51. Teacher’s Pet

By Peter Fraenkel

My life changed when headmaster Parker discovered I owned a typewriter and could type – even though it was with two fingers only. I was frequently called out of class and set to work. On a piece of scrap paper, he had scribbled his quarterly report to the Northern Rhodesia Education department and handed it to me to type. He jotted down the school’s accounts roughly and instructed me to organize them in neat columns before typing. I guess he also had to write annual reports on the performance of my teachers, but these he never passed to me. That might have been an indiscretion too far.

Did he think that the work he gave to me was good for my education – better than the lessons I was missing? Perhaps he did.

I don’t remember that I resented being taken out of class. Many of the lessons I was missing were boring anyway. But among my classmates I became known as ‘teacher’s pet’. And this I resented greatly.

Parker had a small office but next to it was a stationery room with shelves and a small table. There I set up my typewriter – a portable.

Parker was often out of his office. He was teaching a variety of subjects. On the shelves around me were school books, exercise books, jotters, carbon papers and education department forms. There were also some books that had been donated to the school. When I had finished his typing I was reluctant to go back to my class until a new lesson was about to start. I glanced at the donated books but did not find much that interested me.

Once, bored, I took one of the blank school report forms and filled it in – a report on Headmaster Parker. If I had given him marks like “poor, should do better” for every subject he taught – geography, history and so on – this would not have brought so much fury down upon me. But I hadn’t. I gave him praise for mathematics – which he taught well – but low marks for English literature: “Not as well-read as he pretends to be.”

I scribbled the name of another boy under “class teacher” and my own under “headmaster”.

For the next lesson I went back to the class. It was maths but Parker was a little late so while we were larking about I showed my ‘report’ to my neighbour. He laughed and showed it to another. My report was doing the rounds. I could see trouble coming, so I retrieved the report and tore it up. At this moment Parker came back into the room. He saw me with the torn paper. Perhaps he thought here was that goody-goody tearing up something unseemly? He was in for a shock. He seized it from me, recognised it was a torn-up report form, went to the stationery room, brought back a blank form and a pot of glue and, sitting in front of the class, slowly proceeded to re-assemble the form. The class was unusually silent. I was sweating with anxiety.

“Who is responsible for this?” he demanded. I suspect he did not believe that his favourite had written this heinous document.

“I am, sir”, I confessed.

“Mmm,” he said, “I see I have been putting my money on the wrong horse.”

Just then Mr. Green, our class master, came in to start the next lesson. “Mr. Green”, said Parker, “have you always trusted Fraenkel?”

“Well,” said Green, “he has been in charge of the weekly war fund collection and there has never been anything missing.”

“I don’t mean money,” he replied. “Look at this!” He handed Green the glued-together report.

Most of the class confirmed this later: Green struggled hard to stop himself laughing. He did not succeed entirely. A short snort escaped him.

It had been stupid of Parker to reassemble the torn paper but even more stupid to show it to one of his underlings. They may have been saying similar things behind his back.

I was sent home. I almost wished I had been caned quickly. That might have concluded the matter. But as it was I had to await my fate. Parker called in the rabbi who normally only came for religious instruction for a few Jewish pupils. Perhaps Parker consulted him on my family’s finances. If I was expelled could they afford to move me to a private school? Later the rabbi told my parents that he had had quite a struggle to prevent my expulsion. I owe him a lot.

Many years later, working in London as a broadcaster, I got a phone call from Green. He had heard one of my broadcasts and had tracked me down. He was on holiday in England and invited me for lunch.

“You caused great hilarity in the staff room, all those years ago” he told me. “Of course I couldn’t remember verbatim what you had written but it was very similar to what we all thought about him. One of our colleagues said “Well, hasn’t it been said often that pupils could give more reliable reports on their teachers, than the other way round?”