Sunday Reading: A Good Teacher

Words by Chloe Little.

It’s 2003, and I’m 14 years old with a ‘Don’t Attack Iraq’ patch sewn to my bag. I’m running through the school hall while a group of boys chuck slices of ham at me – my punishment for being vegetarian apparently. This was my school, where everyone has to go, but not everyone is allowed to fit in. I felt like a complete alien in a world of teenage aggression and hatred, tormented for not knowing my place in the food chain (quite literally). Maybe if someone told me that secondary school would be the equivalent to Dante’s Inferno then I could have prepared myself, alas I would find out the hard way.

The problem I had is that I wanted to learn, I wanted to be good at stuff – the biggest faux pas you can make if you need to be invisible. I was always opinionated, and knew I wanted to do more with my life. I didn’t want to be like any of my peers, and that’s a pretty hard road to choose when you're a 14-year-old girl and the whole school thinks you have a beard.

I felt completely isolated, I went to lessons, tried to answer as many questions as possible (I would never get many right, oh the irony!) and then listen to my Walkman on the bus home, whilst trying to avoid getting beaten up. When I got back at 4pm I’d be in my safe place, with my music and my films. However, it wasn’t until I had graduated university and all those somewhat painful memories had faded that I remembered this letter – I guess I wasn’t alone after all.

Dear Chloe
I’m not going to wish you good luck in the future, because you don’t need it. Continue to be bold and remember that being different is a blessing not a curse.
I can already see you walking through the East Village with a copy of Jim Morrison’s biography under one arm and Cahiers Du Cinéma in the other.
You’ll be out of here soon :)
Mr S x 

Mr S was my tutor throughout these turbulent five years, I saw him every morning and even though we didn’t have this life affirming John Keating moment where the world became clear – he looked out for me, he taught me about communism, he let me watch Spinal Tap in my lunch break, and told me my drawings had philosophical meaning (I still think they were just lots of triangles). Every child needs one person to tell them they are special, and I am fortunate to have two very strong willed and exceptional parents – but not everyone is. He tried to tell me that being a bully in school doesn’t get you far in life, and that being intelligent and having interests that weren’t boys would get you places – this letter reminded me that secondary school would soon be over, and I would never look back.

I’d like to know where he is now. I hope he married the woman dressed like Yoko in the photo that sat on his desk, I hope he continued to play in his garage band at weekends. I hope he still teaches. I always thought I’d relish the moment one of those ghastly children would turn on the TV or open a magazine and see me in all my glory – in a band, touring the world, I wanted them to feel shame and embarrassment. Now that would give me no satisfaction, instead I think I’d like Mr S to know what he did for me, that feels more progressive. So if you’re reading this Paul, know that I didn’t let you down.

 Photo by Lukasz Wierzbowski

Photo by Lukasz Wierzbowski

Chloe Little is the bass player and vocalist of the London band INHEAVEN