Teachers Who Save You.

The ForestI was really good at school until I hit Year 9. Something snapped in Year 9. Maybe it was the pressure of the abuse I was in my third year of enduring from my piano teacher. Maybe it was hormonal. Maybe it was the bullying – ironically, I was bullied at school because I played the piano and some of the other kids thought it was too posh. Maybe it was that a combination of all those things had made me withdrawn, sulky and uncommunicative at home. Whatever it was, I changed.

I went from doing my homework to not bothering. I went from silently enduring bullying to fighting back. I went from smiling to scowling. I pretty much hated the world and everything in it. I only really loved music.

To my teachers, I had everything. Compared to many of the other kids in my class, I was lucky. We lived in a nice house, my parents cared about my education and about me. I was clever. But I was horrid. Suddenly, bolt-out-of-the blue, horrid. I co-ordinated a mean little stunt on our English teacher who had a habit of a) spitting when he talked and b) losing his temper. Five minutes into the lesson, our umbrellas went up. Having won the grudging respect of the bullies through fighting, losing and fighting some more, I started hanging around on their estate – Stoops estate in Burnley where the writer of Shameless, Paul Abbott, grew up. They sniffed glue. I drank litres of cider. We’d throw up on the streets then I’d walk home, sneak up to my room and sleep.

“I love you, but I don’t like you!” said my Mum in exasperation. I didn’t care. I didn’t like myself either. Home life deteriorated to the point that I barely spoke to or saw my parents. If I wasn’t locked in my room, I was locked in my head. My Mum got so worried she took some eyeshadow powder I’d spilt in my bin down to the chemist to see if they could analyse it. She thought I must be on drugs. I wasn’t and they couldn’t.

But I still went to piano lessons. I learned to play sliding down on my stool so his hands couldn’t reach into my pants. But I still went. It didn’t cross my mind to ask for a different teacher, so I endured. Then a miracle happened.

Mrs Bowling, our bouncy, but strict music teacher, took me to one side.

“I hope you’re going to take this for O Level,” she said.

She got me to play. Told me my posture was shocking. She rang my parents. She told them I was really talented at music, but that I must find a different piano teacher. I needed to do grades, she told them, and whatever this man had been doing, he’d got me doing it all in a very odd position. So almost overnight, my life changed.

I didn’t change that much. But I had somewhere to go. The Music room was like a church for me – a haven. This adult didn’t ask me awkward questions. She knew I was getting into trouble a lot but she didn’t mention it. She ran me to the hospital after one particularly vicious fight, but all she said was “don’t do that again!” She played music to me. Rachmaninov, Mozart, Parry. I was glad. She took me to the Halle – I’d never even been to Manchester before. She saved me.

It took me years to straighten out. Even after the bullying had stopped and the hormones calmed down, I was like the ball in a pinball machine. Unpredictable, little self regulation, prone to huge ups and downs. I didn’t tell my parents about my piano teacher – didn’t tell anyone at all – until I was 30 and of course they were devastated, but by then, I was better.

So you see, when people tell me I’m a troll for wanting to protect children like me; that I don’t live in the real world; that I’m soft – I don’t give a Figaro. Because I know, every child needs a champion. To all adult eyes, I had it all – a loving family and every advantage. In most schools now I would have been excluded for fighting. But I wasn’t. I was given a chance – one human being – that’s all it took. Sometimes what’s on the surface is nothing more than a symptom of something terrible beneath. I know it’s hard, but let’s never lose our compassion. Let’s keep looking for that thing – that one thing that will capture a child’s interest and imagination. Let’s not give up.

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16 thoughts on “Teachers Who Save You.

  1. Brilliant article. However you would have struggled with the ‘SLANT’ methodology that is being increasingly adopted by Academy and Free Schools

    Here is an excerpt from a ‘SLANT’ school rule book.

