Copyright© 2014 by The Heartbreak Kid
"I'm sorry, Mandy, but you've gone too far this time. I shall be speaking to Mr McMorrow about this and also about an appropriate punishment. I also expect you to complete the essay properly and hand it in to me on Friday. Now run along to your next lesson."
I'm Steve McMorrow, Mandy Stillwell's Year 10 Form Tutor here at school in High Wycombe, in the UK. I'm the school's Art and Design teacher and I also teach on the Citizenship core course. Speaking personally, I like Mandy a lot, as her cheeky enthusiasm often makes me smile. Unfortunately, although bright, she has a history of upsetting some of her other teachers who maybe have a more traditional approach to teaching than I do. To my knowledge she has never been really rude or malicious, but every now and then she will do something in class that can't be handled with just a mild rebuke, and then she will find herself having to stay behind in detention after school, or serving one of the other officially sanctioned punishments.
I must say that I was surprised when Noleen Phillips, Mandy's English teacher, button-holed me in the staffroom to tell me about Mandy's latest indiscretion, for as far as I was aware, English was one of her favourite subjects and I had never had a complaint about her from Noleen before. She went into her bag and took out one of the school's standard work books, which she opened to a certain page. I looked at it and grinned:
"Hey, that's not bad! Maybe a little bit out of proportion, but not bad all the same!"
Noleen is young and quite popular with her pupils, and I'm sure not a prude and someone who has had enough first hand experience to judge the accuracy of what she was showing me:
"Perhaps—but that's not the point, Steve! I asked the class to write me an essay describing one of their favourite things, and unfortunately a pencil drawing of a penis and scrotum, however anatomically authentic, and underneath it the caption: 'A picture is worth a thousand words', is just not acceptable! This is an important time in Mandy's education so I don't want to blow this all out of proportion—no pun intended—but I, maybe we, need to try and get the message across to her somehow. To my mind, something too punitive will only be counter-productive. So, any ideas, Steve?"
"No, not at the moment, but leave it with me, Noleen. Perhaps I need to talk to a parent: do we know anything about that?"
"Er, not really—but I think there's just her mother and they only moved into the area a short time before Mandy started here. There is another concern, Steve: like you say, that's not a bad representation, very lifelike, and Mandy is only 14—"
"Yes, I see what you're trying to say. I'll ask the School Secretary if she can arrange a meeting. Thanks, Noleen, I'll keep you apprised."
As Mandy's mother had to work full-time, she asked if it would be possible for me to call at their home, rather than her having to leave work early and go to the school. When I told Mandy to tell her mother that this would be all right, she looked rather uncomfortable but said that she would deliver the message. So on the agreed evening I first went home to change my clothes before calling on them. I'd looked on Google Maps and seen that it was only a short journey of about two miles from my home to theirs—less than five minutes in a car, but as it was a nice evening, I walked there and reached the Stillwell's home in about half an hour. Now dressed in jeans and a T-shirt, a still rather worried looking Mandy answered the door.
"Come in, Mr McMorrow. Mum said she won't be long and to offer you tea or coffee." I followed her through to a somewhat cluttered but otherwise tidy sitting room. "So, tea or coffee, Sir?" I smiled.
"Tea, please—and no 'Sir' when I'm off duty, if you don't mind!" She grinned and seemed to relax.
Mandy was still in the kitchen when I saw her mother on the staircase, which was in the sitting room; or to be more accurate, I saw her shapely bare legs first. When she saw me she smiled and I stood up and held out my hand.
"Thank you so much for taking the time to come round, Mr McMorrow. Now, can you tell me what my daughter has done that warrants a visit from her school teacher? I did ask her, but she said that you would tell me when you got here."
Now Mandy was undeniably a pretty teenage girl, but her mother was a very handsome-looking woman, who was facially similar enough to see that she and Mandy were related, but with a body such as her daughter's might become in time. I took the work book that Noleen Phillips had shown me out of my pocket and handed it to Mrs Stillwell: "I've marked the page—and please call me Steve." She smiled again: "And I'm Cathryn, but my friends call me Cat."
