Both stories have merits, also the two story deals with theme of identity, they do so in their story , plot, character, style, structure, and language. I will analyse both stories.
My polish teacher’s tie:
Carla Carter is a part time catering assistant working in a school on a low wage. Although she is half Polish and half English, her father prevented her Polish mother from teaching her the language and poetry of Poland after she was six.
In the story Carla shows two sides to her character. On the one hand she seems defensive about her status. "Part-time catering staff, that's me, £3.89 per hour."
Of course there's much more to her than this in reality. She's a wife and mother, she has a strong moral sense about bringing up children (she doesn't approve of Valerie Kenward's self satisfied kids), she enjoys poetry. But the way in which she introduces herself plays all this down and emphasizes her humble role in the school. "I dish out tea and buns to the teachers twice a day, and I shovel chips on to the kids' trays at dinner-time." The words 'dish out' and 'shovel' suggest that she doesn't see her job as very skilled or demanding.
When she starts to write to the Polish teacher, Steve, she conceals her job from him. Stefan, she believes, will think of her as being "an English teacher, a real professional. This person earned more money than him and had travelled and seen places and done things he'd never been able to do." Later in the story, when he is about to visit the school, she thinks of taking time off sick in order to prevent him from meeting her, so lacking in self-confidence is she.
On the other hand, Carla is no mouse. She seizes her chance when she hears the Head telling the teachers about the Polish teachers wanting penfriends. And she makes very clear judgments against Valerie Kenward. "If ever anyone brought up their kids to be pleased with themselves, it's Valerie Kenward."
She doesn't just keep her views to herself either. Seeing Stefan floundering in the middle of a high powered group, she acts out her impatience with Mrs Kenward's values by bluntly telling her that her tea is not ready then leaving her service hatch to go over and talk to Stefan.
Therefore, we can see that Carla’s character is a mix of defensive and self-confident. Dunmore seems to be suggesting that, in a different society, Carla might be something more than she thinks of herself. She is a strong-minded, free-thinking woman with good values but the hierarchy of the school, and of British society, diminishes her value. This is suggested also by Carla's thoughts about Stefan's tie: "It was a flag from another country, a better country than the ones either of us lived in."
Sample answer - part 2
We learn about Carla’s character because she is also the narrator. Having a first person narrator makes us see the world from Carla's point of view. It makes it easier for the reader to identify with her. We see and feel, for example, how unpleasantly superior Valerie Kenward is. We see this in how she talks about Stefan and her children. We see it also in the impersonal way she treats Carla as a mere 'function' of the canteen.
We see that the Head is bumbling and a poor communicator. He stumbles over her name and, halfway through asking about her letter writing, turns a personal conversation into a public announcement. Seeing the world from the narrator's point of view, we feel the impact of Helen Dunmore's ideas about schools, (some) teachers, and the way our society is structured.
The narrator is also important in the story because she allows us to feel, almost as if it were our own experience, the liberating genuineness of Stefan's friendship. We share all of Carla's fears about the deception, we feel her anticipation that Stefan will reject her and that the staff will mock her pretension. And then,