Mr Willoughby had been a Sergeant Major in the last war, and he’d lost a leg at Verdun. He walked with a cane, and lines carved by pain and disappointment marred his once handsome face. Up to now, Georgina’s contact with him had been minimal, as all the male teachers from the Old Palace School of Bromley kept to themselves in the ‘boy’s wing’ of the school. Advised by Miss Townsend of her visit, he offered her a seat and tea, but she declined the latter, explaining she’d just had some.
“Let’s get to the point,” he opened in his brusque, military manner. “I’ve never had an assistant teacher and I’m not at all keen on the idea. I’m particularly opposed to having a young woman with your background interfering in my classroom.” Like Miss Evans, Mr Willoughby had worked his way up from a poor background and had a low opinion of ‘daughters of privilege’ such as Georgina. “Frankly, I don’t know what I’d do with you.”
Georgina started to panic but she was not prepared just to back down. “I’ve noticed that many of the evacuees don’t spell very well, sir, and that’s one of my strengths. I thought perhaps I could start a roll-a-word club—”
“Oh, that’s just like you do-gooders! You want to turn everything into a game!”
Georgina looked down at her hands. The remark hurt because it was true. She did think learning ought to be fun. Yet sensing that a man like Willoughby would be more impressed by spunk than passivity, Georgina risked arguing with him. “It’s a proven fact, sir, that many boys drop out of school simply because they don’t like it. Doing something to make them enjoy — and take an interest in — learning is surely the first step to getting boys to stay in school long enough to get a school leaving certificate.”
Mr Willoughby snorted and looked at her with a frown that was no longer entirely hostile. He seemed to be reconsidering her. After a moment, he announced, “I don’t think turning learning into a silly game is the answer, but I concede we have an inordinate number of pupils whose performance is so deplorable that if they don’t get some sort of extra help, half of them will be resitting this summer — which is not my idea of fun. I presume you can teach remedial English, but do you also think you could tutor 14-year-old boys in maths?” He looked over at her with a raised eyebrow.
“I’d enjoy that,” she told him, trying to disguise her nervousness.
He snorted again. “I doubt it.” He shook his head. “I’m not at all convinced that women can teach boys of any age, let alone 14-year-olds. Their hormones play up an awful lot at that age, you know?”
“I do have an older brother,” Georgina tried to point out.
“I can just imagine!” He retorted in a tone that seemed to imply that any brother of hers must be effeminate if not outright homosexual. She rather wished he could meet Gerald but knew better than to say anything. All she could do was await his verdict. Finally, he announced. “I honestly don’t think this is going to do any of us any good, but what have I got to lose? We’ll give it a try, but if things go badly, as I suspect they will, you’ll have to find a new assignment.”
“Yes, sir. That’s fair enough,” Georgina told him levelly, trying to disguise her relief. She did not know how much time God would give her with Kit, but she was determined to see as much of him as possible, and that meant living close to where he was likely to be stationed. As for the boys, Georgina believed that she had learned her lessons and was strong enough to face them. If she could discover something as interesting for them as the sewing had proved for the girls, maybe she would succeed at making one or two of them interested in learning to improve themselves….
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