As my youngest two start secondary school, I sit here hoping they get amazing teachers. If not in every subject, at least in a few. Good teachers, the ones who love what they do, care about the kids and love seeing kids “get it” are such a huge asset to children. The teachers who have lost that passion or the ones who only like the kids who get it without any effort can have such a negative impact.
Let me introduce you to three teachers. All three were in my secondary school. All three have made an impact in different ways.
Miss PE Teacher:
This woman was not a very nice lady. I could have said much worse but libel is a real thing. As far as Mrs PE Teacher was concerned, if you were not one of the sporting heroes, you were nothing.
This is a woman who when I broke my arm and elbow and had my whole arm encased in plaster of Paris, insisted that I had to do PE as I had not taken a letter to excuse me (Mum thought common sense would prevail) but this woman said, and I quote, “how do I know you didn’t put that plaster on yourself?” Yes, of course every child in the 80’s had a secret stash of plaster of Paris!
Nowadays with our passion for chalk paint, maybe its a more common item in the home but Annie Sloan only published her first book on paint techniques in 1987.
I then broke my ankle playing netball and she waltzed into the changing rooms took one look at me and said “get up, you always over exaggerate” and then told another teacher who offered to give me a lift home that I was fine and didn’t need a lift. Thankfully another teacher took the time to look at my, by now very large, ankle and arranged for me to get a lift home. My dad then took me to A&E and I very smugly turned up to school the next day on crutches with my leg in plaster. Although, then again, she probably thought I used my secret stash of plaster!
When this teacher went off on maternity leave, her replacement watched us playing hockey and then at the end of the lesson, came over and asked me why I wasn’t in the team. I explained that I wasn’t good enough for the team. She disagreed emphatically and immediately added me to the team. My self-esteem leapt a million spaces forward. I spent the next few months loving PE, loving being part of a team and I would have happily had PE every day without a single complaint.
Sadly, this story ends badly. Mrs PE Teacher returned from maternity leave and immediately removed me from the team; no explanation, no nothing, just an instant removal.
I spent the last few years of school avoiding PE as much as possible. If I could volunteer to help another teacher during that lesson, I would be there. If I had to do cross country (the one activity no one was allowed to skip), I ran out of the school grounds with everyone else and then walked around the rest of the route, puffing away on the Regal King Size I had hidden down my bra! Sorry Mum!
Thirty years after leaving school, I still have that same feeling about PE. Give me a stroll and a ciggie anytime. After five years of being told you weren’t good enough, that you lacked any ability, that your participation was a waste of time, well it became a challenge to be motivated.
Mr & Mrs English Teacher
Two different teachers. Two people who totally knew how to get the best out of their pupils.
Mrs English Teacher was determined that when we left school, if nothing else, we knew that we had to question everything we read. I can still remember one of her lessons ending with her writing “statistics prove nothing” on the board. That was our homework for the week, we had to research why this statement was true and provide evidence to back it up. I still remember that my essay was based on the Miner’s Strike.
It has been one of those lessons that has stuck with me over the years. I question everything and when I see a statistic, I always question what it doesn’t show. I also question what the people sharing it want us to be focussing on and what that possibly means they want us to ignore.
Mr English Teacher gave me a love for reading and language. He was so eloquent and constantly made us use alternative words, taking the easy option was not allowed. However, he never made it feel like work and for four hours a week I would sit totally entranced with his teaching. He made reading an adventure and language a gift. We travelled to Middle Earth, we visited Venice with the Merchants, we were transported to country churchyards to write an elegy, we went to Kent with Pip and many more adventures. If I was allowed to, I would go back to these lessons now and happily give up my time to listen to someone who is so passionate about their subject.
With both Mr & Mrs English Teacher, it was obvious that a) they loved what they did, b) they actually liked kids and c) they loved seeing someone enjoy their passion for language and literature, especially when they lit that passion. There was no dismissive language or behaviour when someone didn’t get it, they tried other ways to make it clear. They used examples their pupils could relate to. They taught the children, not just the curriculum.
I think with the PE Teacher, the impact was much bigger than it would have been for another subject as we had the same teacher for five years. If your maths teacher was not the greatest, you knew the chances were always high that you would get a different teacher the following year. Not so with PE. I was stuck with that woman for five years. I believe she had definitely chosen the wrong career and I do sometimes wonder how I would feel about PE now if I had had a different teacher – one who encouraged, instead of dismissed, those who were not naturally gifted on the sports field.
I have seen teachers in my children’s life – both in specialist provision and mainstream who have had a huge impact.
Last year, my daughter had what I can only describe as an amazing teacher. She pushed her but with fantastic support. At the end of the year, the results spoke for themselves. Not just academically but in her self esteem and confidence. I am also delighted that having started at her secondary, without knowing anyone, she has made friends, feels confident in class and has even tried out for the netball team in her first week. I am thrilled that I have not managed to pass on my negative feelings about the whole PE thing.
My eldest son also had the most awesome teacher. We went from a boy who would have happily stayed home every day to a boy who wanted to go into school. A boy who grew in confidence, tried new experiences; he even engaged in trying new foods and school lunches!
Both these teachers just got it. They knew how to get the best out of them, they knew how to encourage them to try and made a huge difference to their self-belief. They are the teachers we need to find a way to clone, the ones who if we bottled them and sold them, we would be millionaires. Their value is priceless.
My hope is that my children all encounter more of these teachers as they go through their school lives. Despite Mrs PE Teacher and going to a comprehensive before corporal punishment was outlawed, I have really fond memories of my school days. They weren’t perfect, there were moments I would happily never go through again, but generally I made lifelong friends and received an education which taught me the most important thing – how to think for myself.
I just hope with so much focus now on our children’s academic achievements that my children have the chance to enjoy their school days, that they have teachers who have the time to support them and that my children walk away from school with skills which are of actual use.
What about you? Tell me about a teacher who had an impact on you or your child? Be it negative or positive.