Mrs Macintosh by Baroness Lawrence
I went to Christopher Marlowe School in New Cross, a very old girls’ school, modernised in 1964-65 with indoor toilets, a gymnasium, cookery classes and a little garden. It was there that I was taught maths and English by Mrs Macintosh.
She was an Asian lady who must have had a mixed marriage, which is where her surname came from. During socials, she used to wear her saris, but during normal school days, she wore ordinary clothes.
She was pretty, not very tall, her hair was shoulder-length and she didn’t wear much make-up. Her voice was very gentle and I think that’s why we settled well as a class. I don’t remember there ever being any disruption.
When I was 12 or 13, maths was my favourite subject. I was dyslexic, so with English I realised much later that my grammar and spelling was bad. In those days, nobody really picked up on it. But mental arithmetic was something I could do really well.
Mrs Macintosh used to challenge us, asking random multiplication questions. I always loved numbers, but this was a teacher who was especially encouraging. She was somebody who really, really challenged me, and I passed her maths tests. I would say: “Miss, who came first in class?” She’d reply: “Well you did, dear.” I’d ask her about three times and she just kept saying, “You did, dear!” She was a very patient teacher.
A lot of us did really well because she took the time to show how to do working-out for long division and multiplication. We were taught the old-fashioned way, so you knew exactly where each number would fall, and when it came to adding up, you knew the columns that they would sit in.
Because my maths was so good, they moved me up a class. Maths became more complicated and went out the window because the teacher faced the blackboard and never explained anything. It was a completely different experience to being taught by Mrs Macintosh.
Teaching needs to be a relationship that allows you to make mistakes and ask questions. If you’re not fully comfortable and the teacher’s got no time, you’re never, ever going to ask the question and you’ll never, ever move forward.
I remember coming into school and telling Mrs Macintosh about quite a rude song with catchy music that I’d heard on the radio. As a child, I didn’t understand the meaning of what the artist was singing. She didn’t tell me off, she just explained to me that it wasn’t something I should be listening to.
Sometimes people can shout you out and say “Go away! You don’t do things like that!” She never did any of that stuff. She was very gentle and very supportive. If you were doing anything wrong, she’d take the time to tell you off in a way that you wouldn’t feel you were being talked down to.
I have that steady way of speaking. When my children were little, it used to irritate them because they’d be shouting and carrying on and I’d say, “OK, let’s talk about it.” They’d be so irritated that I wasn’t rising to them.
I spoke recently at a University of Cambridge debate on trusting the police service. I spoke against the motion and tried to keep my words as measured as possible. Nobody interrupted me. When the other speakers were speaking, every now and then the students would interject, whereas they allowed me to carry on uninterrupted until I’d finished.
I tend not to shout – it’s very rare that I raise my voice. I think I’ve got that from my grandmother and from Mrs Macintosh. They were able to do discipline without making you feel they were being unjust.
Baroness Lawrence was speaking to Lily Farrah
Born 24 October 1952, Clarendon, Jamaica
Education Christopher Marlowe School in New Cross, South London
Life After her son, Stephen, was killed in a racist attack in 1993, she campaigned for police reform and set up the Stephen Lawrence Charitable Trust. She was appointed OBE in 2003 and created Baroness Lawrence of Clarendon in 2013