She opened the page, where marked, and looked at the drawing, then at her daughter, then at me, in anticipation of what I would say next.
"As her art teacher, Cat, I'd give her high marks for that piece of work—but unfortunately her English teacher doesn't share my appreciation. But there is a secondary point, Cat: I am responsible for Mandy's pastoral education while she is in Year 10, and it was brought to my attention that that picture seems much too graphically realistic for a girl of her age. I don't wish to imply anything, but can you appreciate that I was obligated to investigate." The older Stillwell took a deep breath then exhaled.
"More tea or coffee, Steve?"
"Will you do the honours, Love?" Cat said to her daughter, who looked at me and smiled as she picked up the mug that had held my original drink. "I don't know how much you know about Mandy's history, Steve, so I'll tell you some of it.
"I fell pregnant with Mandy when I was 18 and had her when I was 19. Her father, my husband, hung around for a while after the birth, but then he just walked away from us and I haven't seen or heard from him since that day. Now a woman living on her own and trying to bring up a child needs some sort of legal recognition, so I sought guidance from the Citizens Advice Bureau and was told that, although I could get a divorce on the grounds of desertion, it might be better to petition the court using unreasonable behaviour as the reason. So eventually this is what I did.
"I was living in Welwyn Garden City while I was married to Clive, but I've had to move a few times since then, looking for better paying work, and I was fortunate enough to get my present job here in High Wycombe just as Mandy was ready to move to Secondary education. As you can see, this house isn't great, but it's a lot better than some of the places we've lived in, isn't it, Love." Mandy who had returned while her mother was telling me her story nodded her head in agreement.
"Life hasn't been easy, Steve, as you can imagine, and although I've tried my best to give my daughter the kind of life I want for her, I suppose all the changes that have happened in her young life have been at least partly responsible for her, shall we say, mischievous streak. As you know, Steve, Mandy is quite intelligent, but she is also quite an individualist and can be rather single-minded at times: not in themselves bad qualities to possess, but I suppose not always desirable in a teenage schoolgirl. Have you got anything to say now, Love?" Mandy was sitting near her mother on the sofa.
"I don't really know why I do it, Mum, and at the time it doesn't seem that wrong. Can I show Mr McMorrow the book you got me, now?"
"Okay, Love." Mandy got up and ran up the stairs. Cat Stillwell and I didn't speak, but we looked at each other and smiled, and I admit that I had some very unprofessional thoughts about her. A few minutes later, Mandy skipped down the stairs and put the large hardback book she was carrying into my lap. I didn't own a copy myself, but I recognised it from the cover as a volume of anatomical drawings by Leonardo da Vinci.
"I've never seen a man's thingy for real, Mr McMorrow, but I copied that one I drew in my book out of here—page 112—and this book really is one of my favourite things."
I turned to that page and immediately saw the original version of Mandy's representation. I had to smile: it wasn't identical, but Mandy's copy was still good; in fact, very good. I already knew that she was undoubtedly better than all of her peers at school, but that one drawing alone put her in a class of her own.
"Well, I can see now where it came from, Mandy, and we can talk about that another time; but we still have to deal with the fact that it was done in the wrong place and at the wrong time. Have you completed the new essay yet; the one you were supposed to do?" Mandy nodded: "I have to hand it in tomorrow." I looked at Cat, who was still grinning impishly at me. "Do you agree that some sort of punishment is necessary here—although I'm still not sure what is actually appropriate, under the circumstances?"
"Yes, I think so; and whatever you decide, Steve, I'm sure that it will be fair and you have my full permission." Mandy was looking at me, worried, but she couldn't see the smile on her mother's face or the sparkle in her eyes. Cat saw me to the door as I left. She extended her hand and our grip lasted longer than might be considered comfortable to some people. "You will let me know what you decide, Steve; I'm in most evenings after six o'clock, and Mandy's usually in bed by nine-thirty on week nights."
