Best teacher

6th August 2010 at 01:00
Summer is a time to relax, and perhaps reflect on how you approach your job. We asked eight educationalists who inspired them

ALISON FOX, Senior teaching fellow, Institute of Education, Stirling University

I loved school - and because my father's job took us around the country, I went to many. When I was 15, I ended up at James Gillespie's High (for Girls) in Edinburgh as a rather resentful teenager who did not want to leave her friends and teachers in Aberdeen. There I encountered Mrs Gray, the most wonderful history and modern studies teacher, passionate and enthusiastic for her subjects and pupils.

Most memorable was our work on the Second World War. As she introduced us to Hitler's ascent to power, she shared her own experiences as a young teacher in England being "sent to Coventry" by colleagues for daring to question the morality of Chamberlain's policy of appeasement and she wove this in with historical facts and figures, making them meaningful and memorable.

She encouraged us to read beyond school texts, which found me in my local library devouring books on Hitler's affair with Eva Braun or on Mussolini's mistress Clara Petacci and their grisly demise - so interesting for a teenage girl in the days before Hello! magazine.

She also took us to BBC studios and to the High Court (to a murder trial) - both illustrating the workings of our democracy.

GRAHAM SHORT, Executive director of educational and social services, East Ayrshire

To a small boy in the equivalent of P6, George Oxby was a towering teacher. At 6ft 4in, the presence of this ex-Spitfire pilot's calm and authoritative manner pervaded all aspects of the classroom at Kidgate County Primary in Lincolnshire.

His enthralling tales of navigating by the stars - in particular, the exotic "Beetle-juice" of RAF slang in the constellation of Orion - kindled in me a lifelong love of astronomy. He had actually lived the classroom problem of "an aeroplane sets off north at a speed of 15 mph with an easterly wind of 25 mph . ".

Mr Oxby took us into new worlds of Greek mythology: the exploits of Alexander, the 300 Spartans and the first marathon. History and geography became real, as he told us about the harshness of rural life on the Lincolnshire marshes.

Above all, he was a kind man who respected all of the children in his care, whatever their ability or background.

MICHELLE PRVULOVIC, Scottish teacher of the year 2010, Strathallan Primary, Kirkcaldy

My most inspirational teacher is no single person - there were several wonderful and inspirational teachers during my schooldays in Cowdenbeath at Foulford Primary and Beath High.

Mr Michael, an eccentric and eternally-enthusiastic music teacher - and professional jazz musician and composer - instilled a confidence I had never had. He was determined I could improvise in front of an audience. Mistakes were never a problem and any performance was worthy of praise. He never took life too seriously and generated a feeling of calm, particularly before exams.

Mrs Timney was a young vibrant music teacher with high expectations, even for those who didn't have them for themselves. She had a knack of getting a class to come together and appreciate others' talents, motivating us with modern material. We once performed a remix of a Coolio (pictured) track with the classical Pachelbel's `Canon', and afterwards felt such a sense of achievement and unity.

Mr Husband, modern studies teacher, avid Scotland supporter and driver of a VW campervan, treated students as young adults: he expected the maturity and spirit to tackle meaningful world issues. He was passionate about people's power to make a difference and his lessons were never by the book, but always thought-provoking and enlightening.

There are others who, with more space, I would want to recall: Mrs Meek, the German teacher, a super linguist and extremely supportive teacher; an English department that gave me a love of literacy and textual analysis; the maths teachers who believed I could do it when I didn't.

I was given so many opportunities and have been left with a fierce love of learning.

HUGH FRASER, Director of education, culture and sport, Highland Council

I attended Inverness Royal Academy in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The school had a number of huge characters.

We were in fear of some of our begowned teachers and in awe of the vast majority, whose knowledge of their subjects was not in question - although a passion for sharing their wisdom might not have been so evident in some cases.

The one who stuck out at the time, and has been an inspiration in my career, was history teacher Sandy Cameron. Where others ruled and got results through strictness, Sandy guided and developed young people by example. He engaged with us, argued with us, and opened up history by helping us see his subject was not about learning facts; it was about the pursuit of a better world through our understanding of what had gone before.

