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A cut above the old me

rudging up the road to school, drooping coat, shapeless hat, shopping bag, I suddenly realised that I'd turned into that drooping, shapeless, middle-aged teacher who looks so awful that pupils make a point of either totally despising or ignoring them - or both.

So I had my legs waxed (not for the faint-hearted), and made an appointment at a very expensive hair salon (the bill, indeed, made me very faint-hearted).

It wasn't just the bill. The chappy who cut it obviously saw only the drooping, middle-aged woman and cut to suit. He did some nifty colouring, maybe hoping that a bit more colour in my life could rescue the situation.

But I left feeling drab, silly (I know, I shouldn't have squawked quite so loudly at the bill) and shapeless.

The next day, still smarting from the disdain in the receptionist's eyes as she took my credit card, I went back to complain about their attitude. They accepted my viewpoint, apologised, made another appointment and promised me I'd feel anything but droopy thereafter.

By the time the second appointment came, I'd conceded the point my hair had been well cut and well coloured. It had won compliments, and half of me thought I should back down. But the other half wanted to see just what a difference a really daring cut would make - and it would be free.

I was treated like someone who mattered. The stylist listened to what I said and helped shape my thinking. The girl who washed my hair was careful and tender. I almost blanched as I watched so much of my hair cut off - I hadn't meant it to be that different, had I?

I thanked her for having taken my complaint seriously, and she explained that it was important I felt good about the whole experience. I walked out of that salon about two inches taller. And I'd just made a discovery: both haircuts were good.

But the first time, I'd been made to feel inadequate and as if I wasn't quite as good as anyone else. I was still the same frumpy, lumpy woman after the second cut - but I felt beautiful because I had been taken seriously.

Isn't teaching like that? It doesn't matter how efficient a teacher you are, if you can't make the children feel cared for and important to you, then you are failing. I heard someone say: "If you can't teach without a smile, then don't teach."

I'd add to that: if you can't make a child feel valued, and competent, then look closely to see where you are going wrong.

I still get a fright when I see my reflection in the mirror - it is just so different. But what is important is that under the hair is someone who feels good about who she is. And who wears purple as she strides up the road.

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