When you were at school, did you give your teachers nicknames? Yeah, of course you did. I did. We all did. Even the ones we liked. Even the lovely History teacher who was a little, shall we say, on the cuddly side? Once we found out her name was Carol it was an inevitably short step to Carol the Barrel. And from then to the sotto voce singing of her theme tune whenever her cheesecloth clad form came into the room. She took it all in good part, of course, as all decent teachers would.
She probably took it as something of a compliment. At least we had formed some sort of opinion of her. We even took the trouble to find out her first name, a perennial subject of delight for children.
At my school that game is made somewhat easier by the fact that we all wear name badges with our first and last name printed on them. Well you would think it would be easier but of course that presumes that the children are even glancing in your direction from time to time.
Not so long ago I said to one of my Y11 classes, a group that I had taught three times a week for two years, ‘oh and my mum said to me, don’t be ridiculous VeryCommonMiddleAgedWoman’sName!’
The classroom was in uproar immediately. ‘VeryCommonMiddleAged Woman’sName haha! That’s your name! That’s my mum’s name! That’s my aunty’s name!’ (Inevitably it is their mum’s name or their aunty’s name, as approximately 50% of all 40ish women share my name. It is common as muck, frankly. ‘Er yeah, that’s my name, it SAYS IT HERE?!’ I replied in a mystified tone, pointing to the 3 inch square shiny purple badge attached to my lapel. But the moment had passed and their gaze and attention had wandered back to the terrible fate of Curley’s Wife. (Not really; they probably went back on Facebook to post ‘just found out my teechers called VeryCommonMiddleAgedWoman’sName! LOL! Jk!)
But there is a difference between finding out what your nickname is, like lovely cuddly Carol, and actively seeking out that information. This, as most teachers will tell you, will not end well. Yet the temptation is sometimes too much to resist.
Let’s take one of the teachers at my school. He is an experienced teacher and a smart man all round. Let’s call him Mr Cliff. (That’s not his name by the way.) Well during a open evening recently I witnessed him stroll up to the reception desk near where I was sitting and start a conversation with a sixth former about a recent school trip.
‘So tell me,’ I heard him say, ‘What DO you lot call me these days? Is it Cliffy, or the Cliffster?’
This was such a shockingly schoolboy error I was almost tempted to throw myself in front of him in a heroic gesture, to save him from himself. Unfortunately for his dignity, I was at that moment in the middle of stopping two other pupils from looking up rude words in the dictionary and then repeating them in a sniggering tone to each other (“Archimedean screw!”) , and that kind of thing is fine in the classroom but not appropriate for open evening I think.
The sardonic sixth former gave The Cliffster a slightly wide-eyed and disbelieving look.
‘Er no Sir. It’s NEITHER of those….’
Poor Cliffy. Luckily he didn’t compound his error by pursuing the matter any further, although I do think I saw him later in his office with the lights turned off with his forehead resting gently on an open volume of Stupid Teacher Mistakes Not to Make.
But who am I to judge, because as I was tidying away the dictionaries and shooing away the rude word brigade (“Stud! Muffin!”) I heard myself say in an extremely casual tone, ‘So do I have a nickname?’
Sardonic sixth former turned to me with a look of ‘Really? These people are supposed to be teaching us something? REALLY?” and said, “Yeah. Do you really want to know?’
SAVE ME! SOMEONE SAVE ME!
‘Yes,’ I laughed nervously. ‘I mean, how bad can it be?’
The eyebrows of the Sardonic Sixth Former shot up so far into her hair that they were almost touching her collar.
‘Er OK. It’s The Sharer.’
I laughed nervously at this. And then later turned it over in my mind. Well it’s not as bad as it could be I guess. On balance. I do talk to my students about all sorts of things, about life, and about adulthood and the vagaries of the world. I do this without compromising for a moment the tight requirements of the National Curriculum, of course. But for example, in the middle of a scene with Beatrice and Benedict from Much Ado, one of my students yelled out in a tone of some distress LOOK DOES HE LOVE HER OR WHAT?? So we stopped for a moment, just to talk about how you can tell if some loves you. I think that’s a pretty useful thing to talk about, in between the crucial memorisation of some iambic pentameter.
In fact I would stick my neck out and go as far as to say that it was pretty much the most useful thing they had learned that day. Because the longer I spend in the education system the less convinced I am that we are preparing our children in any substantially useful way for the adult world.
More on this subject tomorrow, when I will also ponder the question of whether I should ask the Sardonic Sixth Former exactly what she meant by her parting shot:
‘Well. That’s ONE of them anyway…..’