The other teachers in the school were known as Stephanie and Joan and so on, but to her class she was very strictly Miss Susan. “Strict,” in fact, was a word that seemed to cover everything about Miss Susan and, in the classroom, she insisted on the Miss in the same way that a king insists upon Your Majesty, and for pretty much the same reason.
Miss Susan wore black, which the headmistress disapproved of but could do nothing about because black was, well, a respectable color. She was young, but with an indefinable air of age about her. She wore her hair, which was blond-white with one black streak, in a tight bun; the headmistress disapproved of that, too — it suggested an Archaic Image Of Teaching, she said, with the assurance of someone who could pronounce a capital letter. But she didn’t ever dare disapprove of the way Miss Susan moved, because Miss Susan moved like a tiger.
It was always very hard to disapprove of Miss Susan in her presence, because if you did, she gave you a Look. It was not in any way a threatening look. It was cool and calm. You just didn’t want to see it again.
The Look worked in the classroom, too. Take homework, another Archaic Practice the headmistress was ineffectively Against. No dog ever ate the homework of one of Miss Susan’s students, because there was something about Miss Susan that went home with them; the dog brought them a pen and watched imploringly while they finished it, instead. Miss Susan seemed to have an unerring instinct for spotting laziness, and effort, too.
Contrary to the headmistress’s instructions, Miss Susan did not let the children do what they liked. She let them do what she liked. It had turned out to be a lot more interesting for everyone.
Miss Susan held up the cardboard clock and said:
“Who can tell me what this is?”
A forest of hands shot up.
“It’s a clock, miss.”
Miss Susan smiled, carefully avoided the hand that was being waved by a boy called Vincent who was also making frantically keen “ooo, ooo, ooo” noises, and chose the boy behind him.
“Nearly right,” she said. “Yes, Samuel?”
“It’s all cardboard made to look like a clock,” said the boy.
“Correct. Always see what’s really there. And I’m supposed to teach you to tell the time with this.” Miss Susan gave it a sneer and tossed it away.
“Shall we try a different way?” she said and snapped her fingers.
“Yes!” the class chorused, and then it went “aah!” as the walls, floor, and ceiling dropped away and the desks were all hovering high over the city.
A few feet away was the huge cracked face of the tower clock of Unseen University.
The children nudged one another excitedly. The fact that their boots were over one hundred feet of fresh air didn’t seem to bother them. Oddly, too, they did not seem surprised. This was just an interesting thing. They acted like connoisseurs who had seen other interesting things. You did, when you were in Miss Susan’s class.