Today, on my sister’s birthday, some sad news reached us: one of our old maths teachers died of a heart-attack whilst out cycling with his son. My flatmate remarked it was a very Dutch way to go. When I say old maths teacher, I don’t actually mean his age: in fact, he is a similar age to my parents and I dare anyone to call my mother old to her face! (Still, the fact is a little terrifying.)
Mr H. was a great teacher, even though he never intended to go into teaching. He wanted to a carpenter or do something more creative. He met a girl, got married, had a family and decided he needed a more stable career to provide for them.
He was one of the rare teachers who, despite 25 years of teaching experience – oh didn’t we all know it- , didn’t believed there was just one way of doing things. If you’d told him you didn’t understand him, he wouldn’t just repeat the same thing but louder (in case you meant to say you hadn’t heard him) but tried a different method. Even better, when you still didn’t get it, instead of declaring you thick: he would ask you to explain to him how you had solved a problem (with the mistake) – so he could trace your steps and identify where you went wrong.
He was the person who walked through the school library one day, passed the shelves I was hiding behind, then as in a movie walked backwards and looked through the shelves at me. ” Er..are you ok?” I was in floods of tears. One of my friends had left for a clinic the day prior and despite feeling relieved that she finally got help, I also felt utterly sad and confused. He sat me in his office and he gave me a glass of water. I was a little embarrassed and worried that I would have to explain to him what happened but then he left the room. When he came back, my best friend was following him: he had taken her out of her class with the simple words “I think your friend needs you”. He asked if he was needed, and then just let us be. I appreciated his insight:
1. He knew what was going on.
2. He realised he wasn’t the best person to solve the situation.
3. He knew exactly who would be the best person to solve the problem.
No ego, no panic, just simply adding up the facts, and combining this with an interest in and knowledge of his students.
Your students will miss you, Mr H.: may you finally get to create beautiful clouds in heaven.