Here, in newspapers and on-line, people were invited to tell of their experiences of being inspired or helped by a particular teacher during their student days.
Some of the stories that emerged were heart-warming, providing enjoyable reading but another off-shoot of this invitation was a small contribution of tales about teachers who had drastically underestimated – or undermined – kids’ abilities and ambitions.
One reminiscence that moved me came from journalist & author Julia Baird, who told of the teacher who informed her (as a 16 year-old) that “There is nothing new under the sun, Julia. No thought, no idea - they have all been said before.”
What an awful thing to say to an inquiring student. Fortunately Julia did not believe her history teacher and went on to have an excellent (one of Julia’s favourite words) career in journalism and the literary world.
These stories got me to thinking about my school days. I was a reluctant scholar in many ways, even though I quite enjoyed learning. I simply had a negative view of school – not helped at all by the many stern and rigidly boring teachers I encountered. I was not alone. A school friend, with whom I am still in constant contact many decades after school days ended, was once told by our head mistress, “The problem with you, Jessica, is that you have delusions of grandeur!” It was a statement aimed at reducing Jessica’s enthusiasm for acting in school productions, most of which turned into boring performances by being denied enthusiastic performances by the likes of Jessica.
In my memoir, I have included an anecdote from my final year at school. It goes like this:
Near the end of the school year, our form mistress, Miss Lea-Wright (I always reckoned that she made up that name) asked me, in front of the class, what I planned to do when I left school. Knowing that she held me in very low regard, I stood up, as was required when spoken to, and replied, “I don’t want to tell you.”
“Don’t be ridiculous, girl. I’d like to know.”
Her smirking false smile made my flesh creep.
“I’d rather not say,” was my reply.
“And, why not, pray?” She was getting angry.
“Because you’ll laugh at me,” was my brave, but determined answer.
“I will not laugh at you, Dianna. Tell me how you are going to spend your life.”
This time it was an order.
“I’m going to be a teacher.” My voice was little more than a whisper.
“Thank you. You may sit down.”
There was no further comment and my flaming cheeks and teetering tears eventually calmed.
I DID become a teacher. I taught for about 30 years in primary schools and (for six gruelling years) in a Special School for disabled children – two of those years as Principal.
I loved my teaching career and I loved the children in my care.
Not often, but I did occasionally think of Miss Lea-Wright and wonder what she would think if she could see me now.
I really don’t think she would have been interested.