You often hear of the unsung heroes of the NHS.
I often tweet about it.
But today I want to write about MY unsung hero of the education system. A teacher like no other.
Before that I want to talk about something.
A little while ago it was suggested that I write (on the blog or privately) letters to people who have inspired me and/or helped me over the years, to help with not only my mental health ( I was told to think of the letters like a thank you bucket list) but also to help with keeping my brain active and helping my brain fog etc.
So I made a list of several people who over the years have inspired me. Obvious people such as my parents, my family and my friends, medical team etc are on the list, I even have some random people on there too, but a fair amount of the people I want to eventually write to, are in fact, my old Teachers. Teachers in school & college, My choir teachers etc. All feature on this list. As does teacher assistants and support teams etc. I’ve only written a few. And I haven’t done anything with them yet. But I will.
One teacher in particular had a spot on the top of my list, Her name in bold letters and underlined not once not twice but three times.
I knew that this “letter” (essay) was one that would be quite lengthy. And one that at first I decided I would write and then keep private. That I wouldn’t actually send to her because a)shes a busy woman and B) its cringy and mushy and she might think at firs tim blowing smoke up her arse or something. . But I saw this woman today and I realised that actually I DO need to put it somewhere.
Even if she choses not to read it (she’s the worlds busiest woman so I wouldn’t be offended).
I wanted to put it on a page so others could see the utter awesomeness that is Sally.
Its not a letter as such this post. Not till the end. So feel free to skip down. But I wanted to collect my thoughts and SPLURGE on the page.
November 2012. I went to the open evening at college. I wasn’t going to go. I changed my mind at the last minute. I went in the food and nutrition/health room and there she was. Sally. And at first she bloody terrified me. I walked in to that room and I was terrified. The college already seemed like a whole other world but honestly, it felt like I was walking in to alien territory. A different teacher gave me a leaflet on health and social care. But sally terrified me by asking me what I wanted to study and what I wanted to do with my life. If I remember rightly it came out like “arghy nurse or arghhyyyeacher or uuurmrmmmmmmm” because she looked at me, raised eyebrow, with what I later nicknamed the “what the fuck are you on” look.
Fast forward to February. I had my interview with a woman named judy where she offered me a place.
Fast forward again to the July. My first day (it was an induction day/taster day thing). I. WAS. PETRIFIED. I remember telling Nat how terrified I was and she laughed and call me a “fucking wuss” and told me to grow some boobs (not balls. Because boobs were more powerful apparently- yeah, I asked why she said boobs and my natnat gave me an hour lecture on feminism.) She also said to me, “lanaloo. You can do this. You know why? Because your MY lanaloo. I love you but I’ll love you even more when you get to go to college tomorrow and tell me how it went and what projects I’ll be helping you with. Especially food.”
So off I went, on my crutches, also a side note, at this point aside from my pots (which at that point wasn’t confirmed) And my dodgy knee injury (which turned out to be eds related but we didn’t know I actually had eds at that point either just that I had Hypermobilty), I was relatively healthy.
Its funny, in typical lana fashion one of the first things I did that day was spill a chocolate milkshake down myself and drip it through the bloody sports hall. My coat was caked in bloody chocolate milk.
I went to the taster session for a few different subjects. But I think I knew instantly when I walked in to the room that I wanted to do both Food & Nutrition and Health & Social care. (I also chose English and sociology if you’re curious)
Sally stood there and asked each person what they wanted to do and essentially why they were in that room.
She went one by one around the room. And then suddenly she looked at me expectantly and I must have looked insane because I instantly felt the need to stick my tongue out and before I knew it I did just that and bit hard on my tongue as I panicked.
I’m hoping to this day that she didn’t notice and she doesn’t remember – to be fair I think if she remembered or noticed she probably would have taken the piss out of me for it by now.
Anyway I told her that my name was ALANA ( I thought if I said Lana she might think I was being too informal or something as all paperwork said ALANA) ,
I wanted to be a nurse (and I gave her a reason WHY I wanted to be a nurse ) but if it didn’t work out I also had an interest in teaching, secondary school teaching. I also gave her reasons WHY I wanted to study BOTH subjects she talked about in that room.
She smiled- and it was the first time she had smiled that widely in the session and I was again TERRIFED because she looked scary as fuck to me at first and to see her smiling that big of a smile just made me think “oh shit shes smiling because shes going to kick my arse out of this room in a second”.
She didn’t kick my arse out thankfully.
Instead she continued to smile and asked me what my name was again.
I sat in that room looking at pictures on the wall and then she talked about the Tanzania project and I sat and was honest to god FASCINATED with it. I sat there and I took it all in thinking what an amazing thing this college is doing.
Fast forward to September. I started college. (Also just as another side note nat did indeed help me with my various projects that summer. I would sit there and she’d pick out all of my spelling and punctuation mistakes. And even when her speech started to decline, she’d hit my arm and go LOOK AT IT and she’d tap my screen and go USE YOUR FUCKING EYES. )
I got put in to Sally’s tutor group.
Within two weeks, I thought , you know what ? this woman is BAD ASS and anyone who says otherwise is lying.