The walk back to my flat was quite pleasant, as I replayed the events of the last few hours back in my head. I had a lot to think about—and not just Mandy Stillwell's punishment.
When I saw Noleen Phillips the next day in the staffroom, I told her enough about the previous evening: especially about the book and what Mandy had said about it being one of her favourite possessions. Bearing that in mind, and both of us having been to university, we agreed that if someone wrote an essay about why they liked a particular piece or type of art, and then included an example of what they meant, then that would likely be a good piece of work. Mandy's problem was that, for all her artistic talents, she hadn't really articulated why she liked da Vinci's book of drawings. I told Noleen what I thought I wanted to do and she agreed that, as long as Mandy submitted a reasonable essay then she would go along with my decision. I didn't see Mandy on Friday afternoon before she went home, so I rang Cat Stillwell in the evening:
"—So it will be a kind of detention, but I hope that she'll get something positive out of it. Mandy will report to me when she would usually leave school for home and she can work on her art or any other subject that she wants to. Then, if you're agreeable, I'll give her a lift home afterwards as it's on my way."
"—As I told you, Steve, whatever you think is fair. I don't know if you'd be interested, but I usually finish work a bit earlier on a Friday—perhaps you'd like to eat with us, if that's allowed."
"—That sounds very pleasant, Cat. We can be at your place by about 4:45, or a little later if it's more convenient."
"—No, I should be home by then. Supper might be a bit later than that, though, if you don't mind sticking around—"
"—4:45 is then! I look forward to it!"
"—Me too! See you Friday, Steve!"
When I told Mandy about her two-week detention she didn't seem at all upset:
"Hey, Miss Stillwell," I said, "I don't know what you're smiling about—this is a punishment, remember!" She giggled: "Yes, Sir!" before hurrying off to join her classmates.
Perhaps I should explain why I teach both Art and Design, and Citizenship. For those who don't know, in England, a child's compulsory education up to the age of 16—called Key Stage 4—is determined by a National Curriculum of subjects. Of these, some are core subjects and others are options. Art and Design is only an option after KS3, so the numbers taking it as an exam subject at GCSE and A-level decreases; whereas the compulsory core subjects at KS4 require more teachers to cover all the classes that take them. I had fewer teaching hours for Art alone, so I was therefore asked to cover a second subject, and as I have an interest in government and politics I opted for the Citizenship course. I suppose you could say that my primary teaching subject is very practical and hands-on; whereas my secondary subject involves a lot of theory and discussion. We never had anything like Citizenship when I was at school, but I wish we did.
The art classroom wasn't really suited to doubling-up for teaching Citizenship, so another classroom was designated for that and it also served as my Form Group's room, so I met Mandy there after the school day was over on Monday. I asked her if she had any homework that she would like to do, so she spent a half hour or so doing that while I caught up on some of my endless admin. When she'd finished, or had at least done enough for the time being, we talked about art. It turns out that although Cat lacked her daughter's natural ability, she was also interested in art and usually at weekends she and Mandy would sometimes go somewhere to see an exhibition and they had already been to most of the major London galleries and had tried to get to others outside of the Capital, if possible.
As an undergraduate I studied art and design at Leeds University for three years and then spent another post-graduate year at Glasgow University to get a teaching qualification. Mandy seemed very interested in all this. The hour passed quickly and I took her home. She waved enthusiastically as she went into her house. At just after 9:30 that evening I was surprised to get a call from Cat, who said that Mandy hadn't stopped talking about her so-called detention. We also talked a little about how she became interested in art and then we rang off at ten.
I'll skip Tuesday through Thursday, because it was pretty much like Monday. Friday was different, though, because I wasn't just dropping Mandy off after school.