Dylan, a bright bespectacled Year 7 in my form, was the first to notice there was something different about Ms Smith.
“Don’t you think it’s weird the way she’s bigger when she’s in her room?” He asked Amy, a vague, whimsical girl of the type prone to the doodling of unicorns in margins unless closely watched.
Amy shrugged. “She gets smaller when around other teachers,” she said. “She shrinks.”
Mentally, I shrugged myself. A teacher for years, I’ve learned that the world children live in is often impenetrable to adults and that it isn’t always wise to take the odd things they say at face value.
But the conversation was enough for me to take a greater interest in Ms Smith than I would have had I not overheard it. A middle aged supply teacher covering the half term leading up till Christmas, her banality make her hard to describe; normal face, normal height, normal coloured hair and eyes. Normal. Unusually normal.
Uncharacteristically, I made an effort with Ms Smith. I smiled at her when she glided past me in the corridor and even tried to speak to her. It was hard, for reasons I still find hard to describe. Speaking to Ms Smith was like trying to speak to someone at the wrong end of a telescope; she was somehow far away and the harder I tried to speak to her, the further away she went. Although she must have replied I can’t remember anything at all she said. I just recall a vague sense of wrongness and a feeling that I should stop trying. She sort of shrank.
My form didn’t stop talking about her though. How nice she was. How well she explained everything. How much they learned. The amazing stories she told. When I asked them what the stories she told were about, the faces of the children lit up, then faded to bemused puzzlement. “They’re great stories,” Dylan said, “and they’re about, well, sort of lots of things.” Then he tailed off, like someone trying to describe a dream they thought they remembered but didn’t.
It made me curious about Ms Smith, but Ms Smith was hard to be curious about. She had a way of slipping from your thoughts like water through a sieve. Every time my form told me more about her I’d leave registration determined to talk to her but I never quite did. I suppose I forgot, although forgot isn’t quite the right word. A couple of times I wrote her name down in my planner to remind me, but when I read it back, I’d struggle to remember who she was and why I’d written her name down. Even today, years later, I don’t remember her name. I am only able to write it now because I’ve one of my old planners in front of me and it’ll be gone a soon as I close down this word file.
Ms Smith disappeared after the Christmas break. She was there and then she wasn’t. Nobody, not even the children in my form, remarked on it and I’m sure I’d never have given her another thought had it not been for the bizarre exam results we got five years later.
It wasn’t just that our results were better than expected. It was the oddness of them. Some children we expected to get A*s got them, but some children we’d expected to fail got them too. Quite a few of them. The results were strange enough to warrant an investigation (having no desire to draw attention to a potential mistake in our favour, it was a very quiet internal one). We found only one pattern. Almost every child in my form had got the highest grade. This would have been more understandable had the class been taught as a form, but after Y7 they were set by ability and were all in different classes. Also worth noting was that both the two children who’d joined my form after Y7 failed. So that left only one commonality; every child in my form who’d been taught by Ms Smith for that one half term got an A*.
I can’t explain that but I don’t think too much about it. I find it hard to think about it at all. I’m pleased for our children but I don’t want to think too much about it.
I don’t think I’ll ever think about it again.