YA Author Anthony McGowan remembers his form teacher, Mrs Maguire… a moving piece…
Miss Connors was our form teacher. She must have been 23 or 24. Not long out of teacher training college. Neat and very pretty. Yet she had authority, even then. She controlled that class with a combination of humour, kindness and decency, but also an intense fierceness, when required, matching their ferocity with her own. And, in truth, it was required quite often.
There was a pervasive feeling of violence at that time in the school. Breaktime scraps were common and bullying was endemic. The hard kids preyed on the weak, the quiet, the studious. I escaped only because I was tall for my age and good at sport.
At the time I hated the bullies, the meatheads. They ruined school for many, made it a place of horror and fear. Now I can see how this all flowed from that environment, that background, the desperate poverty of Halton Moor.
Many teachers responded to the violence with brutality of their own. Corporal punishment was a daily ritual, administered with a sort of dull thoughtlessness, or sadistic relish, depending on the tastes of the teacher. Even a good kid like me could be slapped across the face for talking, thwacked on the knuckles with an iron-rimmed technical drawing ruler for forgetting his homework.
The teachers who rose above this remain heroes to me. And it’s clear Mrs Maguire became one of them – loved, respected, dedicated. But when I knew her, she was still young, so young it seems to me now. Hardly more than a girl, trying to control a class full of kids for whom the kindest word you could use would be unacademic.
And what I remember most about her was her determination to get the best from us, to put into our heads what we needed to get through, to get by. That caring, that intensity, could at times spill over into fierceness, goaded by some jackass, or when she came across bullying or unkindess in others.
But it isn’t the fierceness that I remember when I think of her. I think of her face, always on the verge of a smile. Her consideration. The way she listened when you spoke to her, and tried to answer, rather than fob you off. I remember her kindness and consideration for me. I could easily have had a terrible time in 1J. I was an outsider. I was different. My parents were lower-middle-class. I didn’t have the hard Leeds accent, so like a hammer hitting rock. And I was brainy. My hand was always up in class. But she looked after me, and I got through. Others she helped more, those who had greater problems to overcome. For 40 years she did this, week in, week out. And she had earned the right to spend another 30 years thinking about the good that she had done, the lives transformed.