This is an open letter to my former GCSE and A-level Spanish teacher, indeed the only Spanish teacher I’ve ever had, during the four brief years I spent studying the language, and who, for the sake of this article, I will call Sr. Torro*.
Querida Señor Torro,
In the words of Nick Clegg (as imagined by The Poke – feel free to sing along): I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m so, so sorry. There’s no easy way to say that I’m sorry. I’m sorry.
Before I get hit with a copyright infringement claim, let me explain.
You were a great teacher. A fantastic teacher. An inspirational teacher. You took someone with almost zero knowledge of the Spanish language and, in two years, turned them into an A* GCSE student. You took an infatuation with a country and its language and turned it into a love. A passion.
And I fucked it up.
I remember with fondness sitting in your classroom in ‘C’ block (C4 if I recall correctly), staring blankly out of the window while you played Juanes (La Camisa Negra) and Julieta Venegas (Limón y Sal), trying in vain to work out the missing words and their meanings.
I remember with fondness the first Spanish idiom you taught me, “todos tenemos nuestro grano de arena”, literally translated as “we all have our grain of sand” but meaning we all have our part to play.
I remember with somewhat less fondness sitting across from you in the music block, stumbling my way through an embarrassing attempt at an oral examination question on the environment.
I remember with less fondness still my mobile phone alarm ringing part-way through a written examination – and the subsequent awkward discussion with the invigilators as to how an alarm can sound even if the phone is switched off!
You were, without a doubt, my favourite teacher, and I just wish I’d paid attention to you more. I’ve always wished I’d paid more attention to you, but never more so than now, when I attempt hopelessly to converse with my new family.
I’d like to meet you one last time to thank you for everything you did and to say sorry for what I didn’t do.
Sorry that I didn’t pay attention as much as I should have. Sorry that I didn’t fulfill the potential I showed when I first stepped foot in your classroom. Sorry that I went from being a promising A*-grade GCSE student to a mediocre C-grade A-level student.
But there’s one thing I will never forgive you for: saying, all those years ago, that Catalan was a regional dialect of Spanish. That made me think learning my wife’s mother tongue would be easier because of my intermediate level of Spanish. It’s not. It’s really not. And in case another of your students grows up to wed a beautiful bride from Barcelona, I’d urge you never to suggest this to your students again.
In seriousness, though, I honestly don’t think it is an exaggeration to suggest my life wouldn’t be where it is today without you. The chain of events that led up to my marriage to my Catalan bride two weeks ago started in your classroom at the age of 14, so thank you.
If you ever read this, thank you.
I just wish I’d listened to you more!
Your (most?) frustrating student,
Alan Collins Pérez de Baños
(formerly Alan Collins)
Disclaimer: My Spanish teacher was not actually called “Sr. Torro” (at least not officially). He wasn’t Spanish. He wasn’t even English. He was Welsh, but could speak four languages – a fact about which I will forever be envious.