Instead of celebrities naming their most inspiring teacher we ask teachers to name those who made a difference to them

3rd August 2007 at 01:00
Instead of asking celebrities to identify their most inspiring teacher, we go straight to the chalkface and ask teachers to name those who made a difference to them


Devoted to de Gaulle

Curly or Ellis Stuart, but no one called him that was the head of French at Inverness Royal Academy, says the head of academic administration, High School of Dundee.

He used to run a 20 foot aerial around the classroom to get French radio. He'd be in his classroom at 7am listening to the French news and recorded it on a reel-to-reel tape recorder. If there was anything about General de Gaulle (below) we had to listen to it. We learned amazing vocabulary.

We also used to have to read observational pieces, these vignettes, about life in Provence by Alphonse Daudet. They would probably be considered university standard now but we used to read these things and would have to note down "useful and useable" expressions. The academic rigour applied to what we did was amazing.

Then there was the Latin mistress, Jess Thomson. She was dux of the school in 1924, had gone away and taken a degree, and returned. She retired in 1972, two years after I left. She ruled the classroom from behind a big, high desk with a rod of iron. She was the most marvellous teacher. She taught from The Approach to Latin, by James Paterson and Edward George Mcnaughton, and you jolly well learned it.

Sandy Cameron taught history. We learned the history of Europe from 1789 to 1914. All the kings were chaps and all the wars were rugby matches.

They were an amazing bunch of teachers. There was not one particular best teacher they were all good.


History did not repeat itself

Des Brogan, my history teacher at Holy Rood High in Edinburgh, was my best teacher, says the maths development officer at Learning and Teaching Scotland, seconded from St Margaret's Academy, Livingston.

There were two others who were also very influential Arthur Biagi, my maths teacher, and Gordon Lobban, my geography teacher.

Mr Brogan was very enthusiastic, very funny, very entertaining. He tried to make what could be a dull subject as interesting as possible. He had a variety of textbooks, resources, TV programmes there was never the same thing two days in a row. His enthusiasm just shone through and the way he taught was quite exceptional.

I have tried to be a mixture of all three teachers in my own teaching particularly Mr Lobban, my geography teacher. He would try to find ways to illustrate something so that it became memorable he would be dancing about or making up a song. I remember when he was teaching us about glaciers (Moreno glacier, Argentina, right) and quarries, he would jump about and pretend to be a member of the band The Corries I remember that 25 years on.

I probably wouldn't have become a maths teacher if it hadn't been for Mr Biagi. He was so good at explaining things.


Science of public speaking

I was very lucky, says the learning support teacher at Lasswade High, Midlothian. I went to Eyemouth High during the 1980s and it was a fantastic school with excellent teachers. But the ones who really inspired me were my English teacher, Fiona Norris, and the entire science department.

I spent most of my time at secondary in the science department, helping the technician put together kits and plastic covers on the books. I was a geek I studied all three sciences and became a chemistry teacher.

It was such an enthusiastic department: Mr McMullan taught physics, Mr Stewart chemistry and Mr Norris biology. They were good teachers who went out of their way to make things fun and to help you. If you needed a hand with anything, they would give up their time at break or lunch and there were after-school study classes.

Fiona Norris was fantastic. With her I started public speaking and debating. She used to take us round Scotland for competitions. From her I got the confidence to stand up and speak in public, which is obviously a key part of being a teacher.


Best of the best

Even though my background is in computing, I studied geography until second year at university and that was largely because of my geography teacher at Our Lady's High School, Motherwell, Brian Keown, says the computing teacher at St Andrew's High School, Coatbridge.

He had great enthusiasm for his subject and he was an experienced teacher, so his classroom management was spot on. I can still remember the details of what he taught us and that was back in the 1980s.

We used to call him Big Hiram. He had a powerful presence. He was a big man well over 6ft. Nobody really messed with him. He wasn't the primary reason I went into teaching my dad, who was head of techie at the same school, suggested I go into teaching but he was definitely a factor.

