How sad that it takes the violent death of a long-serving, much loved teacher to get #thankyouteacher set up. It got me thinking.
As a child my family moved around a lot due to work and family dis-harmony so I went to a lot of schools and a lot of teachers have had a hand in making me the person and teacher that I am. Whoever they are, or were, they made a difference.
I don’t remember my early primary school days in Kent but I do know I could read and write well along with a whole load of other things by the time I pitched up in Scotland age 9. Once my dad sorted a small matter of a bit of bullying, I flourished there. I went to a school with primary on the bottom and secondary – the ones that didn’t pass the exams – on the top. I remember fondly walking to another building where a nice lady read us stories from the classics; dreamy afternoons learning to sew – a large pair of embroidered bloomers a particularly fond memory – and mental arithmetic every afternoon (not my forte) with Mr McLennan. I have a picture of him and my class on my fridge. I thought him ancient and suspect he was dragged in to teaching post-war to make up the numbers. Looking at his picture now he doesn’t seem so old. More like a drill sergeant than a teacher, he kept us in check and tested us every week with the results determining our seating plan for the following week. I must have learnt things because one week (and only one) I occupied the seat at the back left corner of the room where the top of the class for that week resided. I didn’t get to preen for long. Secondary school was a bigger world and I was a smaller fish. There were lots of hard lessons to learn – including Latin (how did it work?) with Shuck McArthur, a terrifying figure.
England – Yorkshire specifically – beckoned. Turns out I was smart there but my stay was short and I was off to Liverpool. Pat Orme (Griffiths as was) and Veronica Garvey were my absolute idols. They were my Miss Jean Brodie and I lapped up everything they had to offer – books and Spanish and belonging and being happy. Miss Slater (maths); Miss Williams (PE and doing *gasp* dance – never before heard of); the bearded art teacher who let us experiment to find out if there was something blacker than black or whiter than white when we asked him and even funny Miss Lorimer (French) who was a relic from a much earlier age and seemed barely to have left the Edwardian Era; and the formidable Miss Pennycuick the headmistress who bestrode the corridors waving her arm like a Dalek to move us to the right side of the corridor: they all gave me so much. Everything really.
Then college. Bill Hughes, the heart throb of the place, who taught me English and opened my eyes to writers I have never heard of; Fred Starkey who taught me education and who seemed a terrifying figure until I pitched up in his tutor group and found a lovely, kind man with an interesting history and a spirituality rooted in his love of humanity. I went to see him only this Sunday – 93 years old. I love him dearly. They all started my journey to being a teacher.
But I didn’t stop learning from teachers when I started what turned out to be my career. I knew nothing when I started – it was terrifying but I got lucky. The school was a vibrant place where we were all learning together under the leadership of a charismatic, forward thinking Head who moonlighted as a children’s magician. Jim Bleakley take a bow. He encouraged his young staff to try things out, take risks, take the lead and in so doing set many of us on the path to success. Lyn and Chris and Joyce and Myra and Aidan and Johnboy to name a few all showed me ways to get the best out of young people and taught me about meetings and protocols and standing orders and procedures.
I lost my way then and found it again when I found Kathleen who swept me along to a myriad of courses which expanded my horizons and reminded me about how to think. She taught me how to plan and move children forward and how to lead and take responsibility. My lovely Tony Rawlings beloved of all of us and taken away far too soon who taught me the importance of kindness, generosity and humility. I miss him every day.
More big changes and another step change. Big kids to teach now – eek! Judith, Lesley and Yvonne taught me how to do secondary English and the value of team work. I thrived. I improved. I was respected. John Gadd made me a better leader while others taught me how not to do it and how bullies really are sad little people. Robin and Muriel showed me how to take a step back and how to deal with difficult people and a lot about kindness and second chances and the Last Chance Saloon when the wicked witch blows into town.
I did some academic learning of my own – an OU degree with Dr Barry, a wonderful tutor with a penchant for unsuitable women, one of a range of academics who fired my enthusiasm for English and Shakespeare (a first in that year) then a Masters with Heather – ever gentle and encouraging – and Mary who taught me about resilience when I wanted to give up.
And finally, a crop of bright young things who fizz with ideas and hard work and creativity and teach me anew every day about this wondrous skill of teaching – Paula and Simon and Sarah-Jane.
Teachers every one of them – derided by Government, pitied by the Hooray Henry’s making mega-bucks in the city, undervalued by those who really do think teaching is a cushy 9-3 job with long holidays. Teachers working hard every day to make better lives for children. Teachers putting the children they teach first and foremost, going the extra mile and giving of their best day in and day out. Traditional and progressive and all points in between.
Teachers. My teachers. The people who educated me. To those I have remembered and named and to the many I can’t recall: thank you. Thank you for all you have done and all you continue to do. You make a difference every day.