The Best Person to Decide

‘How many today?’

‘I haven’t counted yet. Hundreds.’ She said.

“Said” actually implies something more positive, more certain, more involved than the way she spoke. “Sighed” might be nearer, but may be too polite, too slight in its ability to depict the awful weight those words carried.

‘Hundreds.’

‘I’ll cook. What do you fancy?’ I tried to put a bit of a smile in the way I asked. I don’t think she wanted smiles.

‘Anything. Nothing. Look you get yourself something. I’ll pick at something later.’ She started rummaging in the bag of papers she’d brought home tonight. ‘I’d better start. They’ve got to be with the exam board in a couple of weeks.’ She dumped a pile on the table. ‘And I’ve still got lesson preps.’

I went into the kitchen and left her to it. I would prepare a Bolognese. I’d do enough for both of us and I’d freeze the rest if she didn’t want it.

I’d had a bit of a hard day myself, but you couldn’t tell a teacher that. It was interesting seeing what went on through the looking glass. When I had been at school I can’t say I had much respect for teachers. Some I liked as people. Some I liked for their ability to convey a subject’s innate value. Some combined both feelings. The majority didn’t hit either mark. Many were just plain average Joes (boys only school, one female teacher and she was the most macho of the lot of them). Many were completely useless.

Just as “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way”, so all good teachers were alike but each bad teacher had their own particular way of making the day a misery.

The onion was going clear in the olive oil; I added the chopped garlic and looked for the oregano and basil.

I hadn’t seen Rebecca teach of course so I couldn’t tell what she was like in class. I’d seen the amount of lesson preparation she did, had  looked at the materials, talked over some of the curriculum she had to teach and ideas for engaging the little buggers. It all seemed as good as it was going to get given the weird concepts of what kids need to get on in life that passes for educational policy these days. But I’d ever seen the performance part. The bit where she tried to turn the theory into the messy practicality of imparting knowledge and enthusing kids to learn, to see that knowledge was only the first bit of learning, of knowing how to gather information, how to analyse it, how to use it and its products to do other things; how to think.

She’d practised run throughs of new material on me. They seemed cool. I learned some things. But I wasn’t thirty mixed ability, mixed enthusiasm, mixed aggression fifteen year olds. I liked learning new stuff. I loved Rebecca. I’m pretty sure a few 15 year olds would as well given half the chance, but that didn’t necessarily encourage the mind set for learning.

The minced beef was browned and I rummaged for passata in the cupboard.

I held the bottle aloft in triumph.

‘Do you want a bit of Bolognese love?’

I listened for a reply. Nothing but frantic paper rustling.

I poured the sieved tomatoes into the pan and put the water on to boil.

She was grading. Not papers, but pupils. This was like a meta analysis of someone’s evidence for life. Government dictat had swayed from exams, to exams and course work, to exam like assessments and back to exams over the decades but this was different. This was Covid induced surrender to the idea that “the best person to judge the pupil is the teacher.”

I put the spaghetti into the largest pan we had, the water roiling in its eagerness to consume the pasta. I’d always dribbled a little olive oil in with it until I’d watched an Italian chef on an online channel use quite a lot of rude words about that idea. So I just shoved the strands in and went to put the garlic butter into the bread for a quick oven heating.

I stuck my head through the door.

‘Ten minutes love, if you want to eat.’ I said. She grunted noncommittally and dropped another set of marks onto the pile of those who had been weighed in the balance. I grabbed a piece of Parmigiano-Reggiano from the fridge and wondered about what was going on next door.

Rebecca was stressed with the sheer volume of work at the best of times. The obsessive paperwork proving the prep work had been done, plus all the weird governmental obsession with various and multifarious metrics meant there was little time to actually teach. I wondered if the box ticking, hoop jumping and goal setting actually made weaker teachers better enough to balance out the drag on the better teachers. I couldn’t see it making any difference to the stinkers. They would always find a way to win the battle with the pupil.

I grated some of the cheese and checked the clock. Time to test the pasta. I didn’t adopt the Sweeney’s method of hurling a piece against the wall to see if it stuck to it, although that way no doubt still had it adherents.

My teachers had not been particularly aware or bothered about how I interacted with them and the school system. I was quiet and not problematic. That let me sit just above the middle of the pack for most subjects, below in some and near the top in a few. This largely depended on how confident and capable of controlling the class the teacher was. If I could concentrate and they inspired I would fly. If they were on the look out to pick on someone to cover the fact the class was a mess I slumped. I was lucky I guess, the ethos was to learn and only a few bothered with the idea that allowing pupils to “express themselves” was of paramount importance. It was my fellow pupils ‘expressing themselves” that bothered me most of the time.

I’d been at the front of the peloton, just behind the teachers’ pets in junior school. Until the 11 plus which as an IQ test of sorts. I was top of the school and nobody, least of all the teachers, liked it or believed it.

I continually did better in most exams than I did in class with teacher assessments.

The steam billowed up from the colander before I returned the pasta to the pan and poured the Bolognese on top of the pasta. I stood it to one side, snatched the garlic bread from the oven and put the butter and lemon zucchini into a serving dish.

‘Ready if you want love.’ I smiled.

She looked up, hurled the latest paper down on the decided pile and stood up.

‘Sod it. That little bastard’s done nothing all year anyway. Let’s eat.’

3 thoughts on “The Best Person to Decide

  1. Thank you for this piece.
    At the moment what I am most fascinated by is the cooking. Do you like to cook?
    I want to read more literature about food and cooking. It would be nice if you recommend something.
    Thanks again. Cheers!

    • Hi, I do. I cook all my family’s meals. Have always loved cooking.
      The Kitchen Daughter by Jael McHenry is an interesting novel about a young woman with Aspergers who speaks with ghosts as she cooks and searches a connection with her deceased grandmother through cooking the recipes of the dead.
      I am slightly nervous of suggesting Abundance by Amit Majmudar about an Indian girl in the US bonding with her estranged mother during her struggle with cancer through learning to cook Indian food.

      • Sounds lovely! Thank you for the suggestions. I am adding both to the reading list.
        At present I am reading The Belly of Paris by Zola and what a rich and delightful read it is proving to be. Zola is rather meticulous with the descriptions and I for one am really enjoying it.

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