This is the third and final part of Noor’s story for this feature. Noor is sharing her experience as an immigrant child who came to England in the 70s from Morocco. At the time, Noor was still grappling with the English language and finding her place in High School.
I have very vivid memories of 1977 specifically because it was the Queen’s Jubilee. There were huge street parties and a pure celebratory atmosphere on that day. By this time, my mum was on a road trip to Morocco and I’d stayed behind in England with my older sister.
I set off on my last years of High School to the sound of Elvis, the BeeGees, Abba and The Rolling Stones. My school very kindly indulged us in this phase by putting a disco on in the hall every week, we would go to the disco but never confessed to our mum where we were going!
The next two years of secondary school were spent in a different location called ‘The Annexe’. Going to the new place was very daunting and it did feel like starting school all over again. Once again, I was faced with a different, grand Victorian building.
Inside The Annexe, the Art and Needlework studios were well equipped; I really bloomed in Needlework class and my garments would be displayed on the wall. Unfortunately, my needlework teacher thought me a nuisance, because I worked too fast and would finish before the other kids. To bide more time my teacher would make me unpick my completed work and do it again.
The Geography lessons consisted of my teacher writing on the blackboard, and we only ever had to copy down the words nicely, and quietly for the whole lesson. It was a very tedious subject and I don’t remember learning anything significant.
No, what would you really like to do?
We had a music teacher who spent the hour talking about his life and his experiences. He would sit at the piano for the whole lesson yet we would be lucky to hear from him a note or two! He much preferred to just talk at us about anything else except teaching music. Every so often there were career interviews, where we’d be asked by a career advisor one-to-one “What would you like to be when you grow up?”I remember telling the advisor that I’d like to be a singer when I grow up, and he told me “No, what would you really like to do?”
Things had moved along socially at school, but there was still the occasional incident of bullying. One bully seemed particularly fixated on where I would buy my clothes from, I didn’t sense flattery in her asking, more of an unkind curiosity. After being asked the same questions about where my clothes were from day in and day out, eventually the girl snatched my skipping rope from my hands in the playground and hit me with it. I was taken aback but the bell rang and break time was over.
At the end of school I began to walk home alone. I turned down the road away from school and found myself surrounded by a circle of 20 students, with me as the bullseye in the middle. The same girl from the playground also happened to be in the circle and had knocked me to the floor, and all I remember is her battering me. She was older, stronger and well versed in being a bully. I couldn’t even get off of the floor, my hair was being pulled out in strands between her fingers. She was kicking me and pulled my head up by my hair, preparing to smash my head into a wall.
I realised that this altercation was about to get significantly more serious and reached my hand up to try to defend myself, my hand landed in the girl’s mouth and she bit down hard. I was able to use her mouth nonetheless to leverage myself away and to escape. The crowd of students were getting more and more excited, willing the fighting to go on and to “go for it!” I remember a lot of blood and needing to go to hospital, but what hurt the most was the burning humiliation and dent to my teenage pride.
The school brought my mum in to discuss the event, but since she did not speak much English, even with scars on my face and a bloodied hand, there was no one to advocate for me. I do not remember any further action being taken against the girl.
Unfortunately, this incident set something of a precedent, and a few weeks later I was looking for my ball in the playground and a girl approached me to ask what I was looking at- insinuating that I was looking at her and therefore asking for trouble. It later transpired that this was the friend of the first bully. I insisted that I was looking for my ball, but that didn’t matter, a target had been put on my back since losing the previous fight and I knew that it would continue unless I did something to change my story. I did not know this girl, we’d not had a conversation but she leapt for me!
I remember thinking that I had to win this fight, or I could surely never come back to school out of shame. The crowd of students was a bit warmer to me this time. I remember them shouting my name and cheering me on to put up a fight. I was a bit more mentally prepared having replayed the fight from a few weeks previous over and over in my mind.
All the anger and frustration from that fight poured out of me like lava from a volcano and I saw red. I sat on top of the girl and hit her as hard as I could, right on the face, over and over. A teacher approached and pulled me off. I was given the sternest talking to by the teacher and of course, I had no defence. I was rightly threatened with suspension, but luckily wasn’t suspended in the end.
About 20 years ago, I saw the first bully again in London, to my shock she saw me and said “What you lookin’ at?” just as her friend had done all those years ago! Then, 10 years later I saw the same bully again. She was in front of me at the post office, she was with her son and she noticed me. My eyes burned into the back of her head as she cashed her check from the government. I telepathically sent her a message “You don’t know what you did to me! Why did you attack me?!”
In the adult world John Lennon was shot, Lady Diana married Prince Charles and Margaret Thatcher was the first female prime minister of the UK. But, in my world I was consumed with school projects and friends, I just observed boys and was still afraid of them in any romantic capacity.
One day I badly twisted my ankle at school and was on crutches for a few weeks. While hobbling around at school several of my friends who were male had made a bet that if they offered to walk me home, and be generally helpful and attentive then surely one of them in turn would not receive my default answer to being invited out after school “Sorry I’m not allowed.” Unfortunately for all of them, my stance didn’t waiver.
I avoided the computers like the plague
In the last two years of Secondary school, I remember that a few rooms had computers suddenly pop up in them, but I avoided the computers like the plague. The day-to-day of my world was very much about being nervous of final exams and pouring in many hours of studying . My work was all lined up on my desk in an orderly fashion. I really began to love and be passionate about my studies. I was so immersed in school that I was blissfully unaware of what was going on in the wider world.
I completed my high school qualifications and ended up getting some really good grades. It was pretty remarkable for someone who started high school without speaking English. I then went on to complete O Levels at college, then my Bachelors at university in Education, then my Masters in Primary Education, and have since gone on to receive further diplomas.
My memories of my education in the UK in the 70s are immensely vivid. Retelling them has brought back to me warm memories and tough ones. The road to college was not smooth, but the good outweighed the bad. In becoming a primary school teacher in the UK myself, I felt that my journey of education in England had really come full circle. In some ways things had come a long way. In other ways, not much had changed since my time at school.