Friday 18 May 2018

The Value of a Good Teacher - by Lu Hersey

Last week was National Teacher Appreciation Week (I only find out these things thanks to twitter) – and any writer who visits schools regularly knows what a difference the class teacher makes. Your workshop will go a lot better and you’ll feel a lot less stressed if you get help and back up from a good teacher.

 I only remember three good teachers from when I was at school. I also remember some REALLY bad ones, including two very vindictive nuns, but this is about good teachers, not the ones that should never have been allowed near children.

The first teacher to make a massive impact on my life was called Miss Morley. I was seven. Miss Morley was not only amazing, she was beautiful, and everyone was in love with her (except my mother, who swore that if she had to hear the words ‘Miss Morley says’ one more time, she was personally going to throttle the bloody woman).

Miss Morley taught us about everything from the mating rituals of animals, to the complexities of long division. And the greatest joy I can remember – she read aloud to the class, EVERY SINGLE DAY. A whole chapter of Five on a Treasure Island. It changed my life. To my mother’s horror (she was easily horrified) I read every book Enid Blyton ever wrote, by myself, after that term – and it was all thanks to Miss Morley. (Or that bloody Miss Morley’s fault, depending on your point of view)

My other two inspirational teachers were at secondary school and helped give me a lifelong interest in history and literature. Looking back, what made these teachers stand out was their obvious enthusiasm for sharing knowledge and wanting you to enjoy the subjects with them. There were lots of other teachers at my secondary school, mediocre, tired, not interested in anything much (especially children) – and some who really shouldn’t have been allowed to teach. But the ones who were brilliant really made a real difference, and are the ones I remember most.

Over the last year I’ve been teaching creative writing in various schools around Bristol, most recently for the wonderful Bristol based educational charity, Ablaze. And I’ve come to realise that teachers are incredible. How do they do this every day, week in, week out? Even the ones that don’t engage with my workshops are doing an amazing job just being there – and I realise they’ve got a lot else on their plates.

 Then sometimes you meet a truly exceptional teacher, and it’s a real joy. I’m currently holding a series of creative writing workshops for Year 5s in a school in a deprived area on the outskirts of Bristol. It’s the kind of school that gets terrible Ofsted reports, and the sort of high crime area people want to move out of as soon as they can.

But the class teacher is one of those rare, inspirational teachers, who holds the attention of the whole class and gets them to work hard because they like him and want his approval – and he cares about them. He helps to encourage the children taking part and praises all their work. Between workshops, he gets them to work on their stories and go over the ground I’ve covered – and even to prepare for the next class. (In some schools, teachers regard having you there as a great opportunity for them to do something else – which makes it so much harder.)

He could probably get a job in any school and inspire the kids, but it’s fantastic that he’s working in a school like this. I asked the kids what they want to do when they leave school, and they all want to be teachers, pilots, astronauts, writers or accountants. In the last school (in a similar area) I asked the same question and the kids wanted to work at a checkout in Tesco or behind the counter in Domino’s Pizza. (Fair enough, but the kids in both schools were equally bright and came from very similar backgrounds).

 And that’s the difference a good teacher makes. They help kids believe in themselves and their abilities. I don’t think kids forget a teacher like that. Hopefully they help make a better future.

Lu Hersey

twitter: @LuWrites


Sue Bursztynski said...

Good on you, Lu, for recognising the fact that there are good teachers who go right on looking after their students after you have packed up your stuff and left. I follow a lot of blogs and I’m afraid there are too many writers who tell us smugly about how wonderful a job they did for kids who don’t have the same quality from their teachers . This gentleman you mention sounds wonderful!

Interesting that all the teachers I remember with affection from primary school were male. Mr Savage(grade 4) was a fascinating man with a lot of interesting and entertaining material - who, incidentally, thought I was hilarious! Mr Kaufman covered for Mr Pirie in Grade 6, and got me interested in Peanuts. Mr Pirie was a very funny man.

In secondary school, there was Mr Crabtree, my French teacher, who gave me a pile of classic history books, as he knew I loved history. I used some of them for research in later years, for a children’s book about archaeologists. My Year 11 English teacher, Mrs Albrecht, got me interested in Richard III(we were doing the play and she told us about Daughter Of Time). Thanks to her, I joined the Richard III Society. My Year 11 history teacher shared her memories of Mussolini’s Italy - the huge photos of Il Duce, on which she was itching to draw moustache and glasses... She also taught us not to trust a history book without asking what was in it for the author, the first history teacher I ever had to do this.

There were other very good teachers, but those come to me off the top of my head.

LuWrites said...

Thanks, Sue - yes most of my teachers at school were female (it was a girls' grammar school) and a few should have been put out to grass probably - but the inspirational ones really stay with you, don't they? Your history teacher sounds amazing - and ours was too. She told us never to totally trust history books because they always had agendas, which is incredibly good advice!