what we get from reading is precisely balanced by what we give.
I will come back and write that post at some point, because while I agree with him in general, I think I would like to suggest that there are instances when that isn’t always the case. However, in one of those serendipitous moments that occur in the life of any reader I had at least one truth of what Scholes say brought forcible home to me this morning and I would like to share it with you.
I was over in Stratford having tea in the riverside cafe at the the theatre when a young woman came up to me, very tentatively (probably because I’d got my nose in a book) and said, “Excuse me, but it is Miss D—–, isn’t it?”
This is a moment every primary teacher dreads, because while it is flattering to think that you have changed so little that they can still recognise you, the same is never going to be true of them. Fortunately, I had my reading glasses on which gave me the excuse to fumble just long enough for Katherine to identify herself. We last met twenty-four years ago, when she was an eleven year old in my Year 6 class and now here she was with husband and two year old son in tow. I think it made both of us feel old.
Pleasantries over Katherine sat herself down and declared, “I had to come and speak to you, you made such an impression on me.” An ambiguous statement if ever there was one. I hastened to venture that I hoped it had been a good one, which is when she said this.
“Oh yes. You taught me that reading could be fun. You taught me to love poetry and to love putting my own stories into words. And now I’m teaching him” nodding to her son, “because I want him to have the joy that I have had.”
Excuse me while I weep all over again because what greater accolade could any teacher ever have. Whatever I gave her came back to me a thousand fold this morning.
In fact, I remembered Katherine very well. She was the quieter, less confident of two sisters and a pleasure to have in class. Marie, four years her elder, was very different indeed. I will never forget the time a visiting academic offered to teach a creative writing lesson to her class of nine and ten year olds and completely misread the level at which they were working. He (let’s call him Mr Atkinson) gave them a series of simple sentences and asked them to sequence them into a story. Polite children as they were, they humoured him and did it in about one tenth of the time he had anticipated. Panicking a bit, he floundered around and then suggested that they write their own version of the tale by embellishing the sentences he’d given them, one of which was The Hero arrived. Marie wrote:
The hero’s name was Mr Atkinson and he was very rich, but he wasn’t very tall, he had short brown curly hair and wore glasses.
If you analyse that it’s actually very clever. Marie knew all the fairy tale conventions well enough to subvert them and she had also read the situation well enough to realises that while Mr Atkinson clearly knew very little about nine and ten year olds he had got enough of a sense of humour to appreciate what she was doing.
Marie was a delight to teach in many ways too, although I never needed to convince her that reading and writing were good things. However, we remember Katherine in this house for something else entirely because it was Katherine who introduced us to Christopher Bear and suggested that he might like to come and live with us. As she stood up to leave this morning I said to her, “Please remember me to Marie and your parents and when I get home I will tell Christopher Bear I’ve seen you and he will be thrilled.” I wish you could have seen her face as she realised that I still had the Bear she had given me, that he was still loved and still valued. That was a gift in itself.
I will take these memories with me next week when I go into hospital. I shouldn’t be away long, it’s only for tests this time, but things might be a bit quiet round here for a few days. With luck I’ll be back at the type face by next weekend.