    Sit up straight

    “…….you sit up straight at all times and you never slouch. Teachers have a seating plan and you sit at the seat they have allocated. When you read you always follow the text with your ruler, with both hands on the ruler. This helps you concentrate, so you remember more and understand more. When you are not writing or reading you sit up straight with your arms folded. Your teachers will instruct you: “3,2,1 SLANT!” Everyone will sit up extra straight, eyes front, looking at the teacher. You will follow their instructions first time, every time. The same rules apply to all, so are fair to all. No exceptions.” See

    https://rogertitcombelearningmatters.wordpress.com/2017/09/25/the-learning-instinct/

  2. You’re a survivor and therefore a bloody powerful mentor. I hope you use what you have learned to help those vulnerable kids who need to know how to speak up before the abuse continues. I wish you nothing less than peace, love and happiness. You’re an angel xx

  3. Awww not really. Still very fallible. But I’m mindful that we never know what’s really going on in a child’s life. I try to let that guide me. Have a lovely Christmas 🙂

  4. Really! We’re all fallible but few can see through the pain, confusion, fear and (ironically) the personal fallibility with such clarity. You are worth your bloody weight in gold to these children. I’ll give you a fiver for every one you mentor xx

  5. I’ve just left teacher training because the school I was at would not let me sit out of year 9 parent’s evening, even though I asked because my abuser was one of the parents in a class I observed. Their answer was to sit me at another table.
    I never had a teacher who saved me, nor did I have one to save me as an adult. I am go in to take up teacher training at another college in a year or two. I want to be the teacher who saved somebody. Xx

    1. Oh no – how insensitive of them. Did your uni tutor not step in to mediate for you? You should not, in any circumstances, have been put in that position. Don’t give up. I hope you have someone to talk to. I couldn’t talk for the longest time, but I know I’ve been better since I was able to speak about it.

  6. I forgot this Vygotsky quote

    “People with great passions, people who accomplish great deeds, people who possess strong feelings, even people with great minds and a strong personality, rarely come out of good little boys and girls.”

    My pet hate is the expression, “We want out students to achieve their potential”

    No-one has a ‘fixed potential”, and no school or teacher should presume to attach such a label to anybody. ‘Potential’ develops with the individual student. But for this to happen students need to experience developmental rather than judgemental teaching and learning. And of course teachers like Mrs Bowling, working with heads that recognise their qualities and value.

  7. Thanks for writing this Debra. It’s both shocking and moving – and inspiring that something as simple as a teacher really noticing you and your talent could change you life in such a positive way. Thank you again 🙂

  8. Giving a ‘Figaro’ needs to enter our folklore. I loved this article, partly because it resonated so clearly with an early teenage life I adopted. No resident of Burnley me, cohabitee of a Benedectine boarding school where the abuse was meted out by the years above and/or by your peers. Fagging was school policy, as was the most violent thrashing. Preparation to run the empire it was said and true, other than this was 1968 and we’d given the empire up by then. University saved me, reintroducing me to a world that can be nonjudgemental. Moving on 46 years, teens need to be provided with nonjudgemental environments. Keeping them sat upright with no room for personal space will lead to even greater volumes breaking down and opting out.

  9. The article “Teachers who save you ” impressed me immensely and as a student whose speciality is teaching English language I now feel more responsible for my future profession.Thanks very much for sharing this real life situation to the author of the article. I myself during some time in the past taught children and only now I realize the importance and the weight of teaching in the life of pupils. A good teacher is like a candle they say, he burns himself to light the way for pupils. To my mind , Mrs. Bowling was such a teacher, she was not indifferent to the life of a strange student, she could take it easy and not to pay attention, but she told parents to change the teacher of piano.
    Unfortunately, nowadays the teaching profession is becoming more commercial, teachers teach for money, not for quality and for the sake of pupils.They do not care about whether a pupil is interested in a subject or not,but such teachers as Mrs. Bowling can feel the spark of talent in a child and let it out.
    Sometimes children from normal families at first may seem to have all comforts and abilities, but as we can see teenagers often suffer from lack of attention of their parents, especially press from school teachers may worsen the problem. At this stage we can see that teachers are of great importance in the future life of pipuls, because they are the ones who lower the confidence and hope in a child and the ones who inspire and show them that they are capable of great things.
    The article taught me a lot as a future taecher, I now understand that staying in the memory of your students as a great teacher who somehow contributed to the wellfare of their life is far more important than being an ordinary average teacher who earns a lot. They say that three professions are given from GOD: Doctor, Judge and Teacher

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