Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Dear Sir, I'm Sorry


Education Secretary Michael Gove has apologised to his former French teacher for misbehaving in class 30 years ago.
In a letter published in the Radio Times, he says he cringes when he remembers himself, aged 15, competing to ask "clever-dick questions" and indulging in "pathetic showing off".
He asks the teacher, Mr Montgomery, whom he refers to as Danny, to accept his apology.
Mr Gove goes on to pay tribute to the work of the teaching profession.
The letter says: "It may be too late to say I'm sorry. Thirty years too late."
He adds: "When I look back at the 15-year-old I was, lurking at the back of your French class at Robert Gordon's College in Aberdeen, I cringe.

"You were trying, patiently, doggedly, good-humouredly, to broaden our horizons. You were, without any pretension or pomposity, attempting to coax a group of hormonal lads to look beyond familiar horizons and venture further.
"You weren't just dinning irregular verbs into our heads, you were opening up a different way of seeing.
"And all we could do was compete to think of clever-dick questions to embarrass you and indulge in pathetic showing-off at your expense."
Mr Gove writes that his former teacher was "unaffectedly passionate" about both French and German.
'Growing gratitude'
But he was confronted with a "cocksure crew of precociously assertive boys who recognised you were only a few years older - a rookie in the classroom - and therefore ripe for ragging".
Mr Gove acknowledges that because they misbehaved they missed out, and thanks Mr Montgomery for his perseverance.
"As I've grown up - and become a father myself - my gratitude only grows. To you, and to everyone else in your profession," he says.
Mr Gove goes on to tell the teacher that his work, and that of the rest of the teaching profession is "hugely appreciated".
He ends by saying: "So Danny, it may be too late to say I'm sorry. But, as my mum told me, it's never too late to set the record straight.
"And you were a great teacher - one of many who helped introduce me to the work of great thinkers and writers - and thus gave me the greatest gift of all - the chance to write my own life story."
National Union of Teachers general secretary Christine Blower said: "So Mr Gove recognises that teachers are not the enemies of promise or happy with mediocrity as he previously asserted.
"I take this open letter as an apology to the profession for those unacceptable characteristics and a recognition that teachers do an amazing job every day.
"Teaching is indeed of critical importance so if Mr Gove really believes that let's see policies emanating from the DfE [Department for Education] that teachers would welcome."

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Dear Sir, I'm sorry: letters of apology to former teachers. Education secretary Michael Gove has written a letter to an old teacher, expressing regret for his behaviour at school. At The Guardian they asked writers who they would apologise to and why. Here are a few letters they received:

Tim Dowling
Brien McMahon High School, Norwalk, Connecticut
Dear Ms Papastathis,
I would like to apologise for my behaviour in 10th-grade Language Arts, fifth period, specifically on that afternoon when I point-blank refused to offer a view about the use of symbolism in The House of the Seven Gables. It must have seemed strange the way I just stared at my folded hands, allowing an uncomfortable silence to ripen, especially after my friend Pete, who was sitting two rows in front of me, had raised his hand to suggest that I might have some particular insight to bring to bear on the use of symbolism in The House of the Seven Gables.
Looking back I can imagine that this sort of refusal to engage is one of the things that makes teaching young people so dispiriting. You may have quite reasonably concluded that I hadn't done the assigned reading, but I had, or most of it. You may have suspected that I was indulging in some juvenile form of rebellion, perhaps at the instigation of my classmates. Or that I was making a pathetic, private point of my own – maybe I objected to the way the term "symbolism" was bandied about so uncritically in the 10th grade. You might have chosen to class the episode as a sudden bout of extreme awkwardness characteristic of late-onset male puberty. Or the boorish sullenness of a shy, self-absorbed young man.
I was, in fact, incredibly high. So was Pete. Now I can't even remember what happens in The House of Seven Gables, but I learned a lesson that day, just the same.
Sorry again, 
Tim Dowling

Simon J Hattenstone
Dear Mr Todd,
Thank you for thanking me for coming to detention. I found it very touching when you said I was the first boy who had ever turned up and promised that you would never give me detention again.
Cheers, Simon Hattenstone

Simon Hattenstone
Dear Mrs French Teacher,
Sorry for sticking pins on your seat. It must have been painful.
Yours sincerely, Simon Hattenstone

Eccles Sixth Form College
Dear Mr Gadja,
Sorry for saying: "Oy, Nobby, over here," in class. It was disrespectful. I know your real name is Norbert, and I know that even though I know it's Norbert really I should call you Mr Gadja. I understand now that only your best friends call you Nobby, and I'm not one of them.

Dear Mrs Beattie,
I was so terrified when I met you the first time. It's not just that you were really fat and shouted so loud. Everything about you was scary. All the teachers were frightened of you, too. But you were brilliant; the best-ever form teacher. The way that you screamed at us if we'd done something wrong in someone else's lesson, and then went to defend us to that teacher. The way you made us believe we were capable of anything if we put our mind to it. I hated art, and was ashamed at my inability to draw anything that resembled anything. So of course I mucked about. The way you took me aside and said I could do it, and I just had to concentrate on the lines, and if it was no good start again.
Do you remember how you made me draw, then paint, that photograph of the tennis player Nastase, and it was a bit crap at first but by the end I was so unbelievably proud of it? You could even see the veins in his legs. Mind over matter, you said, or something like that – and you were right. We thought you were an ogre, but you turned out to be the fairest person on earth.
There was the time I did really well in my mocks in everything but geography, and you said: "Simon has done brilliantly this year, and was only let down by his geography where he didn't work hard enough." I said I had worked hard but was rubbish at it, and asked if you'd changed my report, and you rewrote it saying, "Simon has done brilliantly except for geography, which he's not very good at." Thanks Mrs B. Hope you're still teaching up there.
Lots of love,
Simon xxx