One thing you must all know about Sally is she doesn’t take shit. If you work hard and put in the effort than you’re fine. If you go to her class and want to doss about you’re out the door faster than you can say “Queen of the spoons”.
I then realised that although she terrified me at first. She was actually ok. She wasn’t so scary when you got talking to her. (don’t get me wrong though I wouldn’t want to get on the wrong side of her even now!)
Fast forward a little more and things were going ok. I was meeting my deadlines and working my arse off.
But then my episodes got slightly more frequent, my immune system turned to shit. And ofcourse Nat’s health also declined at this point.
I felt like the world was moving 10 times faster than it actually was.
Despite things getting me down, I threw myself in to my college work. The only members of staff that knew what was happening in my private life were Sally, and my health teacher at the time.
I remember one day in particular leaving my sociology room, telling my teacher that I needed to go to the toilet. Walking past sallys room, and she popped her head out and said “are you ok poppet”. I just nodded. I didn’t want to tell her I felt sick, and that I was feeling worse each day, the tiredness and the pain slowly starting to affect me. I didn’t tell ANYONE that not even nat. But sally? she looked at me like she knew. That I couldn’t fool her.
I walked down the stairs went to the toilets and I was sick (neatly in the bowl may I add- its like a party trick i acquired even then. I’m a neat puker!). I felt like shit. But I didn’t want to go home. I didn’t want to be anywhere else at that point in time. College was giving me a focus. I walked up the stairs and I carried on with my day like nothing happened.
The next morning I sat on my favourite bench outside. And I wrote in my diary that I kept at the time something that I actually want to put some of it in this post/letter (I can’t put it all on there as I went in to a rant about someone else) . “ I think this pots thing is getting worse. My episodes are getting worse. We don’t have any treatment plans yet. The doctors don’t seem to care. I don’t want to tell mum but I feel really ill. I think its probably where I need to try harder with my fluid and salt thing. Nats not doing well. She’s home again. Sally asked me how she was – that was nice of her she doesn’t even know nat but she’s asking. She also asked me how I was. I said I was fine. She said “no you’re not you can keep saying you are till you’re blue in the face”. Weird saying that is. Blue in the face. I feel red in the face is more of a likely outcome to be honest. She looks at me like she can see my soul its quite unnerving. Its like her glasses are bloody laserbeams or something. “
That little extract of my diary from back then cracks me up. Because it reminds me of how even then she seemed to know me better than I realised. ( and I made her out to be some sort of super hero with the laserbeam glasses – superman move over theres a new hero on the block! )
Fast forward to November 2013. I went to Austria for like 3 days. I came home and uli rang and told me that nat wasn’t doing too good. So I emailed Sally over that weekend , Not expecting a reply. And do you know what? She replied and told me to keep her updated.
At this point I felt like my head was in a washing machine. I didn’t tell anyone this. But it really did feel like everything was just going round and round. Then as the week progressed things got worse. And I just threw myself in to my coursework more.
The day nat passed away when I got the news I was in my English lesson. And my teacher told me how sorry she was. That I should go home. Or go to see sally or just take a minute or do whatever I wanted to do ( I think she was more shocked and upset than I was and she didn’t even really know me at that point let alone knew about nat)
I went for a walk , rang my dad to tell him and came back and sat at my desk staring at my paper which was about nigella Lawson (don’t ask) and kept thinking “please don’t tell me to go home.” I didn’t want to go back knowing she wasn’t the otherside of the living room wall.
When it was the end of the lesson I walked out of the room in silence, ignoring my teacher shouting after me to see if I waws ok. And I walked down the stairs to find jack and some other special people. They walked with me to Sallys room. Where she looked at me and I calmly said “I just wanted to tell you Nat died and I don’t know what to do”.
it was then that I knew she had really started to get me. She didn’t tell me how sorry she was. She just looked at me and said “I think you should go home as it’s a bereavement but its your choice, either way send me an email please. We’ll talk on Wednesday or maybe tomorrow .” I left the room and I checked my phone to see if the message was still there. To see if it was still real. And I checked my email to see my lesson for the afternoon was cancelled anyway. So I signed out and went home. Jack and co walked me to the bus stop. And I remember thinking “Why can’t I cry. Why are there no tears. My best friend has died. Theres no tears”.
I emailed sally on the bus. And I told her I was going home. That I’d email later.
The next day I didn’t go to college. I emailed in. She said “I’ll see you tomorrow”.
That night, uli asked me if at the funeral I could say something in front of everyone.
I went in to college the next day and the only lesson I had was with sally.
I walked in, early like I always was and I didn’t say a word. Normally I’d say hello. But I couldn’t.
I carried on as normal until everyone had left and she asked me if I was ok. I sat and three things came out of my mouth at super speed. “I can’t cry yet. I want things to be normal. oh And they want me to talk at the funeral.”
She just smiled at me. And then she gave me some coursework advice.
It was then that I REALLY realised she was the best teacher I’ve ever had.
She had listened to me. She got it.
She knew that whatever she said wouldn’t make me feel anything different. And thank I needed normality. She really listened.
I was one out of thousands of students and yet she listened to me, took the time to listen and for that I will always be grateful.
