Instead, I’ll tell you about a few of them, and what I’ve learnt from each of them.
Miss Pickering was my maths teacher in my second year of junior school, then my class teacher in my fourth year. She always pushed me to achieve as much as I could. She encouraged me to help my classmates and put me forward for things like reading programmes, where older pupils read with younger ones. I think this must have been where my early teaching bug came from: I always enjoyed helping other pupils to understand something, and I never just gave them an answer. I have stayed in contact with her since then, and it has been a pleasure to share my own teaching journey with her.
Jill Corser, Sally Rhodes and Deanne Playsted
Miss Corser and Miss Rhodes were both French teachers, and Miss Playsted was a German teacher, at my secondary school. They were among many wonderful teachers I encountered there. We had three-hour lessons in every subject, and my language lessons were always fun because of the range of activities we did, and the humour that permeated all of the lessons. That doesn’t mean we didn’t study though!
Miss Corser’s lessons were full of anecdotes about her year abroad during university among many other stories. She had a thick Scouse accent that completely disappeared when she spoke French, which I always thought was a little bit of magic. ☺ She was the teacher who encouraged me to study Spanish at university, by being willing to listen and share her own experiences when I needed advice.
Miss Rhodes introduced us to the French musical Roméo et Juliette, and to Molière, during my A-Level studies (the exam for eighteen-year-olds in England and Wales). As someone who’s always hated studying literature, she made it fun (I still don’t know how!) She wasn’t afraid to make mistakes and to try new things with us. She also accompanied my French class to Paris, and made four days fly by. After we finished our A-Levels, my class went for a wonderful meal with her and her husband, and this willingness to treat us as equals was very important for me.
The weekend before Paris, I was in Berlin with my German A-Level class and Miss Playsted. Through that trip, and a subsequent exchange trip to Monchengladbach that she had organized, Miss Playsted shared her passion for German language and culture. She also helped me to see that grammar doesn’t have to be boring, and that it’s a building block for everything else in language. She gave up her time on a Monday evening to run a German film club for us, where we watched a wide range of films, many of which are still among my favourites today. Finally, she took me aside and gave me personal advice a couple of times, which I still remember today.
I was also lucky in that my school was one of the first in the UK to get Interactive Whiteboards (IWBs), and all of my teachers were well-trained in how to use them. They supplemented our classes, and helped us connect to the wider world, without taking over the lessons.
All three of these women made me realize the importance of sharing your passion for your subject, of providing variety, of really listening to your students and of responding to what they need, whether or not they realize it themselves.
Captain Leonard Holder
Although I’ve never seen my granddad in a classroom setting, I’ve grown up with his stories of his time at sea, and his subsequent roles as a lecturer at Liverpool Polytechnic (now Liverpool John Moores University) and a creator of training materials for the maritime industry. He also set up the modern version of the Apprenticeship Scheme for the Honourable Company of Master Mariners, one of the prestigious London Livery Companies. Despite being well past retirement age, he is still heavily involved in training, and also does a lot of talks for organizations like the Lions club. Technology supports his work, but ultimately it is his open and relaxed personality, which makes him a great teacher. From him, I have learnt that as a teacher you should be yourself, and trust your students to follow you.
My Personal Learning Network (PLN)
Last, but definitely not least, are all of the teachers in my PLN. Since I started to participate in online networking about three years ago I’ve met dozens, if not hundreds, of teachers who have influenced the way that I teach. They have done this by sharing their own experiences, asking me about my classroom practice, and answering questions that I have. I have learnt from teachers all over the world, in a huge variety of different contexts, and have been fortunate to meet many of them face-to-face at conferences too. These passionate teachers will continue to influence me, I hope, for many years to come.