This one's for all the teachers out there

9th January 1998 at 00:00
Mechanics, DJs, hospital porters... they all went to someone's school. Jennifer Newman can't even get her hair cut without bumping into a former pupil

No one from the Teacher Training Agency has approached me to appear in an advertisement to encourage new recruits. But my former pupils certainly don't seem to have any trouble recognising me.

As a mature entrant 15 years ago, my own experience of school had been such that I would sprint across the M25 to avoid a teacher, so I was initially unsure of the etiquette involved in greeting an ex-pupil. I need not have worried.

My first encounter was at a petrol station where, with sinking heart, I recognised the young man in charge. He'd caused me endless sleepless nights in my first year by threatening to bring his dad in to complain about me. It wasn't his dad I was worried about; the headteacher scared the wits out of me.

I was sceptical when the lad said he was a disc jockey on a local radio station, but I managed to stutter out the name of a song I liked. Bleary-eyed and steeling myself for public humiliation, I leaned out of bed the next morning to re-tune my radio just in time to hear a charming dedication followed by "Only the Lonely".

The motor trade seems to attract my former pupils. I took my car to have a new tyre fitted and was introduced to a gang of mechanics as "my old English teacher". This young man gave the most eloquent oration about the shortcomings of his education. Why, he demanded, did his teachers not use his obsession with motor cars to engender a love of reading and writing? Why indeed? I resolved that, should the wheel not fall off my car on the way home, I would return with the address of QCA's head office. It didn't, but to my shame I didn't either.

A more embarrassing meeting was in the local hospital where I had a minor operation. Two comic porters collected me from a mixed ward. I had to climb on to a trolley wearing only the most unflattering headgear and a flimsy paper gown.

Just as the anaesthetic took hold, I recognised the sickly smile of the younger porter. When I came to, I was wearing my own nightie. But the operation was a success so I wiped all other thoughts from my mind.

Even more important to me is someone who needs the discretion of the Queen's underwear supplier: my hairdresser. I have become used to seeing a quintet of former pupils lined up behind the backwash and could not fault their PSE programme, judging by their concern for my welfare one day last June. Obviously in distress, I turned up an hour early with a very red face. I refused their offers of medical help, explaining, much to their amusement, that I was suffering from a drop too much red wine at the post-OFSTED party.

My best moment, though, came last year. Unable to explain fully to my four-year-old grandson the story behind Santa Claus, I was relieved to share that warm feeling between awe and comfort when the red and white figure magically played his part just right in the local supermarket.

Aware that Santa was giving me more attention than the child, my puzzlement turned first to pleasure and then to heart-swelling, grandmotherly pride. "Hello, Mrs Newman," he boomed. "Good to see you again. You were my best teacher!"

Jennifer Newman is a part-time English teacher at Redmoor High School in Hinckley, Leicestershire

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