My best teacher - Mr Pocock by Sir Michael Wilshaw

15th May 2015 at 01:00
Ofsted's chief inspector remembers the flamboyant disciplinarian who inspired his career as a history teacher

I went to Clapham College in South London. In those days it was a small boys' Catholic grammar school. I lived in Streatham and had to get the 118 bus every day. The buses were always on strike and I remember trying to get to school through the snow, come what may.

I suppose Clapham College was a good school for its time. But I think teachers now are enormously better than they were then. A lot of them flew by the seat of their pants, from my memory. They didn't do a lot of preparation and adopted a very didactic style of teaching that wouldn't work with significant numbers of today's children.

Cecil Pocock was my history teacher. I remember him because he was a character. All great teachers are characters and he certainly was: he combined flamboyance with severity. He was quite a tough disciplinarian, as many were in those days; he wasn't averse to barking at children.

But Mr Pocock had our respect because he had a natural gift for communication. He used straightforward didactic teaching - he'd get this little yellow exercise book that he said would be the guarantee of O-level success, and all he did was dictate from it while we tried to keep up. But occasionally, one lesson in every three, he would say: "No yellow book today, boys, I'm going to talk to you about something."

Mr Pocock was a passionate monarchist. He would talk about the kings and queens, and about what a wonderful country we lived in. He thought that it was the most important country in the world - one that we should be proud of for all sorts of reasons - and that we were lucky to be born here. He would say that people had died for the principles the country espoused: democracy, freedom and tolerance.

He would also talk about the personalities and characters of history, from William the Conqueror to Gladstone and Disraeli. I think all great teachers are people who can talk about complex issues and people in a very simple, interesting way. Mr Pocock brought the subject to life. All of us in the class, even my friends who didn't particularly like history, loved his lessons because he was a magnetic and engaging character.

I always remember him coming into the classroom. Teachers came to us, rather than us going round the school, so between lessons there was always a bit of hurly-burly and mucking about. But as soon as Mr Pocock walked in there was a hush, which wasn't the case for all the teachers. You knew he was a tough guy.

He would stand at the front of the class in his gown, put his hand up and say "pax". We were 11 years old; we didn't understand what "pax" meant. But he would just stand there. That's all he had to do. He had a bristling little moustache and slicked-back black hair: every inch a military-type figure.

He used to arrive at school very early in the morning. I would go in early myself to play football and he would always be there, sitting in the playground marking books and keeping an eye on the students.

He knew every one of us. That was what we loved about him: not only was he a good teacher but he was also an incredibly committed one. Mr Pocock was committed to his subject, to the school, to extracurricular activity. He always used to lead school journeys here, there and everywhere.

I think we all fell foul of him if we didn't do our homework. He would punish us. But we always knew he was a compassionate man; we respected him but we didn't fear him. We knew he liked children and enjoyed teaching them and working with them. He got that balance absolutely right.

Cecil Pocock was inspirational. I picked up my love of history from him - he is primarily the reason I became a history teacher. He loved his subject; to be a great teacher you've got to love your subject. That came through.

Later on I tried to do the same: to show the young people I taught that history was really, really important and that the great heroes of history are people worth studying. That's why I became a history teacher. I miss it.

Sir Michael Wilshaw is chief inspector of schools in England. He was talking to Stephen Exley

Closer inspection

Sir Michael Wilshaw

Born 3 August 1946

Education: Clapham College, South London; Birkbeck College, University of London; St Mary's College, West London

Career: After almost 20 years working in schools across London, Sir Michael was appointed headteacher of St Bonaventure's in 1985. He was knighted for services to education in 2000, moving to Mossbourne Community Academy three years later. He has been chief inspector at Ofsted since 2012

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