We have all been to school and think we are experts on the subject of teaching. How can it be that tricky? And the holidays are SO long!
In my novel ‘Make a Joyful Noise’, the heroine Lucy struggles with her class music teaching even though she is an accomplished musician, playing the piano and singing to a high level. She finds out the hard way that being good at something doesn’t mean you are automatically a good teacher.
Controlling and teaching a class of teenagers is a very difficult task and those who do this well don’t get the respect they deserve from the public. In fact, they get a pretty bad press, often being branded as unable to do anything else and taking a full time salary for part time work.
T S Eliot knew what it was about when he said:
“I have never worked in a coal mine, or a uranium mine, or in a herring trawler: but I know from experience that working in a bank from 9.15 to 5.30, and once in four weeks the whole of Saturday, with two weeks holiday a year, was a rest cure compared to teaching in a school.”
Teachers need special gifts of communication, a real presence and personality that they are not afraid to show and of course good health to survive all those winter bugs that the kids bring into the classroom and cough all over them. It isn’t just a question of keeping discipline either; Julia Hughes’ wonderful creation Miss Geraty in ‘The Griffin Cryer’ has iron discipline but is not an ideal teacher in other ways...oops, I mustn’t give the plot away. You will have to read it for yourself!
So, let’s have a round of applause for all the dedicated teachers out there, the unsung heroes and heroines of our time, who battle away through the years helping our teenagers to develop lifelong skills and interests.
God bless them, every one! (Thank you, Tiny Tim).
Jenny's debut novel, "Make A Joyful Noise" is free to download from today, until midnight 3rd January
Download your copy from Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk.
Sing aloud (Extract from "Make A Joyful Noise" by Jenny Worstall).
“No, no, no - you make it sound about as interesting as a tea party at the Women’s Institute. Belshazzar has been slain by an unknown hand after a riotous evening of blasphemy and feasting with his concubines. Can’t you use your imaginations?”
The sopranos and altos gazed at their conductor with adoration; they would try to do anything he asked, anything at all. Just then Tristan dropped his pencil. Five altos and two tenors jostled one another to retrieve it; the lucky alto who won was rewarded with a dazzling smile and the promise of a drink in the pub later. Lucy gave a sigh and shifted in her chair. Tristan glanced in her direction and exclaimed,
“Now come on ladies and gentlemen - we must get to the end of this section before the break. Imagine the scene of gross over indulgence and pleasure before the horrific night when the king meets his grisly end... try to aim the voices high for maximum effect when you shout “Slain!” It is a shout full of passion and bloodcurdling harshness.”
Lucy put her entire self, body and soul, into the next “Slain!” After all, Tristan had personally asked her to.
“A little better, ladies and gentlemen,” said Tristan despondently. “But you will have to try harder when we rehearse with the orchestra and soloists later on. It just isn’t exciting enough yet.”
Lucy felt a sense of failure wash over her as Tristan continued, rather tiredly,
“Well, perhaps we will try again after the break. You all seem very flat this evening.”
Several leading sopranos looked up indignantly, wounded by this insult, but their chorus master was oblivious to their feelings and continued,
“We all need a break - God knows I do anyway - so let’s try again after coffee.”
During the break, Lucy found herself standing next to a rather shy young man called Steve. He had been trying to introduce himself to her for several weeks now and had begun to despair of ever having an opportunity to do so. Lucy gave him her attention for a few minutes while he told her that he was a teacher at one of the local secondary schools, but she soon lost interest. She spent all day surrounded by teachers and had joined the choral society to meet more exciting people.
Lucy looked around to try to see where Tristan was. He was so wild and passionate looking, she thought, rather like Heathcliff, although she doubted whether Heathcliff would have raised his little finger when drinking coffee in quite the same way as Tristan. Would Heathcliff have drunk coffee at all, Lucy wondered. Perhaps a flagon of rough ale would have been his preferred choice?
