eorgina sat in her tiny office fighting back tears. Miss Townsend had just reprimanded her for failing to maintain discipline in her classroom, adding in an ominous tone that unless she saw a dramatic improvement in Georgina’s performance her assessment was going to be “below average”.
That would have been bad enough, but the previous week Georgina had discovered that two of the boys she had particularly taken under her wing, the cheeky little Bertie and his freckle-faced friend Lew, had been lying to her. Bertie had claimed he was an orphan of the Blitz, while Lew had said his Dad beat him every night when he came home drunk from the pub. Neither story was true.
Miss Evans, who had been evacuated with the boys and knew both families well, had set Georgina straight. “Bertie’s family is very much alive and well! In fact, his Mum has come to visit twice. As for Lew’s Dad beating him, that’s utter nonsense. He’s a teetotaller and one of the mildest men I’ve ever met. The boys have been taking advantage of your appalling naivety and competing in making up these silly tales! Not only have they been laughing at you behind your back, but – and I’m sorry to have to say this to you Georgina, but it’s better you know — the entire class thinks you’re soft in the head!” Georgina felt a perfect fool.
The gloom of the rainy autumn day penetrated her office and she felt overwhelmed. It was nearly eleven months since Don had been killed. She had tried to refashion her life around being a teacher, but today that seemed like a cold and empty alternative. She could hardly make a career in education if she was no good at it!
Georgina had dreamed about being a teacher ever since she’d been in grammar school but, as she played absently with the pens on her desk, she reflected that she wasn’t at all like her favourite teachers. They’d been so sure of themselves, kindly and understanding but firm and no-nonsense too. She let them pass in review mentally and concluded that she was no better than a rag-doll replica of her childhood heroines.
She glanced at Fiona’s most recent letter that lay open on her desk. It mocked her. Fiona was a raving success: the girls she coached at tennis won all their matches, her debate team took first prize in the regional competition, the skit performed by her troupe was voted best by the entire school. Indeed, she’d already been offered a permanent position, while Georgina had no doubt that Miss Townsend couldn’t wait to see the back of her.
Georgina didn’t question that Fiona deserved her success. She could picture Fiona in the classroom: her lipstick and nail polish an immaculate bright red, her dark, bobbed hair bouncing with her vigorous and decisive movements, her tone cheery, her pose self-assured and her voice authoritative. The first paper aeroplane that flew would be firmly crushed in her fist and the “aircraft manufacturer” marched off to the headmistress on “charges.” Fiona would have had no difficulty maintaining discipline at Kirkby Grange, and she would never have been taken in by the boys’ lies either.
Fiona had willingly shared the secret of her success in her last letter. Georgina needed only skim down the page to find the phrase she was looking for: “Don’t try to be friends with your pupils, G. Don’t care about being liked.” (She had underlined “care” twice.)
But Georgina did care. She wanted to be the best-loved teacher in the school.
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