Des Smith and the spelling test

Four-minute story

Des Smith and the spelling test

We are back in the school in Dagenham and the headmaster, Mr Smith, is catching up with me in the corridor. Something is clearly amiss and I ask myself whether the English Department is in trouble.

“Mr Inson, Mr Inson, I’m glad I’ve caught up with you.” I stood and waited for him to catch up with me. He lowered his voice as he continued. “I’m really very embarrassed about this and I didn’t want anyone else to see it before I could apologise.”

What was he on about? Whatever it was, it was clearly troubling the head and he beckoned me to follow him, across the playground, round to the back of the furthest building. I paused, wondering where we were heading and looked at him, as if he should explain what was driving him away from his office and the quieter parts of the school. He continued on his way, as if impatient to get something difficult out of the way.

Within minutes we found ourselves outside my classroom, at the rear of a building constructed with old-fashioned brickwork and metal window frames. He knew exactly what it was that he had to point out.


The words had been sprayed onto the brickwork which had absorbed the paint so that the letters, bold and a foot tall would be with us for some time. The poor man really was embarrassed; the thought of one of the boys insulting a member of his staff in this way really was too much. I began to feel sorry for him and placed a reassuring hand on his shoulder.

“Mr Smith, I really can’t see what you are troubled about.” He looked around at me; did I not have eyes in my head?

“Aren’t you pleased, Mr Smith?” He was annoyed now; he had brought me all the way round to the back of the school so that I could see for myself. What on earth could I be thinking about?

“It’s like this Mr Smith.” He was getting cross so I had little time. “They’ve spelt my name correctly, they’ve spelt bastard correctly. The school’s English department is clearly doing its job properly. What are you worried about?”

And then he smiled and then we laughed.

How did the headmaster feel about the words that had been painted on the wall?
How would you expect your teachers to react to finding something like these words painted outside their classrooms?

Why do you thing the writer reacted as he did?

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