Today is the 50th anniversary of the release of The Beatles first record. “Love Me Do” made the charts at number 17. It was the start of a new phase in world music, and today around the globe people are celebrating the Fab Four’s existence. It’s also 50 years to the day since James Bond first appeared on our screens. In his way, Ian Fleming’s character has had a similar international fame, or notoriety.
Both of these anniversaries were mentioned on the BBC news programmes this morning.
What wasn’t mentioned was the fact that it is also World Teachers’ Day; created eighteen years ago by UNESCO to celebrate teachers worldwide.
So how come we don’t get to hear about that on the news? Not newsworthy enough?
Although these special days can seem somewhat contrived, all of us ought to be grateful for the teaching we’ve received. At some point in life, I’m sure we’ve all played that game about considering who our best teacher was. I feel in a fortunate position to say that I had many during my school years, and continue to do so through life. My days of learning from others certainly didn’t stop when I walked out of my secondary school for the last time, and I regard many of my friends and families as being teachers to me now.
However, there was one man that springs to mind, and I would seriously hope that this blog could get to him.
Dave Angus was a short, bearded Scouser with a love of English that he imparted brilliantly to all those who were prepared to listen. He was quite intimidating when he first taught me, and after a series of missed homeworks I finally plucked up enough courage to go and tell him that the reason I hadn’t done my work was because I was fearful of getting it wrong, and basically I was petrified of him. I can still see the horror in his face when the realisation of this fact crept over him. He was mortified. He had considered all sorts of reasons why I wasn’t working as hard as I could but he hadn’t even contemplated the fact that his sternness was inhibiting me.
He didn’t suddenly change his teaching style because of it, but he was exceptionally mindful that his somewhat hard manner wasn’t going to work with me. From that day forward, he quietly nurtured my learning in a way that many of my peers were unaware. He cajoled me, encouraged me, tried to make me believe in my abilities. He did all of this in such a quiet and unassuming manner, yet still pushed me, often getting exasperated over the ensuing years at my unwillingness to show my true potential.
He brought literature alive, especially with his insistence for taking the part of Malvolio from “Twelfth Night” every time we read it aloud. It was hysterical but it was his passion for the brilliance of great literature that he managed to instil in me. The dystopia of Orwell’s “1984” was a difficult text for a fifteen year old to study, especially in conjunction with looking at Stalinist Russia, but my love for that book, and the characters within, are wholly down to the way that he brought his love of learning into what he taught us. He made us think about the characters, the setting, the ideology, the fear for the future that Orwell created; but more importantly he encouraged us to read around the book. I can remember, for instance, a time when he came up to me in the corridor clasping a book in his hand. Quietly, he told me I ought to be extending my reading, and he offered me his personal copy of “Keep the Aspidistra Flying”.
Such a poor student that I was, I still haven’t ever finished the book and it is in celebration of Mr. A that I am going to complete this writing and go straight off to download it to my Kindle – immediately.
Yet when I think of Mr Angus, I think of him reading from early twentieth century poets; Wilfred Owen, R.S. Thomas and W.H. Auden.
When the film “Four Weddings and a Funeral” came out, I felt slightly despondent that I was having to share my favourite poet with an international audience of millions, and although I love the “Funeral Blues” it was other poems that mean more to me because they were taught so well. “September 1st 1939”, “Autumn Song” and particularly “The Quarry” even now make me well up with the feelings of the time when I first read them. I distinctly remember sitting in class choking back the tears as Mr. Angus read the latter poem for the first time.
It was his feelings, sentimentality and passion that I initially adopted and then made my own.
That is down to excellent teaching.
When I became a teacher myself, I hoped that I had learned something from the experience of being taught. A natural, instinctive even, willingness to nurture was something that I learned from this English teacher of mine. Had he not persevered against my obstinate refusal to believe in myself, I may never have had the utter delight of imparting my skills and enabling the children that I’ve had the pleasure to teach.
So, thank you Mr. Angus, wherever you may be.
As for being a teacher myself – I’m not sure there is a profession like it in the world. Even now, I miss being in a classroom, but by the time I left school teaching, I felt that very little of myself, my imagination and originality, was being allowed to flourish for the sake of the children. Some other authority was directing what I taught and how I taught it.
That was wrong, and unacceptable.
So my wish for Teacher’s Day is that governments around the world are reminded that teachers are individuals who have a mass of other individuals in front of them daily, waiting and hoping to be encouraged to grow through their learning.
I wouldn’t have learned how to learn if it wasn’t for people like Dave Angus, and others besides.
I wouldn’t have learned how to get others to learn either.
Let teachers be teachers. Allow them to be themselves and enable others, as well as themselves, to learn.
It truly is the very best job, and every single person who has had the pleasure to teach should spare a thought for the incredible role that they’re playing in so many lives.
Happy World Teacher’s Day.
And please, do contribute to this blog with your memories of great teachers. We would love to hear about more wonderful and inspiring people.