My dad never taught me. Like Mr Keown, he was well respected so I never got bullied. Where I felt the pressure was that I had to keep my nose clean and behave. Thinking about it now, I probably liked Mr Keown because of the similarities between him and my dad.


Nothing fancy about Nancy

I came into teaching believing that a teacher does make the difference, says the executiveregistrar of the GTCS.

My life was changed by the inspirational teaching of Nancy Mackenzie, my P4 teacher in Aird Junior Secondary in Lewis.

I have more than once publicly acknowledged Nancy as the most important and effective teacher I had. I remember her sparkling eyes, her interest in the individual, her ability to instil fear in us, her wonderfully clear voice and, at the end of it all, her infectious chuckle. Above all, she was an inspiring teacher who introduced me to the joys of reading and to the idea that knowledge was important for its own sake.

In the summer of 1999, just before she died, I visited her in hospital in Stornoway. was able to spend time with her. We talked about school and about my sisters and brother. I was intrigued, but not surprised, that she knew what each of us was doing. I also realised how modest she was and how little she wanted or needed praise.

Nancy was one of the most significant formative influences on my life.


Peace be with you

Alf Ellery, my English teacher at Broughton High in Edinburgh, was later a colleague when I did my first teaching job I don't believe for a minute I would have become a teacher if it hadn't been for him, says the national CPD co-ordinator.

I didn't come from a background where there was a tradition of learning or commitment to education in any major way, and he really introduced me to the great writers Dickens (above) and Lamb in a way that really engaged me. He told me I had abilities in these areas and I could do well. I had regard for him, so I believed him.

He had been a soldier during the Second World War with the 8th Army and served in North Africa, Italy and other parts of Europe, and he had a passionate commitment to peaceful responses to situations.

Along with one of his colleagues, he also ran "lit and deb" a kind of debating club which really gave us the opportunity to talk about issues and explore thinking and what we believed in, which was an important part of our growing up.

When I joined the school as a teacher, he was nearing the end of his career. I think he found my attitude to him quite embarrassing he didn't think he had done anything special or significant when I spoke to him about how grateful I was for what he had given me.


Three cheers for Mrs Bertie

It would have to be Alison Bertie, says the teacher at West Coats Primary in South Lanarkshire. She was my English teacher at Monifieth High in third and fourth year.

It was a mixed-ability class. Some of us were quite bright, but there were some children who, if you were being diplomatic, you would describe as "challenging". What I found interesting was that, although in classes with other teachers it would be anarchy, with her they never stepped out of line.

She just expected the class to behave it was as if there wasn't a choice. She could be quite sarcastic but not in a mean way, in a funny way. In Mrs Bertie's class I always felt safe. I was still quite quiet then and wouldn't speak out if I felt I was going to be mocked or ridiculed.

I had another teacher for Higher English who wasn't as good. I don't think I would have got an A if it hadn't been for Mrs Bertie. Third and fourth year were far from wasted years; she pushed us and gave us a good grounding for Higher.


A prince among men

I went through hard times when I was a teenager and my technical teacher, Ashley Kimber, at Queen Anne High in Dunfermline, was the bloke who was there for me, says the design, engineering and technology teacher at Lochgelly High in Fife.

I had been adopted and I left home at 15. My life fell apart. I was in my own flat on housing benefit and income support while still at school. He was there for the whole calamity. He was a tremendous bloke. He was ready to talk about the deep and meaningful stuff if you needed it, but he also took me and my friends to gigs he played bass guitar in a band.

He looks like Beelzebub (below). He's stick thin, to the point of being really scary, with a goatie. He never shouted but he had excellent discipline. He inspired me to have confidence in school.

At primary, my final report said: "Scott will never achieve anything academically." And although I was talented when it came to engineering and computers, I didn't really know what to do with it.

He was a fantastic classroom teacher with an outstanding depth of knowledge and a passion for his subject. If I was half as good as him I would be happy.

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