Having gathered up the grammars, she pushes the desks aside to clear
a judo floor. First it’s boy against boy, girl against girl; later she mixes
genders. Grades are the business of the committed self, which needs, not
a protective shell, but the skills of active development. The double life will
fuse into one. The corporal reward for triers is a smiling tease or sarcasm.
1st – The Conqueror’s Teacher
He points to a chariot: ‘Behold a new-found creature. Refute.’ For the
boy’s sake he edits and annotates the Iliad. Years later the conqueror finds
the ideal repository for this most precious gift. From a gem-studded casket
in the ransacked Persian court he tips healing unguents onto the tiled floor.
2nd – The Teacher at Large
The lanes are unsafe: a gang might hurtle around a sharp bend. Between
capers they spy on Geography, as they call him. Mud-clad, like rugby
players, they slither through wintry hedges. In Wellingtons he walks his
Pomeranian, the sight and smell of pipe smoke guiding their pursuit.
3rd – The Modernist Teacher
He walks backwards into the classroom, spins around and flourishes two
commas on the blackboard, one inverted. ‘This is Columbus, swimming
to the New World.’ Then a fish; then a fisherman’s line, all over the place.
‘You are all sitting still, in a spiritual coma. Get weaving. Get drawing.’
4th – The Teacher of Nature
Birds dramatise a habitat – the field guide’s art alive and industrious. A
reed warbler, dashing to safety. Gatekeeper flitting, chasers hovering
prior to darting. ‘Prudent pond dippers, don’t miss a food pass over your
heads! Keep one eye on the sky. There’s more to life than the syllabus!’
5th – The Teacher of Light
The teacher’s subject is this: that she’ll never make you stand in a corner.
Her suffering extinguishes your demerits. Her kindness shines through
brusque reports. Transformation within the curriculum! Her miracles are
those of the abstract artist proving she can draw if she wants to.
6th – Teachers under Siege
Gunfire, explosions. A teacher smears herself with blood, lies still in a
flowerbed. In a crawl space above the casino, ten adults learn of their
plight from their cell phones: grenades thrown like maize to chickens.
Another teacher teaches the six non-Muslims to recite the Shahada.
All six – The Teacher of Souls
The school prayer’s remit is brain and brawn, in equal measure. Everyone
stands in assembly – in an hour there’ll be fencing or exams in the same
hall. The white-haired headmaster shows an OT charisma. He chalks up
these initials. Caret: an extra T, added by some mild-mannered graffitist.