Friday, 1 July 2016

Sorry, Mary D

Last weekend I was driving through Islandmagee, heading towards the lovely beach at Brown's Bay. I passed the road to Portmuck, and suddenly a memory hit me. 

I have plenty of things from the past to feel bad about, but this one made me feel really terrible.

I was in P4, eight years old. I liked writing and did it very quickly, and my teacher tried to find different things for me to do when I'd completed my work. One day she set me to correcting a little story that one of my classmates had written.

I'll call my classmate Mary D. Mary wasn't my friend. In fact I was quite scared of her. I was timid and quiet; she was loud and boisterous and said whatever came into her head, so I kept my distance. She was in trouble quite often. She had bright blue eyes and wasn't afraid of anything. In many ways, we were opposites. And although I was generally a nice little girl, there was definitely a part of me that was pleased to be in charge of Mary D's work that afternoon.

Mary's story was about what her family did at the weekend. It was full of action, with beaches, picnics, fights and laughs. It was also full of spelling and grammar errors, on which I made liberal use of the teacher's red pen.

And her story was set in "Portmuck". This was clearly another mistake. It looked to me as if she had made it up for a joke. I corrected it to "Portrush" all the way through the story.

Mary D wasn't one bit happy with my feedback on her story. The teacher had an awkward situation to diffuse. I can't remember how that was managed, but I don't think Mary ever forgave me. I didn't understand then exactly what I'd done, but I knew it was bad. At the end of that year, Mary's family moved and she left our school. I felt relieved.

Driving past the Portmuck Road, I do understand. My teacher should never have allowed me to mark another child's work, but I shouldn't have been so arrogant in my corrections. As an adult and a teacher, I cringe and apologise on behalf of my childhood self.

I just looked up Mary D on social media. She's still recognisably her childhood self, her bright blue eyes as wrinkled as mine are now, still having a laugh and enjoying life. But I also see the old photograph she's posted of her own two children on holiday at, of course, Portrush. I look at their faces and hope that they had a better time at school than she did. I hope that their teachers were encouraging and supportive and personally read every word that they wrote. I hope that they were given credit for imagination and laughter and fun and that the red pen wasn't overused. I hope that they had a better time than Mary did.

I'm sorry, Mary.

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