Schooled

I’ve been thinking about teachers lately. How some of them affect us for the rest of our lives.

I know there are some ‘bad apple’ teachers, and I haven’t forgotten the teacher who mocked my seersucker dress at Grade 8 camp, not naming any names Mrs Nichols (who would now be at least eighty, so I guess I can forgive her; also in her defence it was an extremely ugly dress).

But there are so many excellent teachers to remember – teachers who day after day gave their time, their effort, their kindness. Teachers who stood out for their enthusiasm (Ms Yanardasis). For how they made us laugh (definitely Ms Sothman). For their faith in us (dear Mr Sole, who had no children of his own but treated all the Grade 8’s like his beloved children).

I have a real soft spot for teachers. Several friends are teachers. Our lovely neighbour is a teacher. And both my parents were teachers.

My mother taught in special education. She worked hard, focusing on what would benefit each student, rather than striving for an arbitrary standard. For some children, it was learning to chew and swallow solid food. For others, it was discovering how to make a sandwich, or how to take turns in conversation. Mum knew that acquiring important life skills trumped adding 3 plus 4 (though she’d teach that, too, if the child was ready). She often took students home overnight, or for the weekend, to give their parents respite (not something that would ever be allowed these days, but something I remember as typical of Mum’s giving nature).

My father taught high school for most of his career. He was a different kind of teacher – often given the ‘tough’ classes because he had such an air of authority that kids didn’t muck up. But my father was dedicated to his job, too, spending hours at the university library researching his subjects (Geography and Earth Science), so he could teach the latest developments in each field. And though he was strict, he understood that different students had various capabilities. He wanted students to achieve their personal best.

Now my daughter tutors high school students, and I love how she caters to the individual. For one child who is constantly restless and touching things on the desk, my daughter has worked in short breaks for them to dance, or do jumping jacks, and she bought a ‘fiddle toy’ for the student to hold. I’m proud of my daughter’s innovation and commitment.

But the teacher I’ve been thinking about most of all is my Yr 11 and 12 English teacher, Ms B. She wasn’t one of those teachers everyone adores. She was quieter, and more reserved than most. She struggled with controlling the class sometimes, and would get stressed and annoyed (understandably). And many of us, myself included, were shocked when we received our marks for the first piece of assessment. They were quite low compared to other classes, and compared to what we’d been used to receiving. Although my mark was one of the higher ones, I received a 15 or 16 out of 20. At first, I was irritated. Didn’t Ms B know I was a good at this subject?

She was absolutely right. That piece deserved the lower mark, because it was decent but lazy, like all my writing to that point. So the next time I submitted, I spent more time on the assignment. I got half a mark more. I tried even harder with the next one, and my result bumped up again (but only a little). By the time I finished Grade 12, I’d made it to 18.5 out of 20 and I was jubilant! Not at the mark, but at how I’d improved, little by little, by not being satisfied with ‘adequate’ work, when it was within me to do better.

A good teacher leaves a lasting legacy, and that may not be evident for many years. I hadn’t thought about Ms B much since leaving high school, but these days I think of her often and with great appreciation.

When If You’re Happy comes out, I hope to send a copy to Ms B. I’d like to tell her in a card how – over thirty years down the track – she helped me write a better book.

10 Comments

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10 responses to “Schooled

  1. Love this piece Fiona. My best teacher was Babs Barton who filled our classroom with colour abs creativity and taught us about sentence construction and even some Latin! She was a marvel and an inspiration- for both teaching and writing. Xxx

    • Babs Barton sounds amazing, and also what a great name! Teachers really leave such a legacy, don’t they? You of course are a perfect example of this. Thanks for reading Ed. ❤️

  2. Beautiful piece, Fi. When you’re in the thick of it at school, the bad eggs seem to stand out more, but 30+ years down the track, it’s the good ones whose legacy lingers. I kept in contact with my French teacher and she came to our wedding. Your daughter sounds like she’s a lovely tutor. Also, I’d have been pretty happy with 15 or 16 out of 20! 🙂

    • Oh that’s so lovely about your French teacher, Louise! I loved my French teacher, too.
      And yeah, I must have been up myself to want a better mark than 15 or 16 out of 20! – but I think English was the one thing I actually did have confidence about at that age… and learnt such a great lesson from Ms B about not being complacent.
      xx

  3. Lovely post, Fiona. Great to have someone cheering for the teachers. It is such a hard and undervalued job and most are very dedicated to their students. Sounds like your parents were wonderful teachers and now your daughter is doing great work, too. Also seems Mrs B knew what she was doing, motivating you to improve, which you obviously did because you are such a great writer now. She would be very proud of you, I’m sure.

    • Hi Karen, I absolutely agree about teachers being undervalued. All those jokes about short workdays and long holidays fall on deaf ears with me, because I saw the hours my parents spent both before and after school, and during school holidays – marking and preparing work, attending school events, coaching, supervising etc. Also purchasing supplies out of their own pocket. Buying food for students with no lunches. All the things I’m sure you know only too well!
      Thanks for reading 💗

  4. Maureen Helen

    A lovely tribute to the teachers who influenced you and your writing, Fiona and to your parents and daughter.

    • Thank you Maureen. I’ve been very lucky to have so many great teachers in my life.
      Hope you’re keeping well and wonderful to see on Facebook you’ve had your first Covid-19 vaccination, hooray! x

  5. I’m impressed how clearly you remember so many of your teachers, Fiona! It’s so valuable to reflect on the people in our past – I just wish I had a better memory! It’s such a classic that you remember so clearly the marks you had to strive for. Getting the right balance of firm but fair as a teacher is something I’m always thinking about! Great post.

    • Oh yes, teachers play such a vital role in our lives, it seems only natural to remember them, to me. Remembering what marks I got for certain things is a little odd though, I agree! I think I felt so much pressure to achieve (from parents and probably from within, too) that I noticed these things way too much!
      I’m sure you are a lovely teacher – the fact that you carefully consider how you’re doing says it all really.
      Thank you for reading Annie x

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