Georgina 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. Full of enthusiasm at the beginning of term, she’d used exactly those words in her first letter to Kit after coming to Kirkby Grange. That letter still lay inside her drawer, unsent, along with nearly a dozen others. Writing to Kit about what she was doing and learning, about her hopes and problems, had become second nature; so much so, that she hadn’t been able to stop just because she’d decided to break off contact with him.
The decision not to communicate with Kit had not come easily, and several factors had fed into it. First, her mother had innocently reminded her that most of her pupils at the school, as evacuees, had had little or no contact with their families since the start of the war. “They have been forced at a very young age to stand on their own two feet and face life without the crutch of loving parents.” Her mother hadn’t meant to influence Georgina’s relationship with Kit, yet her words had made her feel guilty for using Kit as an emotional “crutch” throughout most of this past year.
Then Fiona had responded to some mention of Kit with the words: “You can’t have your cake and eat it too. You can’t say you don’t want a relationship with him, and then write to him twice a week.”
The coup de grace, however, had been delivered by Philippa. Her advice about avoiding emotional involvement with aircrew and made it impossible for Georgina to blithely send her letters off to Kit as if they didn’t matter. She forced herself to admit that she couldn’t send and receive letters week after week without being sucked more deeply into a relationship. So, although she hadn’t stopped writing them, she had stopped sending the letters she wrote.
The very fact that she didn’t intend to actually mail the letter, however, made it all the more tempting to pour out her misery with the ink of her pen. Yet she stopped herself. She had no right to complain to anyone — not even a piece of paper — about a reprimand from Miss Townsend. The headmistress had been right. Her pupils had been loud and unruly, running about, shouting, and throwing paper aeroplanes at each other. She had completely lost control of them, and they had ignored all her pleas to quiet down and pay attention.
Instead of feeling sorry for herself, it was time to start facing facts. One of which was that she was not a born teacher. Indeed, she must seriously question if she could successfully finish training and earn her living in the profession at all. Maybe it would be better just to admit she’d failed?
No! She dismissed these defeatist thoughts vigorously and sat up straighter. Throwing in the towel now would be a betrayal of Don. He had been adamant about the importance of her completing training. “Your identity cannot be simply as my wife and dependent. You need to be someone in your own right.” She was not going to quit at her first setback.
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