Teachers Who’ve Made a Difference
I imagine that when a person decides to become a school teacher it’s a conscious choice, a vocation even, certainly not a career decision made lightly. We all know the difference that a good or bad teacher can make to an impressionable mind and I like to think that even the worst teacher started out with the best of intentions.
Saying that, my very first teacher in New Zealand was a shocker. I get that my five and a half year old brain might not be the most reliable source of information but the memories have stuck with me now for nearly 40 years and that must attest to some veracity. Her name was Sister I* and she was 70 if she was a day. She got her kicks having the whole class make fun of my Irish accent. I recall being made to stand up on my desk and say the alphabet over and over and getting a whack with a ruler whenever a hint of accent crept in to my pronunciation. I didn’t tell my parents until many years later why my accent disappeared so quickly when we came back to NZ.
I was a good student as a child. I worked hard, desperate for the validation that good grades brought. I was lucky too I guess that I was an all rounder as a kid; I was athletic – good at almost any sport I tried – and I found school work unproblematic on the whole. That combination ensured primary and intermediate school was a relatively easy ride – lots of friends and mostly indulgent teachers. I had lots of male teachers in those formative years and I still believe that generally speaking men make the best teachers – less structured, more going with the flow. No offence intended to any female teachers who might be reading.
My favourite teacher from that period was the wonderful Mr A. By the time I knew him he was an old man and a widower. He was a fabulous teacher; he was unhurried; patient and kind and for the first time I truly understood that I was entitled to my own opinion. He made us laugh every single day but taught us to challenge what we read and heard; it was my first exposure to critical thinking.
Then I went to high school and everything changed.
To be fair, it wasn’t the fault of my teachers that things started to go wrong. In fact Mr B tried very hard to keep me engaged in the learning process but by the time I hit 15, I was failing his class (maths) and barely passing anything else. I then started skipping class until I was missing most lessons every day.
Somehow though I continued to scrape through with barely acceptable grades until my senior year at school when I was unexpectedly captivated by climatology and the hydrological cycle as shared by Ms M in geography class. She inspired me and suddenly I was attending all my classes again and actually rediscovering the joy of learning. She was an older woman who appreciated that at our age we had a choice about whether we went to school each day or not. She infused every class with visual aids to help communicate the subject. She’d travelled widely and had collected a vast library of photographs to help illustrate her point and she was all for laughter and fun and games in her classroom. Above all others, Ms M was the teacher who re-energised me with the wonder of learning. I’m eternally grateful as to this day I have never lost that joy.
*Names have been changed to protect the guilty.