked why he had gone to a country which I hadn’t realised was a destination for Bangladeshi people, and they told me about other students who had also gone to Brazil. I made sure they were taken off the list. I wasn’t surprised when a new girl arrived in school who spoke no English and when I asked her friend where she had come from, she also came from Brazil. This was before the days of the internet so I wasn’t able to research Bangladeshi immigration to South America, particularly Brazil. I knew a lot of Japanese people had emigrated there, as one of my dad’s scientific colleagues was a second generation Japanese Brazilian. I had to see the head teacher about the list, going through the figures with him, and my friend and second in the department came with me as she knew more details about the families and had helped me with giving me information. I told the head about the Brazilian connection and he too was surprised but pleased at the international slant it gave our school. I asked my friend something and she’d obviously had an attack of the giggles because she could barely get her words out. Goodness knows what had set her off. We left the head who was very pleased with the work we’d done. What tickled you? I asked my friend. Brazil! Brazil! she dissolved into laughter again and it was quite some time before she was able to explain. The missing students hadn’t gone to Brazil, the newcomers hadn’t come from Brazil. It wasn’t Brazil at all but Breeze Hill, another school on the other side of town. I didn’t ever tell the head master.
You see what I mean, I’m very capable of making an idiot of myself!