Another view - Dwelling on personal peccadilloes left me with moniker mania

11th June 2010 at 01:00
Comment: Stephen Jones

We were having a conversation of the confessional kind. "I have a horrible feeling," said my lecturer friend, "that I've got a nickname."

I asked him what had led him to this conclusion. He explained that he'd casually picked up a student essay from a colleague's desk. It was a piece of autobiographical writing in which the author humorously depicted two of her (unnamed) teachers.

"I think," said my friend, "that I'm `Mr I'm not sure about that - I'll have to find out and get back to you' - because if I think about it, I do tend to say that a lot. And I'm certainly not the other one - `Mr repeatedly bangs right fist into left palm in order to emphasise his points'."

"Oh dear," I said, because clearly I had to say something. But then what can you say to a bit of self-revelation like that? "What about you?" he asked. "Are you aware of any nicknames your students have given you?"

My answer was no. But later I started to think about it. Just because you're not aware of a nickname, it doesn't mean you don't have one. So which of my characteristics would they pick on, I wondered, to hang my nickname on?

"`Mr always wears beige trousers'," Mrs Jones suggested when I ran the idea past her. "Whenever you go out shopping, you always come back with a pair." Pedant to the core, I had to challenge this, because sometimes I come back with two pairs.

Second on the list has to be my tendency to talk too much in class. I know this because . because . well, it's obvious if you think about it, isn't it? Most teachers I know talk too much as well. It's an occupational hazard.

I also know I talk too much because a student once told me so in a dramatic fashion. It was as if a switch had been pulled in his head. One minute the class was proceeding normally - yes, I suppose it was largely me talking and them listening - and the next a student named Jeremy had turned into a raving lunatic. "Oh God," he shouted, "you just go on, and on, and on, and on." I opened my mouth to speak . "and on, and on, and on . ".

Despite never knowing when to shut up, I couldn't think of a suitable reply. "Thank you for your input, Jeremy - I think we get the point," was all I could manage. The rest of the class were busy studying their feet, so whether they all thought "poor Stephen" or "thank goodness someone's told him at last" I never did find out.

And it's not only the volume of words that flow from the Jones gob that might inspire satire. There's also my tendency to start a sentence and never actually . I put this down to perfectionism rather than decrepitude. It's not that I've forgotten what I want to say; it's just that nothing other than that precise but elusive word will do to say it.

Then there's my actual voice, and my accent. I had always thought these were comfortably middle of the road, until another piece of classroom truth-telling punctured this illusion. In a bid to make a point about English pronunciation, I foolishly asked the class: "How would you describe my accent?" Quick as a flash, Matilda said: "Common."

OK, so now let it all hang out. I've got a slight lisp too. And when I was 17, I did actually have a nickname - it was "monkey face". Maybe this had something to do with my party piece at the time - normally only performed after several pints of Watney's Red Barrel - of eating a banana sideways.

So there you have it. Mr Jones, the teacher: an obsessive wearer of beige trousers, who has a lisp, who never stops talking (in a common voice), though half the time he never actually gets to the end of his sentences, and who just happens to have an uncanny resemblance to a baboon.

And if you can't get a nickname out of that lot, then you're really not trying.

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