Saturday, 21 July 2012

What makes an inspiring teacher?


Which teachers have made an impact on you over your life-time?

When I reflected on this question, I didn't remember any particular teachers as being my favourites. Instead, different things they had said at certain times of my life stood out. Or some, like my piano teacher, just had a gentle presence for many years. I was surprised at the number of teachers who I had encountered. From kindergarten to university, and extra-curricular teachers as well, that's a lot of guides and mentors. So who made the list?

Miss Mac, my piano teacher

Wow, Miss Mac. You make it to first of my list. I started learning piano when I was in grade three and it soon became my passion. Miss Mac, you were there, through my childhood, like a tree that aged gently beside me. You were so patient and kind and also inspiring. I was challenged to do my best, and even though I was filled with anxiety at the thought of playing in public, you never let me run away, but at the same time you never pushed me past my limits. You always dressed simply and elegantly and your house was neat and tidy. While my world changed around me and I changed within it, you stayed who you were, solid as a rock.

The visiting student teacher in primary school

So, you stand out in my memory and I can't even remember your name! But I can tell you what you meant to me. You picked me out of all the other students to be in your poetry and writing groups. Even though you were supposed to pick different students each time, you chose me for every work-shop and you told me I was a good writer. I was shy, quiet and scared to speak aloud in the classroom. You didn't mind. You got me to open up in your little group and it made me feel like I had something of value to offer the world. I will never forget that.

Miss Spiers, the English teacher at Eaglehawk High

Hats off to you, Jane, for putting up with us unruly teenagers all those years. I know for a fact that at many times, our behaviour was particularly hideous. Thank you for putting up with us! You were a great teacher. Thorough, calm, organised and clearly spoken. You put some imaginative and creative ideas to practise and always made me feel welcome in your class. You had pretty good class-room control and had gained the respect of most of the students. Later on, you invited me to your home, and I absolutely adored the place - simple, tasteful a little bit exotic, you had an air of mystery about you. Definitely unforgettable.

Mr Pearce, the school welfare officer at Eaglehawk High

I guess we all go though stuff when we're teenagers, but I know from experience I felt like I was the only one and that no-one would ever understand what I was going through. But then I met you, Mr Pearce. They took me to meet you when I couldn't stop crying that day in year eight, and you tried to get to know me. You did it well. The problem I had at home was not going to go away quickly, but I knew you were there to talk to even at the worst times. When I danced with you at my debutante ball, the look in your eyes told me you were proud of me, of how far I'd come, and that you had faith in where I was heading.

Mr Hallpike, my year 11 literature teacher

So off I go to Bendigo Senior Secondary School, thinking I am the best writer on earth and kind of tired of being the top English student, and what happens? I get a D minus on my first essay! What, I ask, how could this have happened to me? Well it soon taught me that I had to pull my socks up and Mr Hallpike, you immersed me in literature more than anyone had before. What a teacher! Engaging, inspiring, bringing your personal stories into your lessons and encouraging me to get some life experience before aiming to become a writer. Awesome.

The lecturer who lit the candle at the uni

Isn't exam time supposed to be stressful? Studying as a mature age student, with three kids at home, one still a baby, and living in a new, unknown town with very little money had been taking its toll. I was really starting to wonder why on earth I had chosen this particular path. Was it really worth it? Would it really get me anywhere? All it seemed to be doing was putting stress and pressure on the family. How was I supposed to remember all these things to pass an exam? Once again, I have forgotten your name, but I remember you as a peaceful, happy woman who was generous in spirit and made what could have been the driest topic on earth (biblical history) actually interesting! When I entered that big exam hall to see you lighting the candle and saying a prayer for us before it, it taught me that it is okay to do things differently. It taught me that it is important to include the spiritual element in our day to day life and that taking the time to do the little things can make a huge difference.


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Well, that's it. A pretty small list, I know. I'm not saying that other teachers didn't do a great job, or that they didn't stand out at various times. But at this moment, on reflection, these are the ones who I remember. I wonder, as a teacher, if I would make it to any of my past students' lists? I hope so. So who were your inspirational teachers? I'd love to hear about them!