Michele Hanson
Haberdasher's Aske's School, Acton
Dear Miss Denton,
I'd like to apologise, for myself and my whole class, for being generally horrid and playing such a nasty trick on you, 56 years ago in maths lessons. Because you were one of our least horrid teachers. You were young, rather shy, pleasant, blushed easily, and so we attacked. Because it was easy. We couldn't do much about the really horrid old witch teachers who made our lives hell, like Miss Titmuss, the RE teacher, who shook us whenever possible, or Miss Ashley, with her grey sausage curls and outrageous punishments – Latin detention for me, for jumping down three steps into the playground. No, Miss Denton, you were sweet and kind. So you got it in the neck.
One day, you had just got to the end of a gigantic sum, which had taken us half the lesson to do, and which you'd written up on the board. You wrote in the answer, and then were suddenly called away to the telephone. One of us, I'm not telling who, because we all egged her on, rubbed out the answer and changed it.
Back you came. "Please Miss," we said. "You've got the answer wrong.'"And you had to go through the whole gigantic sum again, until you got the right answer, and then apologised meekly for your silly mistake. We all looked very serious. You probably never knew that it was all a nasty joke. How we laughed when we got out of class. But why? You were never nasty to any of us. So, sorry Miss Denton. We liked you really.

Jenny Colgan
Queen Margaret Academy, Ayr
Dear wood- and metalwork teacher,
I am sorry that we didn't pay attention and ignored the safety briefing in favour of re-enacting the previous night's The Young Ones (the mouse episode).
I'm sorry that when you said to me: "You're good at maths, you should be a civil engineer, it's starting to be a fascinating industry for women," I blew out my fringe (grown to cover spots) and tutted and didn't bother to look into it even a tiny little bit, or do my technical drawing homework, and as a consequence got a dreadful report.
If the books hadn't worked out, creating roads and bridges and airports would have been vastly more fulfilling and rewarding than the junior public-sector admin role that was my only alternative. And now I've married an engineer, and have a son looking that way and he says: "I'm going to be an engineer like daddy," and I hiss "civil engineer" at him. Then I tell him to go talk to his grandpa. Because as every teacher's child knows, it's bloody awful being taught by your own dad, however much you love them. And when we walk down the streets of my home town, the number of gainfully employed, useful, successful, handy boys who come up and say: "Hello, Mr Colgan" (you never recognise them. Being a retired teacher in a small town is a bit like being a retired rock star), and thank you copiously for everything you did for them makes me feel even more foolish than I undoubtedly was back then.
With love, Jennifer xxxx

Hugh Muir
Lister Comprehensive, Plaistow
Dear Preston Thomas,
You were head of the lower school, deputy head, head, and my A-level tutor for economics, and there are a few things I might usefully get off my chest. The boy who surreptitiously gave a Refresher-shaped laxative to the greedy classmate who was stealing everyone's sweets, occasioning a hygiene crisis in Humanities? That was me. The waste of space whose spat with another pupil spilled from the classroom on to the gravel pitch and ended up with us chasing each other in circles around the playground, pursued by the supply teacher who never came again? Yep, guilty. I was one of the shadowy figures who were able to let themselves back into the school in the early evening by dint of a purloined skeleton key.
It all seems quite silly now but I am sure that had you been able to pull together the various strands and establish a pattern, you would have dealt with it in that calm, authoritative, sensible and humorous way that you dealt with everything. It was the funniest thing. We weren't scared of you; but at the same time, we thought we shouldn't mess with you. You said that I should opt for A-level economics, ignoring my protests about deficiencies in maths. You were right.
And then there's the occasion I carry with me. It occurred in the sixth form when I commandeered an empty classroom as a changing room and was locked in by schoolmates who, for good measure, had stolen my shorts and trousers. That took some explaining when the melee caught your attention, but you didn't ask for an explanation. "You don't stop making mistakes as you get older," you said with a wry smile. "You just hope to make fewer."

Marina Lewycka
Witney Grammar School
Dear Miss Mitchell,
I'm glad to have this opportunity to apologise for having been such an absolute little cow during the years you taught me German, French and Russian. Although you are now at rest in the great staffroom in the sky, I still feel a pang of shame when I recall how badly I behaved during your lessons.
I remember your patient sigh when you caught me inking in little black spots on my legs below the holes in my black tights, or painting on pearlised orange nail-polish under the desk. You pretended not to notice my CND badge, banned on school premises, or the whiffs of cigarette smoke that lingered in the girls' toilets. I hope you never read any of the cruel notes my friends and I passed around in class, commenting on your appearance, and speculating on your love life. I felt ashamed when I learned, afterwards, that you'd lost your fiance during the second world war, and teaching us became your life instead. I would like to thank you for your perseverance.
As you must have guessed, at heart I was always a little swot, and at home in private I practised those strange gargling sounds you taught us, and memorised the Lorelei song, and long passages of Phèdre and Evgeny Onegin.
And thanks to you, even after all these years, I can still pull off a cool subjunctive, which impresses the Frenchies no end.
Do svidanya, auf wiedersehen, adieu, 

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1 comment:

  1. These final letters of apology are certainly moving. We’ve all been silly to some extent in our teenage years; if only we could be aware of it at that precise moment…
    The truth is nobody is a bad person, there’re only ignorant people or those with deprivations of some kind.
    Thanks for sharing the post!


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