How a career I loved was ended by hate
Not so very long ago, I loved teaching. I felt generally liked and respected by the students and I didn't mind that the weight of my briefcase relieved me of the need to pump iron every night. Then one day, some pupils decided that I qualified for the label of "queer".
For several years, as a teacher governor, I had been instrumental in permanently excluding quite a few difficult and disruptive pupils.
My discomfort began with some of those boys (only later did girls join in) whose sole purpose in life was to loiter outside the gates of the very school which they'd been so eager to leave.
Bolstered by the physical togetherness of the gang, they gathered punctually to greet me with cries of "Poof", "Faggot", "Bent Bastard", "Shirt Lifter", "Nonce" and worse. For some months, they struggled to find new synonyms before passing the rod to others inside the school. Those who were so dull in lessons suddenly became so clever in the art of hurling abuse and then disappearing like worms do when the seagulls come.
I could still raise a smile at this stage, although I could no longer take for granted a trouble-free existence. Wolf whistles or camp choruses of "Hello, MissIerISir" accompanied my passage down the corridors. When my bicycle had not been vandalised, my rides to and from home became lengthy and varied in an attempt to by-pass my tormentors. Travel on public transport, local shopping trips, walks, outings, all became impossible or inadvisable, and friends and relatives were regularly harangued.
The school's senior management team told me they were aware of what was happening, but did not, by dint of rash action, wish to make matters worse for me. I was also told how much easier it would be for me if I drove a car, if I didn't live locally and if I hadn't been brought up in the area.
Then the strategy changed. In the course of a year, I was burgled four times and my house was daubed with excreta; my parents' grave was desecrated with misspelt slogans relating to Aids; my cat was poisoned and anonymous phone calls in the early hours invited me to trysts in the local public toilets.
The police were given names, but no corroborative evidence was ever found. I was advised it would only inflame the situation if I launched a civil proceeding for harassment, but that I should carry a tape recorder at all times, move house if I could, and be grateful that I wasn't black "as well".
Tiredness and illness brought about an informal meeting with the headteacher to discuss my wavering attendance and I was warned about the dangers of bringing one's personal life into "a public sector workplace". The assaults continued. My house was relentlessly stoned, I was threatened with petrol-bombing, remains of Chinese takeways regularly blocked the morning sun at my windows, obscene letters arrived.
A virus, stress and exhaustion forced me to stay at home for a month or so and I returned to work with the unnatural smile of a synchronised swimmer. However, while swerving to avoid a missile, I fell off my bike and broke a bone: negotiations now became formal. I was referred to the county medical officer who, with radiant bonhomie, concluded that I was debilitated but should eventually return to fitness.
It was now the Spring term of 1993, the Christmas holidays having been highlighted by an attempt to run me over. Influenza followed, attacking the parts the mob had failed to reach. A formal meeting with the head and county personnel officer was arranged, primarily to discuss my deficiencies as a year co-ordinator and my lack of proactive leadership.
The meeting took place. The discussion did not. I was told to do myself a favour and accept an early retirement package. After 20 minutes, I was allowed home for the day and never went back.
I am now close to financial ruin, still the subject of abuse (the rumour has circulated that I was sacked for molesting a boy) and without the farewell gifts of a lawnmower or travel vouchers to comfort me.
In the brief course of my demise, no student was ever punished, no parent or governor informed. My union was kind but powerless; the police listened and the senior management team had other priorities. Perhaps I was just too weak and tired to prevent the inevitable happening. So that's the end but I did love teaching.