Hugh Reilly: Almost crushed by a fatal P7 attraction

Hugh Reilly
Hugh Reilly
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IT WAS the Swinging Sixties and the chick clearly dug me. No matter how much the young woman fought to mask her true emotions, the classic body language of attraction was there for all to see, from the flicking of her lustrous mane to the uproarious laughing at my cornball-humour one-liners.

It wasn’t her fault: how could any female schoolmistress possibly resist the charms of an 11-year-old schoolboy when he playfully ran his fingers through his outlandish cow’s lick?

Like a decidedly icy Faye Dunaway in The Thomas Crown Affair, Miss Gemmell, my P7 teacher, endeavoured to act cool when I made subtle advances such as pouting my lips and closing my eyes when she was correcting my spelling exercises. Heck, she even managed to control her physical urges when I played my ace card by turning up in class wearing long trousers, apparel that gave me a more manly appearance (with hindsight, perhaps the decision to scrawl a moustache on to my upper mouth with my sister’s eyebrow pencil had been a step too far).

Was it love or mere infatuation? In the end, it didn’t matter because we went our separate ways when I left for secondary school. When I was a fourth year student at that establishment, a male teacher of English had a fling with a girl in my class, an affair that led to marriage and a baby, albeit not in that order.

Teacher/student moral turpitude is nothing new. In the film To Sir With Love, a young Judy Geeson had a crush on Sidney Poitier, and in the situation comedy, Please Sir, a bumbling John Alderton had to fight off the flirtatious advances of his senior girls. Also, more than one prefect had something of a glint in his eye when talking to Mr Chips.

However, there appears to be a greater prevalence of such relationships in schools today. One reason for the increase in unlawful trysts is the omnipresence of social networking. Blurred lines happen when a teacher allows pupils to send homework to her email address or gives out her mobile number to students. Unbelievably, I know youngish staff who accept senior pupils as “friends” on Facebook and exchange twitter comments with them. When I advised against such interaction, I was dismissed as a dinosaur.

The loosening of dress codes in schools doesn’t help. It is often the case that deciding if a girl is wearing a wide belt or a short skirt is a matter of great debate. School proms are push-up bra extravaganzas as many of our fine young women, resplendent in evening gowns, compete for male attention.

When I started my teaching career, my line manager told me to inform him if any girl took a fancy to me. I laughed off his comment by saying I suffered premature male pattern baldness and had a slight stammer. He looked at me sternly and said: “Believe me, even the ugliest teachers end up with a lassie taking a shine to them.”

In terms of crushing a person’s self-confidence, it was up there with Quasimodo being rejected as a sitter for a gargoyle statue on the grounds that the sculptor was looking for someone more aesthetically pleasing.

After three decades of classroom teaching, not a single girl had made overt any love interest in me. And I admit it gave me little comfort to prove my boss wrong.

These days, in female-dominated staffrooms, there is a whiff of hypocrisy regarding the evaluation of a pupil’s attractiveness.

I’ve listened agog to a gaggle of schoolmistresses wax lyrically about a 14-year-old boy’s “cutest, longest eyelashes”. Had a group of male teachers said the same thing about an S2 girl they would have been reported to the rector and quite possibly suspended while the matter was investigated.

Thankfully, given the taboo and the potential for career suicide, a schoolteacher and pupil romance remains something of a rarity, hence the reason for the prurient press coverage of those that do occur.

In my view, teachers should try to maintain a professional distance from their students to lessen the opportunity of a fatal attraction situation. In the end, this strategy was successful for Miss Gemmell.