Following the visit of my Grand-daughter who is just beginning her teaching career and who is so enthusiastic about it all, I got to thinking about what is important in teaching. And I came to the conclusion that the most important quality a teacher can bring to her pupils is to be inspirational.
I would have thought that in these days of social networking, where every teenager I meet seems oblivious to the world around them as they walk down the street fiddling with their telephone/i-pad/whatever, to be an inspiration to your class, in whatever subject, is even more important.
I sat and thought about my own school days. My Junior School teacher, Miss Kirkbride - long past retirement age but kept on because it was wartime - was in many ways a good teacher (even if she did sit in your place while you stood beside her when she marked your 'sums', so that she could slap your legs if you got one wrong). I remember her once running a project during the Summer term when we had to collect labels from around the world - this in war time remember. Then she mounted a map of the world and we marked where Fray Bentos Corned Beef came from, where peaches came from. It definitely sparked off my interest in Geography, which has never left me.
In Grammar school my English teacher, Miss Ryder, a quiet, unassuming lady inspired me from day one. When I got my homework back I could see at a glance that she had read through my essay and had marked everything that needed marking - every punctuation and spelling mistake but also (more importantly) she would comment on anything she thought was interesting, or she would expand on what I had said. This also applied to Mrs Lucas, our History teacher - being the only married member of staff and also being (in our eyes) terribly glamorous, we clung on to her every word. But again, she took our History essays seriously and when they were returned to us after marking she would have struck up a dialogue. I always hated Science - I can't blame Miss Judge, our teacher, but she certainly didn't help. For a start we had never had gas in our village so I was pretty scared of a Bunsen burner, but she never attempted to calm my fears. I vividly remember one homework where she showed us how to do some scientific equations and then gave us ten to do at home. I hadn't understood at all. She just marked all ten wrong and we carried on with the next lesson - no effort was made to keep us back and go through it with us (I know I was not the only one who couldn't do them).
If a teacher is an inspiration to the class then some of the discipline problems will disappear because each pupil knows you are interested in them. It is the quality all teachers should aspire to in my opinion. In Inner City areas many of our pupils come from homes which are substandard, often they live in family groups which are less than perfect too. (I am not saying that these two things only apply to inner cities). But if they are to climb out of, or rise above, things like this they need the help of good teachers.
A lovely letter in today's Times underlines this. A lady in Oxfordshire writes of a child in an East end of London school who had at last been moved into a high rise block of flats from very substandard housing. Here is her letter:
'We have a lavatory - in a bathroom - which is just for us, me and my mum and dad. I go to bed in a room which is mine, just for me. I looked out of the window and all I could see was fairyland.'
When I started teacher training our Education Tutor (who shall be nameless) asked us all to write an essay telling her about what we had done in our lives so far. This was the first essay of our training. They were returned to us about six weeks later - there wasn't a single mark on any of them apart from a C at the end of every one - it is obvious she had never read them. A lack-lustre woman, no good at teaching or marking, and certainly no inspiration to anyone.