I used to rush up the stairs to history class. The secret, apart from his natural ability to work with young people and make them feel good about themselves, was his preparation. His lessons were beautifully constructed and balanced.

DAVID CAMERON, Former director of children's services at Stirling Council and past president of the Association of Directors of Education in Scotland

I benefited from a number of teachers throughout my school career. Growing up in Campbeltown seemed to ensure you got the full gamut of excellence, eccentricity and, at times, staff shortages and incompetence.

Frank Bigwood, known to all as Hiram, for reasons you had to be alive in the 1950s to understand, had eccentricity and excellence in spades and changed things for many of his pupils.

For me, he opened up a world of travel and the outdoors by giving me the chance to go on a school trip to Arran. We youth-hostelled, walked up hills, struggled through rain and had a brilliant laugh.

In the years that followed, I hitchhiked to places I would never have dreamt of being in. I met people who added to the lust to move on and be different. Through some of them, I discovered music and that was another element in getting out of the chrysalis, even if it was to become a moth rather than a butterfly.

LOIS LURINSKY, Scottish probationer of the year, Dalmarnock Primary, Glasgow

The first thing that struck me when I went into Ms Smith's classroom, in Dumfries Academy, was she was quite quirky. She smelled nice, wore unusual clothes and bright red lipstick. I was fascinated by her and also by the fact that she was married to Mr Tom Pow, who was an English teacher, but she didn't have his name - I had never come across that before!

She was so enthusiastic about her subject, drama, she got everyone else on board. She didn't do the same thing year in, year out. I wasn't particularly well behaved and was easily bored, but she kept me captivated and got me interested in plays by the likes of Brecht.

She also took a personal interest in us. My dad was the janitor, but he took unwell and had to retire. A lot of the time during my Higher year, I was upset and she spent a lot of time helping me.

She was also prepared to talk about herself. Some teachers are quite guarded, but if you want to make children feel comfortable to speak about themselves, you have to be prepared to do the same.

MICHAEL PURVES, Teacher at Yester Primary, East Lothian, winner of TES Schools Award for best ICT project

Iain Macaskill taught Latin at Knox Academy in Haddington, and had the uncanny knack of instilling a mixture of fear, pride and unpredictability into every pupil that walked into his classroom.

After teaching us about the Romans in first-year classical studies, he would greet those chosen to do Latin in second year as "scholars": mature and sensible people who would take nothing more serious in their school lives than daily Latin.

Hugely entertaining stories were enthusiastically acted out by Mr Macaskill, who swung his cane around in such a way that you never knew if you would be the next victim to be "stabbed" at the conclusion of a Roman battle. Those lessons were demanding, with nightly homework that was ever more challenging, along with the ultimatum that failure to succeed would result in extra PE and music lessons - total shame for a Latin scholar.

Each day, as soon as we had completed our tasks, we were told: "Let's do what a window cleaner must never do - step back and admire our work!" Like others in my class, I was told often: "Sit up, look intelligent. Oh dear, Michael, you do have a problem on your hands."

JACK BARNETT, Former president, Educational Institute of Scotland

I have a theory - later in life you only remember your teachers for either very good or very bad reasons. Bob Sim, who taught me history in the early 1960s in Thurso High, definitely fell into the former category.

Bob was simply inspirational and he breathed life - interspersed with great humour - into the dreariest of historical topics and inspired us with a sense of social justice. Above all, he treated us with respect as young adults.

It is no coincidence that two members of that history class, Sandy Fowler and I, became history teachers and national presidents of the EIS teaching union.

Beyond school, our paths continued to cross, as Bob became history adviser for Grampian region and I became a history teacher in Fraserburgh Academy where he began his career. He often visited the school, bearing gifts for the department - the most important were his words of support and wisdom.

As adviser, Bob also supported a history teacher called Kay Timmins, in Rosehearty School near Fraserburgh. She was to become my wife and is currently national EIS president.

When Kay and I drive to EIS meetings in Inverurie, where Bob also taught and lived in his retirement, I picture him in my mind's eye - and hope that a little of what he was I could also be.

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