Given a voice to shout out for those with none

17th July 2009 at 01:00
What makes a good teacher

I not only remember good teachers from my schooldays, I also remember many colleagues who were spectacular in the classroom.

Is it a subtle mixture of liking not just their subject, but also their pupils? Or, more to the point, are they very skilled at making every pupil feel valued and liked - even when they aren't?

It is the greatest gift you can give a child - a teacher they like. It makes all the difference. It solves discipline problems and, if they feel safe, gives pupils the confidence to do their best.

Jim Bell, who runs the RE department in Carnoustie High, is one of the good guys. I once saw pupils I considered real roughie toughies - who do not give respect easily - cluster round to shake his hand.

But he also does something else. He raises money in the community for causes he considers important, and encourages his pupils to help. Aiming to build one much-needed house in the Bugesera area in Rwanda, he raised enough for nine. The pupils raised enough themselves for the tenth.

Jim took pupils to Auschwitz, sponsored by Holocaust Education. The assemblies these seniors ran afterwards were met by a stunned silence.

After he told pupils about Joseph Kony in Northern Uganda - who recruits and terrorises child soldiers to fight in a war they want nothing to do with - they not only raised more than Pounds 1,000 for the Invisible Children, a charity working to free child soldiers, they also wanted to join an overnight protest against Kony in Edinburgh. Needless to say, Jim went along to look after them.

This is a man who has not just taught his pupils humanity, he has also taught them how powerful their voice is, that their actions count and that they can help change things they feel strongly about.

At a time when the world seems so full of pain, suffering, deprivation and evil, I find it immensely comforting that we are educating a generation of children not only to be aware of global issues and to have compassion for those who are suffering so much, but also to feel their voice will be heard.

And to not be scared to shout out loud.

Penny Ward is a secondary teacher.

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