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Katherine Bilsborough - An influential teacher
Maybe it was someone from when you were at school, or maybe someone you work with currently. How have they shaped what you do in the classroom? What techniques or values do you employ that are the result of what you learned from this person?
One of the benefits of working from home is being able to listen to the radio while I work. I’ve recently discovered BBC Radio 6 Music and I especially enjoy the interviews with new groups who are invited into the studio to talk about their roots. There are some amazing new musicians out there. The most interesting part of the interview is when the musicians talk about their influences and about how other musicians have had an impact on their own work.
When TeachingEnglish came up with this month’s topic Can you think of a teacher who has had an impact on you? It got me to thinking and I realised that teachers, like musicians, have their teaching styles shaped by their own teachers and teaching colleagues – in the same way as musicians, who learn from their predecessors and contemporaries. I also realised that these influences aren’t always positive. Sometimes we learn ‘what not to do’.
Permit me to share a few anecdotes that illustrate some of the most useful lessons that I’ve learnt from other teachers.
I don’t remember all of my Infant School teachers but those I do remember, smiled a lot and sometimes they sang. We can’t all be musical, but we can all smile.
Of all the things I was taught at Junior School, the ones that I remember most were all different in some way – a science lesson with real leaves, an art lesson outdoors. You know the sort of thing. It isn’t always practical to change the location of your lessons, but there’s always something you can change to stop boredom setting in; the table and chair arrangement, your position (or role) in the classroom …
I wasn’t a model student at Secondary School and the least written about that, the better. Now that I’m a teacher myself I am mortified and fully repentant for all the headaches I must have caused. Teachers must have had trouble trying to motivate me but even so, some did. My Geology teacher realised early on that I wasn’t a science type. But however disappointing my marks might have been, he always had something good to say about my efforts. His praise of my fossil drawings (that illustrated a grade D essay) gave me the confidence to do Art A Level. We can all find something to praise a student for; punctuality, handwriting, effort (all too often overlooked)
My English teacher wasn’t as sweet natured as my Geology teacher. Sometimes she resorted to humiliation and sarcasm. And sometimes I was the victim of her scorn. This usually consisted of a question of mine being responded to with something like ‘Oh what a stupid question!’. Needless to say, I stopped asking questions and any English qualifications I have today have been earned despite Mrs E. Teenagers are great at winding up their teachers. Sarcasm isn’t the answer, however tempting it might sometimes be. When it gets really tough, ask for help. And of course, no question is a stupid question.
I did Spanish Studies at university and most of my teachers inspired me. I think I was lucky. The Art History lecturer was more like a magician using tricks of pace and timing. From our first two-hour lecture I was hooked. He put on a slide of Velazquez’s ‘Las Meninas’ , turned out the lights and spent the first hour eliciting ideas and theories from us about what it all meant. Then he thanked us for our efforts (in a way that made it clear he thought us amateurs) and said ‘I’ll tell you what the painting really reveals and why it is so shocking … after the break’. I suspect we still hold a record somewhere for ‘punctuality after the coffee break’. It’s a good idea to think a bit about when you do things during a lesson, and not just focus on what you do.
Our Literature lecturer (gosh, I’m glad I’m not reading this aloud) was Passionate (capital P intended) about her subject. She was on a mission to spread the word, quite literally. She led us to Don Quijote through Cervantes’ lesser-known (and much less bulky) works. She taught me a lot about ‘taking things slowly’ and I still get a kick from introducing students to new writers through giving them a taster. The message we get from a passionate teacher is ‘this is really worth your while’. If we can get this message across, the battle is half won.
Reflecting on the way that other teachers’ teaching styles affected you as a learner, is a great way to develop our own teaching skills.