Fast forward some more. I kept going and going and going until I burnt out… and my body decided that just after Christmas was a good time to throw a hissy fit.
My health declined.
I wasn’t in a good place.
It was like the light at the end of the tunnel was hidden by smog.
February 2014 I had a meeting with sally. And I left college. But before I left she said to me “don’t you dare give up. Get better. Don’t become lazy. Do some health and social prep. Email me. Keep in touch. Come back stronger. And I’ll see you in September.”
I returned in the September and although things were tough for me health wise I really did try.
I got AS levels.
Then I left.
But in the years between returning and leaving for good. Sally , although no longer my tutor, was a rock. She set me challenges. She knew the best ways to get me motivated and she knew how to push my buttons to make me excel. I even went and did some volunteering at a care home which I loved and I pushed myself to make the most of what was a bit of a shit situation.
I amused her with my walking stick fairylights, my slightly strange choice of hats, and I even ended up teaching HER something new (how to make a Christmas tree out of a book)
I knew If I had a problem she was there.
I knew if I was struggling and she could help she would.
She helped by when I was going through some really REALLY bad stuff she found the funny sides of it all with me! ( and loves my nickname of TT/ ticking time bomb 😉, also actually very relevant as im a bit of a Tithead (say tt aloud) )
That’s the amazing thing about this woman. She’s the busiest woman you could meet.
She juggles a million and one things.
But she still takes the time to listen. And if she CAN do something, she will.
She gets the best out of every student. How I don’t even know.
I’ve never met a woman who is so determined and hardworking and incredible at their profession.
She is truly inspirational.
She makes a difference.
Shes not perfect but she doesn’t ever pretend to be and I think that’s why shes so cool.
She works hard at her job and as long as you work hard too you’ll see that shes an amazing teacher and she doesn’t see her students as a number in a system. She sees you as a person with potential. And she will do everything she can to help you reach that potential. To see you fly. (as long as you’re not lazy and trying to make a fool of her she’ll kick you out on your arse if you do that i saw that happen once!!).
I didn’t become a nurse. And I haven’t yet become a teacher. But I do help some people with my blog, with my conferences I talk at.
My goals have changed. My perspective on life different.
Sally was actually the one who told me I should blog. And who encouraged me to start this. And said I’d chosen the perfect name when I told her what that old lady had said to me that day. So I owe this woman a lot.
For a while I lost sight of my purpose but I think I’ve found it again. I’m determined to make a difference in the world. Even if its only to one person.
Because one person made a difference to me. I hope that I can make her proud by making as big of a difference myself one day.
Teachers are one of the most underappreciated people. You constantly hear people say “its cushty to be a teacher you get the 6 weeks holiday, you get good hours, good pay”. But what you don’t often hear is this – GOOD teachers work their arses off, they work beyond the hours of the school day they spend the holidays prepping and marking and working hard at home and they don’t often get the recognition they deserve.
I realised that today, when sally said something about how surprised she is when people give stuff to her for the Tanzania project. That she doesn’t need to ask people anymore.
And I can’t really talk for everyone but I can talk for myself.
Sally. I like to do what I can to help your Tanzania stuff because it means we’re helping you. And I see how proud and happy and inspired you are when you talk about the project. And its beyond a worthwhile thing. Knowing we’re helping YOU making a difference to the people in Tanzania means that we’re giving something back to you. The woman who in different ways made a difference to us. Be it you changed the lazy kids attitudes in to hardworking ones, or that you listened to the crisis of certain students (and read their emails about steps and sclub ). You don’t treat your students like a statistic. You treat them like individuals and you help them find their purpose and their passion. You make a difference. And in me , you helped me see that no matter what happens im not a failure even though I felt like one, and that I can find other ways to help people. You helped me find my sparkle again without you even realising. In listening to me and guiding me you changed things for me and made sure I didn’t give up on myself. You made a difference and for that I will always be grateful.
When I think of the name sally. I think of 5 things. One jack and sally from one of my favourite films – night mare before Christmas (that SONG!). Two- teachers – not just you , I had a teacher in secondary school with the same name she was alright too!. Three Sally morgan. My favourite medium. Four and five is more specific to you. I think of Kick arseness (if that’s a word) and five- I think of LOVEEEEE …LY MEMORIES 😉
And whilst the rest of the world may not realise that in a sussex college theres a teacher who is a kick ass woman changing students lives in both sussex and Tanzania. We know. And we appreciate you. Even if none of us say it enough. Thank you for being our teacher those years ago. And thank you for being you even now.
You’re amazing Sally miller.
And although this whole post is cringey as fuck. I think it needed to be said.
Thank you. I mean it.
OH And if you’re ever passing crawley and want a cup of coffee (the decent coffee don’t worry) and a chat..? call me up!
See you again at some point. I might even get around to making you that folded paper fish mobile by then.
But until then –
p.s. LOVE YOUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUU and I know you don’t do selfies often but we need a new selfie for my memory book because in the old one I had a million chins and really shitty hair. Next time I’ll bring my polaroid 😉
PPS sorry it turned in to an essay.
Love from Lana / TT.