Ode to a Teacher

There is a memory that has been playing on my mind lately: I was six I think and my Year One teacher (if that’s what the English equivalent is, it was the year where you learn to read and write) asked me to stay after school because he wanted to discuss something with me.

Blackboard
Blackboard (Photo credit: rickerbh)

I was, quelle surprise, a precocious child and he had recently discovered that, while everyone else was mastering words, I could actually already read full sentences. He was a very popular  teacher; our school quite hippy-ish in its approach anyway (No, not quite Steiner 😉 ) and had the policy to address teachers by their first name, except for the preschool years in which we could address them as “Miss” (or “Mum”, if you forgot where you were).

This teacher would actually effectively kill off “Sir” and “Mr” by theatrically shouting “NO! “SIR” IS DEAD!” when a new student slipped up. He might have done a death-scene, but I might have made that up. Sometimes he would tell one group of pupils to clear their desks and he would make his way, stepping on and over desks towards the door. The class-clown was our teacher and he noticed I could read.

Obviously, people were aware before: my mother was. Though she was not the Tiger-mum at all, she didn’t discourage it either, using the motto: “She’ll use it one day.” My well-meaning preschool teachers thought I should play a bit longer (yeah, hippy can backfire) and insisted I kept calling the capital T in my exercise book a “parrot-stick”. (It got playfully introduced to the children with a parrot on top.)

Book Chaos
Book Chaos (Photo credit: Sharon Drummond)

Now, this happened a long time ago and I am not sure what happened first. Possibly my Year One teacher started by getting me books for a higher level to read and then made time to teach me writing exercises for the year above to get me up to speed. One day, he asked whether I was right-handed or left-handed and came back with my very first fountain pen! He showed me how to use it, the cartridges – one to click in the top, one upside-down in the lower bit of the pen and how to clean it. The rest of the class was still working with pencil, so this was a big deal.

Again, I can’t remember the order of things, extra spelling, extra maths (suddenly I had to learn times tables, where previously only adding and subtracting numbers up to 10.) Looking back on it as an adult, it seems so amazing that one person made such an effort for one child.

The biggest and best thing my teacher did however, was on that day he asked me to stay behind. When school finished that day, my friend (I still know exactly who it was) tried to pull me out of the door but I said I was asked to stay. So she left and the teacher and I sat at my desk, he sat on a pupil’s chair, which made him look silly but put us on equal level. Kind of.

Then he asked me whether my mum had already told me about his proposal, I can’t remember what I answered but I do remember what he said next: “We know you can read and write, and I think you could move up a year but the question is: Do you want to? ” There it was: I was six and I was given the power of decision-making. I could choose to move or stay, both presented as perfectly acceptable choices but being the one who made the final decision influenced my life and how I perceive myself greatly.

It truly is a wonderful thing to have someone championing your corner, to support you and to guide you, but a teacher really surpasses himself when he gives the gift of trust, responsibility and power so his student can confidently walk her path alone.

3 thoughts on “Ode to a Teacher

  1. At least one reader wants to know what the six-year-old you decided!

    ** On inspirational teachers: When I was 16 or 17 for some reason I hadn’t had time to do my maths homework. I said that to my maths teacher Mr Shaw (or as we boys referred to him not in his hearing, Les Shaw), and he said something like: that’s all right Bartlett [those were more formal times than now], you don’t need to. It was very encouraging that someone thought I was sufficiently good at maths that I didn’t necessarily need to do homework. On another occasion he asked me to recommend a Bruckner symphony to him: I was certainly very interested in Bruckner’s music, but now I can’t imagine how he knew about that. I can’t remember, but I suspect that I thought at the time that there were two non-exclusive reasons for the question: a genuine interest, and a way of encouraging me. My recollection is that I thought the former was the main reason, with the latter (if present) a useful side effect.

    ** Compliments for a teacher:

    * In an obituary of the potter Lucie Rie – all of her pupils were different [from her and from each other].

    * For a pupil to politely and correctly point out that the teacher has got something wrong.

    1. It probably was, these teachers have their sneaky ways 😉 What the six-year-old did? Well, I think she was destined to be a little restless and always a bit impatient to move forward, I think 🙂

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