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The International Writers Magazine
:Fiction: The Classroom

A teacher's power can be scary
Gemma Williams

I hesitantly step into my new classroom and glance at the fresh new faces gazing in my direction. I play with my hands nervously; I had lived in London all my life, I had grown up there, I had friends there, I had gone to the school there since I was five. When I was told I would be moving to the country I expected something like London but with lots of grass and trees! I loved the hustle and bustle of London and the way there was always a sleepover to go to or a new film to see.

My biggest concern was joining a new school and having to get used to a new timetable, try to fit in and make new friends again (it was half way through the term and all the girls would be in tight little groups by now-unwilling to allow in impostors who might threaten their hard earned social stability).
As it turned out the country was nothing like I had anticipated. It was dull and there was nothing to do at all. It was the opposite of London, the opposite of all I had known.

The good thing was that my new school seemed to be a cosy little place that I was sure I would fit into straight away. I stared at the back of the class, allowing these thoughts to race through my ten year old brain, while a friendly looking man (who I was told was the headmaster) explained to the attentive class that I was joining the school today… so I took my first proper look at the classroom that would be where my schooldays would be spent from now on.

It was very small and smelt sweetly of daffodils, the small windows were open wide lettings in a fresh breeze, and sunlight flooded the room, making heavy wooden desks look golden. There were pictures of flowers and great images of summer days hung in no particular order on the walls. At the front of the room where the headmaster (Mr Matthews apparently) was standing, there was a clean blackboard, and on a ridge on the side of the blackboard was a piece of purple chalk; this perplexed me, the chalk in my old school had always been white. In front of the blackboard was a very large oak desk, resting on top of it was a clear glass vase holding a bunch of sweet smelling, sunny yellow daffodils. Despite my apprehensions, the room was bliss: it was so beautiful and relaxed in comparison with the strictly white and black, hospital-esque classrooms in London, that always smelt of chalk and spilt ink and the only light in that room was the unforgiving illumination the fluorescent light bulbs because the blinds were always shut.

A voice interrupted my musings over the room, and Mr Matthews told me to sit in the front row next to a smiling girl who I later found out was called Caroline. Mr Matthews said goodbye to me and strolled out of the room.

A lady who looked to be in her late twenties stood in front of the class. Her below shoulder length, golden hair fell forward as she threw me a warm smile (dispersing the cloud of despair induced by Mr Mathews abandoning me) and her blue eyes sparkled like sapphires as she flicked her hair back and gave me a friendly wink. She said her name was Mrs Woodshore. "We were planning on doing maths this morning and giving your presentations on the books you’ve been reading this afternoon. You will be pleased to know since we have a new student we will have a ‘getting to know each other’ day, like the one you all had when you first joined the school. Which means no: you won’t have to do the presentations today!" she said in a playful manner. To this the class erupted into happy chat, and glad I had caused some glee, I sank down into my new seat.

The following three weeks carried on like that, joking and laughing and working hard but enjoying it. Work was made fun, something that had not seemed possible to me before now, and I became close friends with all the girls in the class, especially the girl I sat next to on my first day: Caroline.
We soon became best friends; I decided I was very happy my family had had to move. I was very happy with my newfound life.

Then, on an average Monday morning, I strolled into the classroom, looking forward to what the day would bring… I froze in the doorframe. The room was lit with the harsh light of a florescent bulb and the windows had been shut and blanked out by pieces of thick black card. The beautiful pictures had gone and had been replaced by school rules and old crummy posters advertising the opera. The desk my friends and I had taken turns to sit on to read out loud to the class was gone and had been replaced by an ugly metal desk. The thing that struck me hardest was that the vase that held the sweet smelling flowers in had gone. I inhaled the air in the room and momentarily couldn’t breathe then I coughed out loud. All of my friends were sitting silently and didn’t look round to welcome me with smiling faces as they usually would. A loud booming voice bellowed, "Who are you? Get in here this moment."
I stepped into the room and a women dressed in an ugly navy-blue sweatsuit looked me up and down.
"Who do we have here?" the woman sneered in my direction…

It turns out the lovely teacher Mrs Woodshore wasn’t actually my teacher but was standing in for the impatient, red-faced giant who was currently bellowing at me. "Why it’s a little darkie," she snarled. (It occurred to me for the first time that nobody had mentioned the colour of my dark skin among a class of milky white faces: they must have been nice enough to take me for who I am). "I don’t like darkies in my classroom; it spoils the uniformed look we have. It looks like a dirty little girl couldn’t be bothered to clean herself this morning". All of the confidence I had managed to build up at this school leaked out of me like someone putting a nick in a balloon, so that the patiently placed air would slowly filter out, leaving a limp excuse for a balloon. She told me to sit down at once and said if I spoke a word I would have to stay after school and a letter of complaint would be given to the headmaster. "You should be cleaning the toilets not taking part in a lesson" She jeered.

