Coming up short

25th July 2014 at 01:00

Danielle rests her arm on my shoulder while her friend Kara takes a photograph of us. It's Camera Day and I've been asked to pose with a number of our Year 6 school-leavers. I'd like to think it's because I'm naturally photogenic but actually it's because I'm 5ft 2in and most of the children are taller than me. I tell Danielle that I'm the same height as Tom Cruise; she doesn't appear to know who Tom Cruise is.

I thought I'd learned to live with being undersized but I've recently become sensitive about it. This is because the combined effects of age, gravity and cartilage degradation are causing me to shrink. My shortcomings have never been so exposed and there is a definite attempt by some students to reduce me to a circus freak.

"Well, I'm sorry, but I will no longer be treated like Mickey Mouse in a school-based theme park," I cry. "Do you realise how belittling it is for a man of my stature, socially speaking, to be used so casually? From now on, I refuse to appear in any more photographs standing next to tall children."

Ryan, who hasn't listened to a word I've said (but then, why would he start now?), immediately asks if he can have a picture of him and me together. I sigh and say, "Just one and only if you promise not to put two fingers up behind my head to make it look like I have rabbit ears."

Back in class, Lucy clicks through her camera to show me that she has captured an image of every teacher in school. "Are you going to check them against police files?" I ask. "There are some pretty shady characters among that lot. I wouldn't be surprised if several were wanted for crimes against education."

Lucy gives me a quizzical look. She is trying to work out whether I'm being serious. I taught her for a full year so you'd think she would know me by now. Eventually, I say that I'm just joking and she relaxes into a smile. She tells me that she wants to remember all her teachers for the rest of her life. "My mum is going to buy me an album to keep them in. When I'm old, I'll be able to look back at them," she says.

When my mother died, I sorted through her stuff. Among several packs of mainly black and white photographs, I came across my old school ones. They were mostly portraits chronicling my life through various stages of goofiness and bad haircuts. But it was an old class photograph that really attracted my attention, because my favourite teacher was in it.

Mr Gallagher stands, arms folded, behind three rows of familiar faces. He has a tweed jacket, a fat and greying moustache and spectacles like the ones Michael Caine wore in The Ipcress File. Forty-six years on, I can still smell his pipe smoke and hear his gravelly voice telling me to "pipe down, half-pint, or I'll squash you like a beetle". I think he was joking.

Steve Eddison teaches at Arbourthorne Community Primary School in Sheffield

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