Everyone has a teacher (or teachers) that inspired them during their high school years? Share your experiences about them and why they were so pivotal in your personal development and growth.
Thanks for asking!
I guess the answer to this question is a pretty personal one, and I know that I was quite a unique student at school. I went to school in Sydney, Australia, and, although I went on to study Biomedical Engineering and Computer Science at University, my favourite subject at school was actually English. This is largely thanks to my teacher, Dr Hughes.
The highest level of English one can do is Extension II, which involves writing a major work (poem, film, short story, speech, essay, etc.). I decided to write a short story based on Albert Camus’ The Stranger. And by short I mean 6000 words. The creative process was a slow one. I cycled through many ideas: writing a Kafkan story; writing a story based on my own experiences with Leukaemia; or a narrative about my grandfather’s birdwatching obsession. It got to the end of first term and I still hadn’t decided what I wanted to write about. Many in my class had already finished first drafts and were well on their way to hitting the new year with an almost fully formed piece. Christmas holidays came around (which in Australia are almost 3 months long) and I still couldn’t decide which direction I wanted to take.
Of course, Dr Hughes had watched me go through this struggle. Before school ended for the year he pulled me aside and told me a story. Dr Hughes is an accomplished and published author. He’s won prizes for his books and is critically acclaimed for his work in academia and literature. He told me this:
When Dr Hughes was first beginning writing, he also had writers block. So he just started. He wrote and wrote and wrote until he had composed a 500 page crime novel. “It was utter garbage,” he said to me, “but at least I had finished something.” He printed out the copy (he didn’t send it to a publisher) and deleted the electronic copy on his computer. Then he burnt the whole thing.
Now to most people, writing a whole book and burning the only copy seems pretty crazy. Indeed, the reason he probably never tells students about it is because he knows that’s how most people would react. But he’s a typical writer. Instead of giving me a straight answer and helping me solve my problem he told me a strange story about his very personal life which supposedly carried some profound message to help me eventually top the school for English.
So I followed his convoluted advice and started writing. I wrote, and I read, and somewhere along the line I read a Hemingway quote which many writers would probably be familiar with: “Write drunk, edit sober.” I didn’t necessarily take this advice literally, though I’ll admit I was tempted to at times, but on reading it I was instantly reminded of Dr Hughes’ story. He told me to write like it didn’t matter at all. Write like you’re going to burn the whole thing anyway, and write what you want to write. So I did.
In two weeks I pushed out an 8000 word draft of ‘Salamano’, a short story based on a minor character from Camus’ staple of existential thought. I thought it was rubbish and gave to Dr Hughes to read back at school. I expected to get back a 30 page booklet of red marks and crosses. What I got was a pile of paper exactly as I had given it to him with one comment on the last page: “Looks good. Keep going.”
And I topped the school.
Dr Hughes was the best teacher I could have hoped for. He knew how hard the subject was, and made no effort to teach it in a way that made it easy. He gave me, his student, the same advice he wish he had received when he first started writing. He showed me that the best writers write for themselves and if you focus on that only it doesn’t matter what other people think. He taught me that even the most enormous projects have a beginning and you can only get to the end by starting. I changed almost every word from that first draft, but it was Dr Hughes that got me there.
I think the best teachers are friends first. They guide you, not instruct you. They don’t hold your hand - they ignite passion.
I love listening to people to talk about their teachers, because when they think back to aaaaall the teachers they’ve had over their schooling, they can probably only recall about four or five - the best ones (or maybe the worst ones!)
I can’t top the story above, but I do have a favourite teacher: Ms Young.
It was an accelerate class in Year 10 for Level 1, so all the students in the class were eager to learn, which instantly made a fantastic learning environment. She was passionate about geography and had spend her 20s employed as a GIS scientist before becoming a teacher, so had lots of anecdotes to support all we were learning. But most of all, I think she cared about all of us. She engaged us in the content and saw that if we particularly enjoyed a subject, she’d bring it to life somehow. We studied pacific island culture, so we had a shared lunch of pacific fruits and foods and talked about how they farm and trade. We studied population studies, so we had a cake competition and had to shape and ice our cakes showing the demographic make-up of different countries. It may have seemed juvenile, but the photo of my Year 10 class proudly holding their cakes, braces and all, is irreplaceable.
She started dialogue and she encouraged enjoyment - no question was silly and no answer was wrong. She taught us that if you’re bright and talented, it’s not embarrassing to be, and there is a place for you to be challenged if you find most other assignments easy. She taught us that teachers shouldn’t just regurgitate content, but that ultimately it’s a teacher’s job to ensure students understand and enjoy what they’re learning. I’ve stood by that when I’ve taught my own students in tutorials.
I saw her a couple of years ago and she had moved on to a new role working on an international education board, travelling between Pacific and Scandinavian countries, and I wish her all the best.
For me, a great teacher is someone who makes a subject something you’re passionate about, and in doing so inspires you to do as well as you can. The teacher who really stuck out to me as doing this in my high school years was my Year 9 and 10 music teacher, Mrs James. There was always a great vibe about the classroom - it was something I looked forward to every day - and this isn’t something I can say about most junior school classes!
What really stood out to me was the way she treated us as friends, rather than students. From the start, she gave us advice on how to survive around school as year 9’s (“Don’t walk in straight lines!”) rather than taking the all-too-common approach of gritting her teeth and waiting out the year 9 class until she could teach something more substantial later in the day. Obviously, us 13 and 14 year olds weren’t always as well behaved as we should have been, but whenever she needed to discipline us she always did it in a friendly way. I didn’t really see this happen to the same extent until year 13 - by this time we were very much adults rather than kids.
Certainly, though, simply adopting a lassiez-faire approach to the classroom doesn’t make you a good teacher - I firmly believe authority is still important. What she did, though, was transfer her own passion for music to us so well that she hardly ever had to exercise her authority (and when she did, you knew you’d really stepped out of line!). True authority in a classroom comes from genuine respect for the teacher, and boy did we respect her.
So if you’re reading this, Mrs James, thanks a bunch - you gave me a true passion for music and for life in general, and always reminded me that I could do whatever I wanted!