Authors: Shelley Ellerbeck
Allie Johnson leaned against Mayfield School railings and watched the parents arrive. It was a warm June day, swifts were circling in the clear, blue skies over the leafy, suburban streets, and people were in a holiday mood. She glanced at her watch, then scanned the crowd for her friend, Liz. As usual, the latter arrived at the last minute, short brown hair awry as she raced up to Allie.
“Bloody tube! We got turfed off at Hammersmith and had to wait another twenty minutes. God, you wouldn’t think they could invent any problems with the line in summer, would you?”
“Wrong kind of blossom?” ventured Allie, pushing her thick, blonde hair off her face.
“Something like that,” muttered
Liz, her brown eyes darker than usual. She took a deep breath and carried on. “Anyway, I’ll see you later. Must go and get the girls.” She started towards the gates and then turned back, smiling. “Oh, and tell me what he’s like, won’t you?”
“Who?” Allie’s light blue eyes showed momentary puzzlement.
“The boys’ new teacher: the American, or whatever he is. He started today, didn’t he? Rumour has it he’s rather sexy…” Liz’s voice faded on the breeze as she was swept up in the rush for the gates, which were now swinging open. Allie grinned at her and prepared for a hot wait in the sunshine.
Her eight-year-old twin boys, George and Harry, were in Year 3, so were usually allowed to walk to the gate by themselves. This spared Allie the two-minute shuffle to the back playground, along a narrow, overgrown path. Something she was grateful for. Almost as grateful as she was for her new, designer sunglasses, which enabled her to observe people without anyone knowing. Or so she liked to think.
A soft, Canadian voice interrupted her thoughts. “People watching again?”
She turned to see Melanie, one of her more pleasant school-gate acquaintances.
“You’ve sussed me,” laughed Allie, pushing her glasses up onto the top of her head. “How’s Billy?”
Billy was Melanie’s son, and was in the same class as George and
Harry. He was autistic, which meant that home time, playtime, in fact any contact with other people was extremely traumatic for him. Whereas George and Harry usually came running over to Allie, full of stories and chatter, Billy was led out carefully by a Special Educational Needs assistant. He moved slowly and hesitantly, petrified of the bustle and noise surrounding him. Ally was always amazed at the fact that Melanie managed to look fantastic, despite the unimaginable stress she must experience every day. With long, black, curly hair and a willowy figure that would be the envy of a professional model, Melanie had the looks of a woman you would love to hate. But even that wasn’t possible. Because Melanie was a
. Calm and tender, she frequently made Allie feel humble by the way she never gave up on her son.
“Billy? Oh he’s fine,” Melanie said, hazel eyes directed serenely towards Allie. “The speech therapist wants to try a new strategy with him. PECS.” Allie tried not to look blank, but failed miserably.
Since when has bodybuilding been of any use to a
special needs child
, she thought. “PECS. The Picture Exchange Communication System,” added Melanie, smiling. “It’s very big back home and in the States.” As she launched into an explanation, Allie quickly became so engrossed that she was unaware of her own two sons running up to her until the last minute, when George collided with her back.
“Ow!” She exclaimed, turning round.
George was looking up at her with a smile that would melt ice. His white blonde hair was tousled and his freckles seemed to have increased twofold since the morning. Allie wondered how he could see anything out of his grubby glasses.
“Sorry mum. He pushed me.”
“I didn’t!” Harry, identical to George in every respect, but minus the glasses, appeared to have lost his tie. As Allie crouched down to try and sort them out, she was vaguely aware of Billy being brought over.
“Mum! Mum! I
t’s Mr. Richmond, our new teacher!” George’s voice was shrill with excitement, as though his favourite superhero had just appeared.
Allie looked up into a pair of twinkling, hazel eyes. She stood up hastily and took the hand being offered. His handshake was firm and strong. His other hand held Billy’s.
“Mrs. Johnson. Nice to meet you. George and Harry tell me you’re a teacher trainer. Is that right?”
Allie resisted the temptation to glare at her sons and smiled at the handsome man in front of her i
nstead. Mr. Richmond was certainly not her idea of a typical primary school teacher. He was tall and built like an athlete, with broad, muscular shoulders. He smiled easily at her as he continued to shake her hand. This was obviously an American habit. Allie was unsure when exactly to stop and decided she would try and do so now, before he got any ideas.
es, I am,” she began, reluctantly withdrawing her fingers. “But I train people to teach adults,” she added. “Not children. Post-compulsory education. Sixteen plus.”
“Nothing to do with OFSTED
She shook her head, momentarily transfixed by the sunlight dancing on his golden brown hair. When looks had been handed out, this man must have been at the front of the queue.
Right behind Melanie
, she mused.
“That’s a relief.” His eyes lingered on her a moment longer than was comfortable, then he turned his attention to Melanie. “Billy did very well today,” he said. “It was a big challenge for him and he coped like a pro. Didn’t you, Billy?” Billy nodded. “Th
ere you go, Mrs. Hampton.” He placed Billy’s hand easily into Melanie’s, as if he had known her all his life. “He’s used to me already.”
Melanie took Billy’s hand and kissed the top of his head. Billy chuckled. She looked up at the teacher. “Thanks, Mr. Richmond.”
“No problem, Mrs. Hampton.” He turned back to Allie, who was trying not to stare. “Nice to have met you, Mrs. Johnson. Goodbye boys.” Another warm smile and he walked away.
As she watched him go, Allie was aware of Melanie’s eyes on her. She met her gaze with what she
hoped was a casual expression. “He seems very nice, doesn’t he? Friendly,” she said.
, she thought. “But then the Americans always are, aren’t they?”
