In Praise of Teachers: One of the regrets of my life is my lack of appreciation of the teachers who (as it turned out) have moulded my journey through life. By the time I came to an awareness of their influence, it was too late to repay that debt of gratitude. And so I dedicate this to all teachers everywhere, with the reminder that even if your students resemble brick walls, you have more power and more influence than you realise, or for which you are given credit.
I freely admit I was a problem student. But even as a child in kindergarten I longed to be in Mrs Patterson-Kuhn’s class, because she covered the blackboard with beautiful drawings of fantasy creatures, elves and fairies. When we were given stencils to colour in, I was desperate to get the ones with dragons or princesses rather than a boring bat & ball or tree. I never did, but my love of drawing and colour began then and has lasted all my life.
Later in primary school I was so glad to be in Mr Skinner’s class. Every Friday before we went home, he would invite us to think of three words which he would then weave into an exciting story to tell us. We always looked forward to story time on Friday. Even at that age I loved stories and reading, and I used to write my own stories, and illustrate them too, but I never thought of writing fiction as a career option until my mid-years. Looking back now, I think of Mr Skinner and wish I, too, could make up such exciting stories off the top of my head!
We had some horror teachers too, of course. In second class, with Miss Jones, we spent every morning for an entire year reciting our times tables. She was a strict teacher who took no prisoners. I was a bit frightened of her, and I loathed the learning and the recitation – but I can still multiply without a calculator (one of my few mathematical skills) and for that I am now grateful. Not being particularly interested in maths, I used to ‘sit out’ arithmetic and amuse myself under the desk the following year, with another teacher who seemed blind to my shenanigans. A particular bugbear was problems. Q: if X does this, and Y & Z do something else, what is the result? A: who cares? Needless to say, I consistently failed maths throughout my time at school.
High school was one long nightmare. I was sent away to boarding school – utterly confronting for a loner with few people skills. Looking back, I was a moody, difficult teenager, full of angst and very much into self-expression, writing bad poetry and locking myself into a music room to thunder on the piano for hours at a time. Several teachers were my salvation: Miss Bullock, my music teacher, encouraged my musical ability, and brought in records (78 rpm for those old enough to remember) which she played on a wind-up gramophone so that I could listen to and learn about ‘real music’. I still choke up with pleasure and remembered pain when I listen to Brahms’ Second Piano Concerto, Schubert’s impromptus, Chopin’s preludes and Grieg’s evocative piano concerto.
Mrs James opened my eyes to the impressionists, and encouraged us to try painting in this way. Messing about with paints and taking inspiration from Monet, Pisarro, Renoir, Gauguin et al gave me hours of pleasure.
Mrs Hutton introduced me to a whole new world of literature – even if on one memorable occasion (when I was pulling faces over the poetry of Keats) she told me to get outside if I was going to be sick. I never told her that before I left school, I copied out many of Keats’ ‘sick-making’ odes because I’d grown to love them so. Nor did I tell her that the war poems of Wilfred Owen we studied, and poems such as Louis McNeice’s Prayer Before Birth, are still engraved on my memory, along with the stirring speeches of Shakespeare’s Henry V.
I still love and appreciate music and painting. Even though I no longer practice them, that legacy has lasted a lifetime. My greatest regret is that I didn’t take my love of reading and of writing and telling stories seriously until later in life. But withou
t those teachers’ encouragement and nurturing, perhaps I might never have found those things in life that give me true joy.
So, teachers, even if your input is not acknowledged at the time, remember that your words may be the spark that lights the bushfire, that changes lives and that may even change the world as we know it.
Please pass this on to all the teachers in your lives!

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