They say that nobody forgets a good teacher; the truth of this is illustrated regularly in TES’ “My Best Teacher” feature (see page 33).
Reading the latest celebrity memories made me wonder who my own best teacher was and I was dismayed to find that no one really sprang to mind (which probably explains why I wound up a teacher and not an Oscar-winning actress). But then I remembered Mrs Brennan.
She was my first teacher and embodied all that was good in the world. Smiling and serene, with a beautiful singing voice, it was like being taught by Julie Andrews in her heyday. We all loved her.
After that, apart from a great second-year junior teacher with a knack for teaching history that has me obsessing over William the Conqueror to this day, there was a distinct lack of best teachers populating my school landscape.
In fact, it was literally years before a teacher inspired me to do anything other than hand my homework in on time. But then I went to university and discovered a whole new breed. I remember the Icelandic literature professor who shared my love of AS Byatt and whose top bookshelves were filled with bottles of red wine; the Old English specialist who showcased his acting skills in medieval mystery plays from the lecture theatre table-top and the softly-spoken 20th century lecturer who taught DH Lawrence in a way that had every female fighting for a place in his seminars.
None of them ever looked as if they were trying to teach us (in fact, I think many of them struggled to remember that we were in the room) but I found them fascinating. They were so unlike any teachers I’d ever had: eccentric (in the way that people who have spent most of their adult lives alone in a library often are), but with a palpable enthusiasm for their subject.
They weren’t teaching you to pass an exam; they didn’t give a damn about what colour you wrote in or whether you triple-underlined your title.
Forget what they say about vocations. Priesthood is a vocation, teaching is a job – but, in certain hands, it can also be an art form. It’s a pretty safe bet that none of these teachers featured in the weekly celebrity tributes deliberately set out to inspire others. More often than not, it relies on a little eccentricity and a certain disregard for the rules.
Truly gifted teachers would be just as effective if there were no Ofsted, no spreadsheets, no changing curriculum: which is why turning their job into 30 per cent teaching, 70 per cent administration is a bit like booking Leonardo da Vinci to do your decorating then asking him to whitewash the garage walls.
Currently, every week brings fresh stories of more teachers fleeing the system to teach abroad. Let’s hope that the really inspiring ones aren’t among them – if only for the sake of future generations of celebrities.
Jo Brighouse teaches at a primary school in the Midlands