“He’s Canadian, actually. Like me.”
“Oh really?” Allie felt her fair skin start to flush. “I can never tell. I’m sorry.”
“No problem.” Melanie smiled. “The Canadian accent’s much softer,” she added. “Much nicer. See you tomorrow.”
Ally waved as Melanie led Billy away.
, she thought.
Melanie likes him too. I have no chance.
Later that evening, Allie was sitting at home, marking. The assignments were from her new contingent of English language teachers, training to teach English for Speakers of Other Languages, or ESOL, as it was more commonly referred to. So far, their attempts at explaining exactly how they would present four selected pieces of language to a class looked promising. Allie had seven ‘passes’ sitting on her right. Just one more to look at: Jeremiah. Normally, marking was quite relaxing, but Jeremiah was Liz’s ‘partner’, Liz was her best friend, and the situation felt a little awkward. The fact that they only lived over the road posed a problem. “I’ll drop the assignment by tonight,” had been an offer she couldn’t refuse last Friday, even though the deadline had been 4pm. Now, as she pulled the work out from its green, gold and red striped plastic wallet, the smell of tobacco mixed with something sweet and illegal hit her full on. It was almost as though Jeremiah were sitting next to her, dreadlocks halfway down his back, wearing his multi-coloured tunic, with a recreational drug in one hand and a pen in the other. She could practically hear the reggae beat in the background.
Allie focused on the work, covering her ears to blot out the shouting coming from the st
reet, as George and Harry were playing football with the boys next door, who were already world-class players, despite being aged only 4, 6 and 7. She sighed as she read Jeremiah’s opening gambit:
Presenting the past tense: I would give them the language and see what happened. Organic understanding might take place. After all, just
because many of these students come from poor, war-torn countries, doesn’t mean they are unable to comprehend.
What on earth was ‘organic’ understanding? And what was with the moral lecture? She scanned the rest of the work, took a deep breath, picked up her green pen, having decided against the red (after all, she didn’t want to be accused of academic imperialism) and began to write.
Just tell me exactly what you would do in the classroom, step by step. How would you present your target language? How would you check understanding? We know most of our students are intelligent people, but how would you teach them this language? RESUBMIT
She had sensed
from the outset that re-training a marijuana-smoking, ex-art teacher was going to be difficult. She obviously had no idea.
Her thoughts were interrupted by the doorbell.
she thought, noticing the noise had ceased. Collecting the large plate of orange quarters she had promised the boys, she opened the door, and came face to face with James, her ex-husband. His blue eyes were dark with fury and his powerful frame filled the doorway. Harry and George were standing behind him, flushed with embarrassment. She noticed the other boys standing at the end of the path, wide-eyed, watching quietly.
mes, I didn’t expect you just yet….”
.” James pushed past her and the twins followed, heads bowed.
Allie smiled and waved at the rest of the team, who in
stantly smiled back before turning away and resuming their game. She put the plate down on the step, went back into the house and closed the door quietly.
“I’ve told you before about playing football in the street,” muttered James, storming into the front room and sitting down, suddenly making the oversi
zed sofa seem tiny.
“But dad, you told us that was where you used to play when you were little.” Harry’s voice was defiant, but not in the usual challenging manner of an eight-year-old. He was simply reminding his dad of a fact he had forgotten.
“We lived in Camberwell, for God’s sake! We didn’t have a garden. I had no choice. This is suburbia.” He paused, looking hard at Allie. “You have a garden, and a local park. Where’s the problem?”
“You know Fatima won’t let the little ones
go to the park,” Allie began. “And it’s not as though playing in the street’s dangerous. Being a cul-de-sac.” She tried to smile. “Anyway, you’re early. Do you want tea?”
James shook his head, calmer now. His thick, fair hair was lighter than usual and his muscular body was tanned. Allie had to admit that, for a cheating bastard, he was looking good. His new life was obviously suiting him.
“How was Goa?” She tried to keep her voice light.
,” said James, grinning up at her suddenly. “Not really a place I’d choose to go on holiday. Too much misery and poverty. Not too jolly.” He paused, thoughtful again. “Outside the complex, that is.”
“You ventured out of the complex?”
did.” James looked down briefly. “Eleanor didn’t. Said it would depress the kids.”
, thought Allie. Jocasta and Primrose seemed like sensitive little souls. If James had to leave her, could he not have run off with someone with a heart? Instead of a materialistic divorcee from Pine Vale who employed her own cleaner? Or maybe he could have chosen someone with a 21
Century name? Not that Allie was bitter. “How is Eleanor?” she added.
Fine.” There was a pause. “Er… I’ve come to pick the boys up early because she’s having a party and wanted them to come. Is that OK?”
a deep breath before replying: “I’m not sure.” She turned to George and Harry, who were watching their parents warily. “Would you like to go, boys?” George nodded, looking at his dad. Harry looked down at his scuffed shoes.
“That’s all fixed, then,
” James said, getting up abruptly. “Need to get anything, lads?” They shook their heads. They had a room allocated to them in Eleanor’s house, containing everything an eight-year-old could dream of: an enormous TV, the latest console and games, a laptop. What was there to get? James moved towards the door. “OK then. Let’s go. Are these your overnight bags?”
As he stooped to pick them up, the doorbell r
ang again. James went to open the door. Allie couldn’t see who it was, but instantly recognised the deep voice.
“Hi, I’m Paul Richmond, the boys’ new teacher. Sorry to bother you, but this was left in the classroom today and I thought I’d better drop it off. It’s not the kind of thing you want to be without really.”
The door swung open slowly and Allie saw Mr Richmond holding a small, blue bag containing Harry’s emergency inhaler.