Chicken. Ropey. Grotbags. The Penguin. Deathbreath. Mad Mike. Purple Pam. Reads like list of enemies Batman might find himself facing but these are the nicknames bestowed on some of the teachers who taught me or my sister at Cefn Hengoed School throughout the 1980s and early ’90s. Any ex students of the ‘Hengoed’ will know exactly who I’m referring to and will remember that they were all good people. But this is what they were known as to us and they knew it. Some of them I’ve since learnt warmed to their alias. Although I’m not sure Mrs Jones quite recovered from discovering she was being likened to a fat green witch who spent most of her time chasing Rod Hull and his bloody emu. Looking back this seems to have been the golden age of the nickname. I’m now in my tenth year as a teacher and I cannot think of a single teacher I have worked with, in three different schools, that has been given a nickname by the kids that has stuck.
Don’t get me wrong, I’ve heard students call teachers names, I’ve even been called something other than Mr Harris but I’m not sure that “sheep shagging Welsh prick” counts as a nickname. It’s also a bit of a mouthful. The nicknames I mentioned above were imaginative, funny, alliterative, enigmatic. Now as I approach a decade in the job I seem to have finally been nicknamed. The children of the Manchester academy I work at seem to think it’s hilarious to refer to me as Uncle Bryn. Being the only outsider in a staff of Mancunians and Lancastrians my Welsh accent signposts me as different. An other. Their only Welsh point of reference seemingly being Rob Brydon’s character from Gavin and Stacey.
My Year 11 class seem to think this particularly funny and now have a bunch of ‘gags’ that come my way. I’m frequently asked if I’ve been on a fishing trip at the weekend, whether I’d like an omelette for lunch and of course the ubiquitous “Alright Sir, wos occuring?” All of this delivered in spectacularly bonkers Welsh accents. A number of students have actually crossed out my name on their exercise books and overwritten it with “Uncle Bryn”. All very amusing and I must admit I indulge this by hamming up my Welsh accent and even teaching them some Welsh. I doubt there is another class of 16 year olds in Manchester who can count to 10 in Welsh, know how to say they like coffee in Welsh and know that “pam” means “why” (they find this hilarious for some reason). The fact that I’ve laughed along with this has quickly cemented my relationship with them as a class and when it comes down to the formal part of teaching them some stuff it’s noticeable that Uncle Bryn disappears from their language and Mr Harris returns. The strength of my relationship with this most difficult group of students is founded in my reaction to their nickname for me. Laughing along and being willing to laugh at myself has proved a very powerful tool in creating a bond with teacher and class that bodes well for the challenges we’ll face throughout their final year in school.
So Uncle Bryn it is. I suppose it’s better than “sheep shagging Welsh prick”.