A tall and handsome man walked across the playground. He wore brown trousers, a white shirt and a funky 70s style tie with thick gold and brown diagonal stripes. Even though it actually was 1978, it still stood out as quite bold against the bright white shirt. He really looked like he had dressed up for his first day at school. And in fact, it was his first day at school as a teacher. Even aged 6 I thought to myself, ‘who is that man?’. He stood out as much as his tie did, without even speaking.
Lucky for us, he was to be our teacher that year. And in a way, being his first class in his new profession at our primary school, we were his teachers too.
Encapsulating the years of time spent in the classroom with Mr M is tricky. I remember a series of moments, not a distinct sequence of events. Most of all I recall the feeling of the room, the atmosphere he brought to us. By being charming and funny, and always fiercely fair, he taught us to be a certain kind of person who valued imagination and kindness very highly. We learned about loyalty, effort, intelligence and creativity – not that we knew we were. He had a way of teaching us in a way that we didn’t know we were being taught. This is what I aim to do now that I am a teacher.
When I imagine primary school, I remember not being the sort of person who shone outright. I was more of the get-to-know-me-and-you’ll-like-me-more type. Put simply, I was shy. My specialness needed to be teased out of me. The girls who were my friends were quite unwittingly led by a really strong character who would wilfully direct us into the roles we would play as we sang and acted out scenes from Grease, the Movie, and just outright boss us around most of the time. She was the one with the swimming pool and the great danes – the swimming pool even had underwater speakers, which was hugely impressive at the time.
Mr M was the one who would find me crying in the corner of the playground when the boss of our group has ousted me. He would come and sit next to me and ask me what was wrong. I would refuse to tell him, so he would coax it out of me. Eventually I would talk and he would call the boss-girl and tell her to hug me and take me back. He was my protector. I came from a ‘broken’ family and had no Dad at home so Mr M became my surrogate. I know now, I was not his only charge.
The playground story is not even one of my own memories, this was one of his. Years later, I managed to track him down and we spoke for hours on the phone. It was a sunny day outside but I recall a long talk with an old friend – sometimes in tears of joy, sometimes in tears of sadness. He told me this story of saving me from shame in the playground. He remembered more about me as a primary school child than I did. He had kept my memories for me, and returned them to me lovingly that day on the phone.
I never really got to speak to him again after that (a story for another day). And since then, and his untimely death, I have discovered just how many people this man affected with his passion for education, and his kindness towards people. He was not only my hero it turns out.
There is much more to this story than can be captured in a short blog post. I do plan to write more about him, and do him justice with a longer written work. Lord knows, he shared millions of words with us over the time he was our teacher. We were so fortunate to have experienced the light he brought to our classrooms, even for however short a time we were there. I plan to repay the favour and shine some light on the story of Mr M so that others might understand just a little the preciousness of what he did.
Seems somehow fair that I was one of the last to speak to him, and he was one of the first to ever really speak to me. Thank you Mr M. we will miss you always.