On Tuesday we are running an 11+ course in Dover. This port always has good memories and vibes because this is the port I left on my way back to Zimbabwe many years ago.
I had trained as a teacher in Zimbabwe and came to teach in England. I taught in Burnt Oak in North London. – up the Edgware Road. I taught at a fascinating school. There was no grass on the playground – just brick and concrete. The buildings were very old. The delightful headmistress had been at the school all her working life. I remember clearly how she pointed out that she had a very stable staff.
On my second morning of teaching a father arrived with his little son. He took out a knife and held it to my neck. He explained very quietly that I had told his son, the previous morning, that he could not spend the morning under his desk and that he had to sit down. The dad explained that if his son wanted to sit under his desk that was all right with him. He went on to say that if I did not listen I would be `for it’.
After lunch I took two classes of boys over the road and down a little alley way to the local park. This was for games. It was raining and muddy. Some of the boys changed but most of the class just played in their school clothes.
Two men sat on a bench and watched my efforts to get a football match going. I had arrived in a tracksuit and football boots – along with a whistle. The boys played for their games session and then we gathered together to walk back to school.
We reached the entrance to the alley way and the two men walked briskly over. I recognised `Dad with a knife’ and asked the boys to stand still.
He said, again very quietly, words to the effect that the session had gone all right. He explained that I was first male teacher in about eight years. He commented that the games session had gone all right. He went on to ask me if I wanted to go for a beer with them after school.
I think in his mind the dad represented the frustration parents sometimes have with school and teachers. How could a strange young man with an odd accent – an immigrant – help his son to do well at school? I gained credibility through my knowledge of the laws of football – and not through training to be a teacher.
I left the school at the end of the term to return to Zimbabwe – and passed through the post of Dover.
The children and families I meet in Dover will be judging me on the quality of the service I am able to supply. Their course will cover mathematics, verbal and non verbal reasoning along with a little English.
After the course, before driving back to Gravesend, I intend to walk along the pier and watch the men and boys fishing. To the fisherfolk I will just be yet another interloper – wandering on their patch.
The children on the Dover course will no doubt discuss the work they did in the morning with their parents. Mothers and fathers will look at the work the children have done. The children will explain to their parents that they have done their best. I am sure that no child will even dream of climbing under a table. I am sure too that no dad will be waiting with a knife.
Perhaps, when the course is over, I should take a fishing rod and try to join another community – even if it is only for a few hours.