The International Writers Magazine:Fiction: The Classroom
teacher's power can be scary
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.
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 youve 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 wont 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 couldnt breathe then I coughed
out loud. All of my friends were sitting silently and didnt 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 wasnt actually my
teacher but was standing in for the impatient, red-faced giant who was
currently bellowing at me. "Why its 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 dont
like darkies in my classroom; it spoils the uniformed look we have.
It looks like a dirty little girl couldnt 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 couldnt 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
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 childs 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
I started failing my classes, I lost contact with my
friends, I was distant at home, I stopped eating
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
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 couldnt
understand why the headmaster had sent these gifts, I was often in trouble
with him now - accused of one crime or another by her
A janitor had been in the hall all those hours after school
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 didnt 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.
all rights reserved