In our last year of primary school, my friend Christine and I had an exceptional and unusual teacher.
Mr Stokes had been in a tanker regiment in Egypt during the war and we now realised had been profoundly affected, perhaps damaged, by this experience. Certainly some parents would have been horrified by stories he told us – His memories still fresh, less than a decade after the war ended.
I remember him as inspiring: drawing out of us impassioned renderings of Tennyson, teaching us to love a good story, as we sat where we liked (Christine and I sat under his desk…), while he read us every Friday afternoon.
All the class were devoted to him, whether or not academically able, and he drew unknown talents out of children. I remember when we laid on ‘Toad of Toad Hall’, all the usual suspects (including me) hoped to be Toad. Instead he chose a barely literate boy, called Alan. Somehow he drew out of Alan, an overweight but aimable character, a quite remarkable performance. This must have been such a high point in Alan’s school life, and I think taught us humility. All of that in a class of 52.
I found myself thinking of Mr Stokes after a teatime conversation today. My companion, a little younger than me, had grown up in poor banlieu of Paris. He started to tell me about a special, very idiosyncratic teacher he had had, insisting on a vivid portrait of the blue (what sounded like boiler) suit he wore
This teacher kept a fridge in his classroom, and at 10.30 made a little ‘pause goûters’ – a snack because he knew many had not eaten before coming .
He interrogated my table companion as to why he kept falling asleep. The answer was the two sister had the second bedroom, while the two boys had to wait till their dad finished watching tv before turning the sofa into their bed. The next day the teacher went to see the father – who ended up buying a second telly for his bedroom.
In class he often played classical music while they worked and took the kids on a trip to some huge museum in Paris about which my companion waxed enthusiastic. He placed his desk at the back of the classroom, to better survey his pupils, and when he set them maths, he introduced the practice that when a boy had finished, he could go out to play even though it was not playtime – thus increasing determination to finish
Needless to say, the school director saw to it that this teacher did not survive after the end of the year .