The best and the worst

Stephen Jones

What is the matter with teachers? I'll tell you what the matter is with teachers. They are fat, they are ugly, their dress sense is lousy and they smell. Oh, and they all wear glasses too.

That is not me speaking - perish the thought - but it is the genuine voice of those I teach, or at least of some of them. Asked to write about their worst teacher, they came up with all of the above and more. Much more.

In case you think that these are simply stroppy teenagers getting their own back against hateful authority, then think again. Of the 70 or so students who took part in the exercise, every one was over the age of 19.

One thing that my unscientific survey demonstrates is that when you do not like someone - particularly someone who has had power over you - you hold things against them you might otherwise be too polite to mention. Thus Mr M, a secondary school drama teacher, is not only "short, plump and red as a tomato", but sweats buckets in the classroom too.

He does not, though, commit that other teacherly crime against youthful humanity known as wearing the same clothes every day. "For the three years he taught me (dirty, untidy, and always looking like he needed a bath and a shave) Mr L never changed his shoes which were brown and old."

Teachers' shoes, according to another student, are "like slippers that had been crossed with a pair of brothel creepers", and come from a special teachers' catalogue "as advertised in the Sunday papers for a bargain pound;4.95."

But shoes are not the half of it. This student's bete noire, Mr B, was "the typical scruffy teacher of the era, in his flared corduroy strides, lurid kipper tie, vile-coloured shirt, unkempt hair and" - this the killer blow - "always a copy of The Guardian sticking out of his coat pocket."

At least Mr B did not smell, which is more than you can say for some of his worst teacher colleagues.

Comments include: 'The stench of smoke and alcohol was overpowering," and "Her breath was like a skunk with halitosis."

But all other whiffs fade into insignificance compared to that given off by Miss P, "the worst teacher I have ever had the misfortune of being taught by". You need a strong stomach for this, so be warned. "Miss P smelled like a child's pooh which had been left to rot and then mixed in with extra sweet honey."

Miss P, sad to report, was not only the worst-smelling teacher in the history of teaching, but probably the worst at teaching too. Variously described as clueless, incapable and imbecilic, Miss P was apparently "unable to teach a bird to fly - and birds are meant to fly".

Of course professional competence - or rather incompetence - is what students really object to in a teacher, and, it seems, there is a lot of it about. Such teachers always arrive late, leave early, are never prepared, and spend a lot of time in class reading from textbooks.

Mr A, a college teacher sadly, "just gave us worksheets out of booklets and told us to work it out for ourselves".

Most of these teachers, not surprisingly, come across as sad cases. When Miss M ran out of excuses for her class - her favourite being, "I've left my marking folder at my Mum's" - she just sat and cried. Others, it seems, hit the bottle and hit it hard. "One day he stumbled into class, his speech slurring, trying his hardest to act normal. As he went to sit down he missed the chair, landing flat on his back on the floor. That was the last time we ever saw him."

But do not despair. There is hope yet for the teaching profession. Because what my students were actually asked to describe was their worst or best-ever teacher. And while all the above is true - or at least it is what they wrote as the truth - by a margin of eight to one they chose to write about the best over the worst.

Reading about these "best" teachers makes you want to wrap them up and post them off to the nearest teacher-training college. They are paragons. Fair, principled, prepared and patient, they treat every student (to whom they are always prepared to listen) as an individual.

Naturally they are also confident, well organised, energetic and full up to the brim with enthusiasm. They crack jokes - funny ones, invariably - as a matter of course, but never let their infectious sense of fun interfere with their seriousness of purpose.

Let's face it, they make you sick. I mean, how can you be expected to compete with the likes of Mrs Q when: "No matter what she was talking about, her words seemed to be the most important and precious of words in the history of human thought."

Or, for that matter, with Ms D, who "was simply beautiful. Everything about her was perfect".

Or perhaps not quite everything. Because, if one final student is to be believed, "Every teacher wore glasses, big ones, square ones, blue ones, black ones, even bright ruby red ones.

"No offence though," he adds, "glasses are cool."

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Stephen Jones

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