Mr Ruddock was my history teacher in Y8.
I want to sugarcoat it, or say it wasn’t just me, or assert that I wasn’t the worst, but, the truth is: I made his life a misery.
Inspired by Paul Dix’s fabulous new book: ‘When Adults Change, Everything Changes’, I wrote this letter to Mr Ruddock explaining what I wish I had had the articulation, understanding and bravery to say 30 years ago.
I wonder if he’s still out there, If he’s still teaching and if he still has nightmares about me.
And, as I explain in the letter, I’m sorry.
Dear Mr Ruddock
I’m sorry that my behaviour makes it difficult/impossible for you to do your job.
On bad days, I just don’t listen to you. On worse ones, I instigate a full-scale riot.
I do see that that makes you unhappy.
Also, despite feigning ignorance, I do understand why you weren’t impressed when I tried to ineloquently compare the unfortunate incident involving Stephen Thorpe’s tie and three bottles of Tippex with the events leading up to the first World War.
That was…. clever, but totally unnecessary.
It must feel like you’re reliving history every time you come into our lesson and I appreciate why it feels impossible for you to start with a clean slate every day.
I totally get it when your eyes suspiciously dart straight to me whenever something kicks off in my general vicinity.
I feel your pain, Sir.
It’s clear in the slit eye you throw in my direction.
Are you interested in some constructive feedback? Learner to teacher?
See, the real tragedy is, I actually like you.
There are moments, before our lessons descend into their regular chaos, that you actually seem to care. I’m just not sure what it is that you care about.
Surely it can’t be Archduke Ferdinand?
I wonder if in another life we could be friends. But then when we see each other around school you look away and have never once spoken to me outside of the room we have history lessons in other than to tell me off.
Maybe you’ll just smile at me or say hello or speak my name in a voice that isn’t raised. But data I get from you just confirms what I already know.
You don’t like me.
On the battlefield that is Period 5, Friday afternoon, we are in different uniforms. And the only relationship we have is one of sworn enemies.
Remember that time you told me off for treating school like some sort of game and got annoyed when I said that that is exactly what it is.
I really do believe that, Sir.
And it’s a game set up for me to loose.
That’s why I try to change/break the rules. I’m trying to move the goal posts, so that I can play a game I actually have a chance of winning.
See, your life is different to mine.
You have a shirt and tie to wear, my stepdad sold my blazer with a load of other stuff down the pub. This daily dance of you berating me for not respecting school by wearing the wrong uniform is a game I can’t win.
So, it’s nick a blazer from an unsuspecting Year 7 (which I know you hate) or this wear this jacket.
I agree that exam results give us more choices but you aren’t enrolling me into the journey of getting there.
Sir, please consider the possibility that the first step isn’t me ‘behaving in the right way’, but you making me feel like I belong.
You start with an assumption that your take on the world is normal and that I think the same way as you. But, I don’t have any evidence of anyone like me ever becoming a success. Everyone I know is on the rob and you don’t need History GCSE level for that.
Reading between the lines, you seems to think that I simply need to change the way I dress, the way I speak, and the way I think in order to become less me and more middle-class. But tell me, how does someone like me start the journey, take just one step, in the direction you want me to go? Because pretending isn’t something I’m prepared to try.
I know it’s not your fault that your experiences and beliefs about the world make it impossible for you to access any understanding of what I go through at home. But it’s within your control to see me as something other than an unsavoury character or a fly in your soup.
If I thought it would make a difference, I’d tell you that I’m a 12 year old parent, responsible for feeding, clothing and getting my four younger brothers and sister to school every day and that means my mind is often elsewhere.
I’d explain that I turn up to your morning lessons crabby because there’s no food at home. Being hungry is exhausting and you know how difficult it is to be inspired when you’re tired.
I’d make you understand how impossible it is for me to blindly hand over my trust to you when every other adult has let me down.
Has hurt me.
What you’re asking from me Sir is disproportionate to what I’m able to give.
You’re trying to buy a diamond with a moody £10 note.
You know what would work? If you’re really interested in equipping me with an education to help me have a better future?
Engage me with honest and consistent neutrality.
An even tone so I know I’m safe and can stay away from fight or flight mode because there is no way you are going to go off into one.
You showing up as a version of your whole self every day, consistently. Every time you do that you pay into my emotional bank account and one day you’ll have invested enough for me to look on you as a loyal customer.
I want to feel that you care Sir. I want to feel you have skin in the game. I want to believe I’m worth the effort.
And not that the effort you made last Tuesday when you brought in sweets. Or the one last term when you introduced someone else’s colour scheme for behaviour. I can smell authenticity a mile off and it was clear you didn’t buy into that.
I know you see me as a problem.
But what if I was an opportunity?
An opportunity for you to do what you came into teaching to do.
Make a difference.
Please do that for me Sir.
I know it means meeting me more than halfway but that would go a long way towards me becoming ‘education-ready’.
I’ve even got a suggestion of how you could start.
Those detentions you give me most Fridays, I engineer them.
It’s 30 extra minutes I can be away from the danger at home and closer to the hope of school.
Maybe we could chat then.
Find some common ground.
I mean if you’re interested.
And if you’re not….
Well, you know, if you’re not…
Well, I’m sorry.
I’m just sorry.