Education and Schooling #2: Ode to Teachers

Mrs Cook taught me to read.
Ms Powell held dictionary competitions (I remember this, of course, because I remember winning!)
Mr Dibben was the best teacher I ever had.
Mr Booth expected more of me than I did (though I mostly remember him for demoting me from pen to pencil, a judgement on the quality of my handwriting that may still be relevant.)
Miss Kelleher and Mr McKnight let me move at my own pace in maths.
Miss Claridge was hilarious, unconventional and wry.
Mme Morris taught me tact, cookery and kindness as well as French.
Frau Schomaker was a riot whom I still quote and occasionally dream about.
Mrs Freyberg was the reason I came to school.
Mr Cox showed me that I was good at English.
Mrs Rowden taught me to be a teacher.

I know I often sound like a school sceptic. I am one. But I am genuinely, deeply full of gratitude and respect for teachers: the dozens who taught me and the dozens who are my friends.

School teachers in New Zealand, as in most places, are hardworking and dedicated to long hours of interest beyond their classrooms. My mum was a teacher for four decades. Marking was just what she did in the evenings, when she wasn’t at the hockey turf, coaching, at a regional teachers’ meeting, attending a student concert or sewing costumes for the school musical. The holidays are good – good for catching up and getting ahead on your prep, that is.

Teachers give great care to their pupils, by and large. They know scores of children not only by name, but by talent, by family, by need, by quirk, by potential.

I have plenty to say that is critical of institutional schooling, and hopeful for change. It is teachers who give me hope for the present and future of formal education.


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16 comments on “Education and Schooling #2: Ode to Teachers”

  1. Jenny Bucksmith Reply

    Are you middle row, third from the right? 🙂

    Mrs Fox was my first teacher, I did lots of gestenta (sp???) copied colouring sheets.
    Mrs Currill was next.
    The name of my next teacher is on the tip of my tongue, mad I can’t get it! Pretty sure it begins with an H. Her room joined on to Mrs Fisher’s (aka Hairylegs!) via a concertina door! 🙂 Mrs Fisher was scary.
    Miss Sainsbury was a brand new teacher. I remember she gave me a card on my birthday.
    Mrs Waswo had the best name, and dark curly hair. I really liked her.
    Mrs Day introduced me to Roald Dahl through “George’s Marvellous Medicine”. Forever grateful. She also taught me during my most difficult primary school year, so kudos to her.
    Mr Normanton gave out The Endeavour Shield. I won it twice. He also introduced us to Te Reo (except it was just plain old Maori back then.) I can still remember the introduction speech we had to learn.
    Mr Miller had a thick mop of orange hair and a bushy orange moustache. He wore a strawberry patterned shirt with a shark tie! On the last day of my primary school education he gave me the last Mallowpuff from the class party for being so helpful. I was disappointed as I knew it meant I wasn’t getting the final “Certificate of excellence”.

  2. Alex Reply

    I’d guess that is Thalia too, Jenny!

    Miss Bennett took us for nature walks, showed us how to spin wool and make butter (neither of which are skills which stuck, but were pretty cool!) and was the kindest teacher you could hope to meet.
    Mrs Fletcher kindly accepted random homemade presents from my best friend and I with grace and good humour.
    Mr Collinson was the best headteacher a primary school could have, indulging our passing whims for setting up choirs, chessclubs and allsorts.

    I don’t have massively fond or memorable memories of any of my middle school teachers, although I’m sure some of them were lovely. I’ll gloss over those whose names stick in my head for the wrong reasons…

    Mr Lewis kept maths fun. He had mental arithmetic competitions to see who could leave class first, and was generally wise enough to let us all go at our own speed.
    Ms Merrion inspired me in English, and indulged our penchant for debating. She also noticed when friendships fractured and became unhealthy, and was helpful in finding a way through.
    Mr Chamberlain encouraged me to write and reflect on my own poetry, and valued what I produced.
    Mr Brown never taught me in class, but probably gave me the best advice I was ever given.

    • Caroline Reply

      I’m intrigued by Mr Brown….
      …and by the school photo – I couldn’t pick out Thalia at all. Are Alex & Jenny correct?

      • Alex Reply

        Mr Brown was our head of sixth form and gave me very sound advice about my post-school choices (gap year and university) – without him I don’t think I’d have dared apply to Oxford, nor to choose Turkish… so not very exciting advice, perhaps, but pretty formative at 17!

  3. Caroline Reply

    What a great post. I think teachers are great too and should largely be left alone to get on with the jobs they have been trained to do (we have had very meddling governments in the UK in recent time) and should be paid more.

    Mrs Hardman was my first teacher – she promoted me to “shoelace tier” after gym class as I was the only person in the class apart from her who had learned to tie my shoelaces before going to school. Everyone else used to stand in a row & we used to work our way along them.
    Mrs Malloy used to regale us with tales of her dogs.
    Miss Melia was terrifying, but had lots of different maths games that were great & had one bizzare game that involved us racing to look up phone numbers in the yellow pages (business directory)
    Mr Harvey was the headmaster & gave extra classes to kids who were struggling or who were ahead of everyone else. He also produced 3 school plays a year & threw apple cores, or whatever else remained of his lunch, at anyone who hadn’t learnt their lines. (Can’t imagine a headteacher having that much spare time these days.)
    Mr Drinkwater used to hide in the stationary cupboard at the end of breaktime and leap out on the class to catch anyone who was misbehaving because they thought he wasn’t there.
    Mrs Pesagno engaged me as a classroom assistant in her infant class when I was in the last year of primary school and they had given up teaching me anything.

    My secondary physics teacher (who shall remain nameless) turned me into a temporary physics teacher by being so bad at explaining concepts of physics to the class that I had to understand the topic and teach it to everyone else after class.
    Miss Lunt organised fascinating trips to Rome & Greece and Roman sites within the UK.
    Mrs Grant launched such a tirade against people who were “common” enough to eat while walking down the street that I’m still unable to do it for fear of bumping into her.

  4. not a wild hera Reply

    I thought of you and Mrs Grant as I thought about eating my bagel on the street the other day. (I would have, but it turned out to have the cream cheese in a pottle, not in the bagel. And also, I was scared of Mrs Grant 🙂 )

    Such a great collection of stories, Caroline! I don’t know where to begin!

    • Caroline Reply

      Oh dear – I’ve infected you with the Mrs Grant virus now.

      She had a point, but she was such a snob – she wouldn’t go on the local trams or buses because of the “sort of people” who go on there (which of course included most of her class and their parents), but she was a great teacher in her own way.

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