I sat in silence the whole lesson and Caroline gave me a sympathetic smile but the monster lady saw it and I got moved to sit on my own. At the end of the day I was told that my presence was not to be seen leaving with the others and she made me stay an hour, cleaning her desk, scrubbing her dirty boots.
This became a regular occurrence: while others skipped home to milk and a biscuit, I would be made to stay and do whatever she desired to order me to do; mother became concerned so I had to lie and say I joined the gymnastic team: I had never lied to my mother before.

One day, a few weeks into the torment that was now my school life, she kept me back as usual, and told me I ought to clean myself up by tomorrow and then her eyes lit up. I was told to stay still and she left the room. As she left the room I had not long ago been so happy, tears welled up in my eyes; I couldn’t understand what I had done wrong, I had always been a good student, top of the class; the thought being considered a bad student, always held back for detention pained me more than she could have known. She came back with a Brillo pad… a frantic glaze overtook her already hard eyes. She grabbed me tightly, started to scrub my skin… harder and harder. I whimpered half shock, half terror, she told me if I dared to make a noise she would report me to the police as a disruptive student… she was raving at me.. "You ought to be locked up, world a better place without the likes of you.. they can do that you know, lock up the naughty, disgusting, horrible wrenches like you" my ugly skin had started to bleed. As my red blood- the same blood that would come from her veins, leaked onto her white t-shirt, contaminating her purity, she noticed- shoving me out the door, repeating warnings of being locked up to imprison me in silence.

This carried on for three weeks; but it felt, to my child’s mind an eternity. I just blocked it all out when it happened and if someone asked me about my cuts or bruises I would make up an excuse: "Oh just a bruise from hockey… fell out a tree.. off my roller blades"… yeah, right onto her bloody fist! I started thinking maybe she was right, maybe I was disgusting, and maybe the world would be a better place without me… I started failing my classes, I lost contact with my friends, I was distant at home, I stopped eating… eventually, on my way back from school - beaten extra hard that day (because I dared to answer a question in class, and worse than that: I got the answer right) and starved from a few weeks of surviving on the little my mother force fed me, I fainted. Right in the middle of the road, I just dropped down.

I woke in hospital - I was told it was a few days later. My friends were around my bed, flowers and cards from the school perched on the desk by my bed. I wondered why my friends dared to venture to see me - surely she would punish them too if she found out - and I couldn’t understand why the headmaster had sent these gifts, I was often in trouble with him now - accused of one crime or another by her… then it came out…
A janitor had been in the hall all those hours after school… after seeing me fall to the floor, and hearing all the enquires into what could be wrong with me, he came out with the whole story. Backed up with medical evidence of regular beatings, the voices of my classmates whose voices became braver, and my parents’ accounts of mutterings in my sleep: the truth emerged and was accepted…

The police got involved, she was eventually fired and I never heard of her again. Apparently there was some piece of paper banning her from coming near me again, but I didn’t believe a piece of paper to be much defence if her fist chose to come my way again... The school took on Mrs Woodshore full time, and the classroom was beautiful again. All my friends and I could laugh again without fear, but what happened to me is buried inside me for ever. Never again could I look at a flower and just see beauty, or hear a child laugh and just hear happiness: she had taken my innocence, something no amount of time, or counselling could return to me.

It is scary to think she was in power and did all that to me because of something I had absolutely no control over. To think she abused that power when my parents entrusted me to her care, day after day… To think of the many people we entrust, and who we entrust to them… do we ever question what these people are really like? Or are we too scared of the answers we might receive? Power is scary

© Gemma Roxanne Williams December 2004
Note: This is based on a real life experience at school. But it is a work of fiction.

Gemma is a Creative Writing student at Portsmouth University.

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