Best and Worst Teachers

Laurie and I have recently been talking about who our best and worst teachers at school were. The best would have been those who inspired us, helped us to utterly engage with the subject and believe in our own abilities; the worst would be those that definitely didn’t.

My worst: second year senior school math teacher, Mrs Brady. We were all terrified of her; she was fierce and appeared to truly hate children, although now I suspect that she felt a little threatened by them and so over compensated with a steeliness that only just kept her anger at simmering point. If pushed in the smallest of ways, that anger surfaced remarkably quickly. I now realise that she was incredibly young and at the time heavily pregnant, so I feel a greater sympathy and understanding than I ever could then. She wore her own, homemade, rather eccentric looking smock suits, which in themselves were quite hippyish. Mrs Brady’s teaching persona, however, was as far away from peace and love as one could possibly get! Think Mrs Thatcher crossed with an angry bear and you get somewhere close!

Basically, I was too afraid to learn, certainly too scared to ask questions. She once hit a boy across the head for moving a test paper; he cried and we all sat in stunned silence. At a parent’s evening she told my mother that I was below average intelligence. No crueller a thing could have been said to me because being a child of such low confidence, I sadly didn’t have the belief in myself to inwardly challenge her judgement. I guessed she knew best and went around feeling below average for the rest of my schooling life. For this alone, she gets my vote as my worst teacher.

My very best, I had to wait a few more years for. The maelstrom that was my early teenage years resulted in my leaving school with minimal qualifications. I went back to college as a mature student in my late twenties to work through a couple of A levels. I had definitely not planned on taking English Lit (I had been refused entry to the exam at secondary school – I would certainly have failed). It was Laurie who persisted that I enrol- it was a decision that was to change the direction of my life.

My English Literature/Language A level teacher was the truly inspiring George Appleby. He was passionate about the subject and his love of and engagement with it was completely infectious. He had a deep interest in the spiritual and psychological which made our explorations of the set works for the course one of depth and joy. He recognised in me an ability to write. It was George that encouraged me to apply to University, an ambition I could never have aspired to, left to my own devices. It was also George who sat with me when I filled in the forms, patiently and persistently fending off my fears and excuses.

George changed my life. He dropped a stone in a pool whose ripples continue to radiate out, touching me and initiating changes still, situations that could never have been if fate or chance had not brought George into my life. Because of George, others have entered my life who have been equally inspiring. In this way life unfolds; the bonds we share become the most extraordinary, ever-expanding web of connection.

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