Lucy wanted to go over to Tristan and join the band of admirers clustered around him. If only she had the courage! A soprano was eagerly persuading Tristan to consume vast quantities of custard creams; she was shaking her magnificent glossy hair as she actually held a biscuit up to Tristan’s lips for him to nibble. How obvious can you get, thought Lucy in disgust. Miss Custard Cream, you should be ashamed of yourself! I should think that Tristan is very embarrassed by that sort of behaviour. Just then, to Lucy’s surprise, Tristan put his arm round the soprano’s waist, presumably to gently push her away Lucy thought, but the soprano must have misunderstood and put her head on his shoulder. Lucy could hear raucous laughter from some of the basses and then Tristan hastily clapped his hands and called for the chorus to reassemble.
Lucy made her way back to her place without noticing that Steve was trying to catch her eye. Her thoughts drifted away as the rehearsal continued. She imagined Tristan putting his hand round her waist, Tristan murmuring sweet nothings in her ear, even Tristan kissing her... Lucy came back to earth with a jolt as the pianist thumped out some fortissimo chords. The rehearsal pianist, Miss Greymitt, was long past her prime and what with her arthritic fingers and slight deafness was often the target of Tristan’s scorn.
“No, no, no,” shouted Tristan, “that won’t do at all. Go from the top of the page.”
He stood alert, hands outstretched, as the singers found the right place. All except for Andy in the basses, who was reading the Financial Times and of course the back row of sopranos who were still chatting animatedly about their antics in “The Blue Orchid” night club the previous evening. Tristan waited for their chatter to subside, then gave Miss Greymitt a murderous look; she was peering at her music anxiously, searching in vain for the right place to start.
“In your own time, Miss Greymitt,” Tristan said sarcastically.
“Oh dear, I mean, oh, which bar is it, Mr Proudfoot, I mean, Tristan? You see, my edition has different page numbers, wouldn’t you know, such a nuisance, so sorry...”
Miss Greymitt’s voice trailed off as she looked round at the front row of singers for support but they were all gazing at Tristan with rapt attention, cheeks flushed and mouths open, ready to take a breath whenever he gave them the upbeat.
“Two bars after figure 32,” bellowed Tristan. “Give the choir their notes please.”
Miss Greymitt’s eyes misted over and she gave the altos an E flat instead of an E.
“If you want something done, do it yourself,” grumbled Tristan under his breath.
“May I?” he asked with exaggerated politeness as he stretched over Miss Greymitt’s arms, which were encased in olive green tweed as usual.
I bet she’s worn that suit for the last thirty years, thought Lucy in amazement and I bet she calls it a “costume”. Tristan stabbed at the correct notes, leapt back onto the podium and they were off.
“Praise ye,” rang out the sopranos and altos.
“Praise ye the god of brass,” barked the men.
Miss Greymitt nearly gave up completely at this point as the accompaniment became ever more fiendish - it was a notorious black spot for rehearsal pianists - but somehow she managed to keep some sort of accompaniment going with her left hand, just to give an idea of the rhythm. Tristan rolled his eyes but did not offer to take over again at the keyboard. Even he knew his pianistic talent had its limitations.
Steve moved his chair slightly so that he could look along the row of singers to Lucy. He noticed that she was frowning slightly and looked rather nervous. What’s worrying her, he wondered. I hope she’s all right.
Lucy was thinking of tomorrow’s teaching. This was her first job and she was finding it quite a baptism of fire. Still, at least these weekly choir practices gave her something to look forward to and it would be the concert in a few weeks time. Perhaps Tristan would have noticed her by then?
At the end of the rehearsal Lucy looked around, hoping that someone she knew would be going to the pub and that she could tag along. She knew that the main social life of the choir went on in the pub and she desperately wanted to join in. Tristan and his entourage made a noisy exit and was it Lucy’s imagination or did Tristan glance in her direction with a smile as he tossed his red cashmere scarf over one shoulder on his way out?
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