The Impact of Teachers

Do you remember a teacher from your school days, or university days who has had an impact on your life?

I’m sure that all of us have stories about teachers who we recall with both favourable and negative memories.

Having celebrated World Teacher’s Day this week, I started to think about the teachers in my life and also, how during the recent lockdown, parent’s attitudes towards teaching may have changed.

The changing view of teachers in our communities

 I’m sure most of us would agree that respect is earned and not an automatic expectation. However, in previous generations teachers were highly respected in their communities, purely by job title alone. Parents stood by the word of teachers against their own children, accepting the teacher’s decisions as sacrosanct.

Yet, today, teachers don’t have that automatic respect. In many ways, maybe rightly too, because they are mere mortals, like the rest of us.

Having worked in education for 34 years, I regularly had conversations with people whose perception was, that teachers didn’t work hard, had far too many holidays, and it was an easy job anyone could do.

Also, over the years, I too recognised the change in attitude from parents towards teachers.

When I began teaching, in the early 1970’s, in Birmingham, parents would willingly accept the word of teachers, actively encouraging us to reprimand their children when behaving badly. Whereas, when I was an advisory teacher in the 1980’s, parents would take the side of their child, despite all evidence showing the opposite to be true.  

One particular incident was where, during a lesson, a child had picked up a chair and thrown it at me. It missed me and crashed into the record player. This was a primary aged child and their teacher who I was supporting, was also in the classroom. According to the parent, it was my fault.  How things change!

Interestingly, during lockdown, parents teaching their own child, or children seem to have developed a greater respect for teachers. They have recognised how tiring it is to keep children focussed and engaged.  And of course, they don’t have a class of thirty children to deal with.

Negative and positive impact of teachers

During my education I have met more wonderful teachers who have impacted positively on my life, than the few, who affected me negatively.

The first teacher I remember was my teacher in my reception class at Infant school.  Her name was Miss Stone – she may have been a Mrs, but we called everyone ‘Miss’ in those days.

She was a very caring teacher, who was strict when required to be, but also comforting and funny. We felt safe in her care.

My nemesis at Junior school was Miss Johnson. She was the teacher in my last year, before moving to secondary school. 

Every morning after prayers, we started the day with Mental Maths.  Maths is my worst subject, even to this day.

The book was called “10 a day Mental Maths”.  We had to write down the answers and then our neighbour marked them.  If you got 3 or below, you had to stand on your chair.

I had to stand on my chair most days! 

I felt extremely stupid and this feeling of failure was exaggerated, because in our class we had some pupils who had jumped a year ahead of their learning age and yet, they never had to stand on their chairs.

This wasn’t the only problem I had with her.  On my very first day in her classroom, she would not believe I could have been christened with my name; Lisbeth.

Having raised my hands several times to say she had written it incorrectly on the board, I got sent out to the Headmistresses office.  I returned with a note, that I presume informed her that Lisbeth, was in fact my Christian name. I received no apology, and was told to sit down quietly.

I would love to see her coping with the variety of names in classrooms these days.

My other negative run-in with a teacher, was sadly, my English A level teacher.  

At school I was lacking in confidence when it came to my ability and although confident to talk to people, I had been brought up by older parents, to respect teachers and not answer back. I had also been taught that honesty was very important.

In a lesson where he was talking about Julius Caesar being a Caesarean baby, he maintained that Caesar was of weak character, because he hadn’t had to fight his way into the world.

Our teacher then asked if there were any Caesarean babies in the classroom, with the suggestion that he didn’t think there would be. I, of course, put my hand up to answer, because I am a Caesarean baby. His reaction…. a very sarcastic, ‘Mmmm’.

I know that shouldn’t have upset me, but it did.  I always felt belittled by him and because I let his sarcasm affect me, I eventually gave up A level English.

Now, it is something I regret, but the main thing I learnt from him, was to never, ever use sarcasm in my teaching career.

Teachers of positive impact.

My English teacher at middle school, Mr Page, encouraged my writing, and taught me how to plan a story. I still remember receiving a B+ for a story about a jungle expedition.

You may think I have low expectations of myself, but from Mr Page, a B+ was almost an excellent; he rarely gave A’s.

The other teacher from school who I remember with great fondness was Mrs. Wagner, my Art teacher.

I studied A level art with her, and out of her class, I was the only one who didn’t go on to study at Art College. I had already decided on a career in music.

Mrs. Wagner was an excellent teacher.  In my role as a schools’ adviser and OFSTED inspector, I was once asked to support a failing Art teacher in a secondary school.

Along with the teaching pedagogy I had learned over the years, I thought back to Mrs. Wagner’s lessons and how she would have taught the class I was watching. All those years later, I was still able to pass on her knowledge, for which I was thankful.

Not long after this, I wrote to thank her and tell her how she had continued to help me in my teaching career.

Sadly, I received a very sad, but lovely letter from her husband, telling me she had died very suddenly after retiring, and how grateful he as to hear from me.

The other teacher who has impacted greatly on my own teaching career, is Manola Grecul, my piano teacher from Music College.

Manola, is only about ten years older than me and we still talk on the phone regularly.

Her style of teaching and imparting knowledge has made a huge impact on the way I teach and I can never thank her enough for the gift she gave me.

Both of these teachers gave me models to build my own teaching style on, giving me the tools and understanding of what good teaching was.  In fact, I gained more from them, than I did in my teacher training year, following my three years at music college.I know that teaching is something that is part of my psyche, and I love being able to empower others to learn and feel good about their achievements.

Most of us, if we think back to our educators, would probably recognise that we would not be where we are without having received and then embraced what they taught us.

Who are your favourite teachers?

“It is the supreme art of the teacher to awaken joy in creative expression and knowledge”.

Albert Einstein