Open letter World Teachers' Day: Why great educators change the world
Tomorrow is World Teachers' Day, so let's think about those with the ability to inspire a young mind
I'm in early primary school, on my way to the teacher's desk again to check on a spelling that just won't sink in. With infinite patience and kindness, she explains that 'go' is a 'g' followed by an 'o', just like it was all the previous times I'd asked. It was an inauspicious start to a career in journalism, but the beginning of many encounters with teachers gifted with the light touch of learning and the ability to inspire and expand a young mind.
World Teachers' Day is tomorrow but 2020 must be World Teachers' Year, when parents left to educate their kids came to realise the profession should be elevated to somewhere between brain surgery and achieving world peace.
Friends with school-age kids promise they'll never mock teachers' holidays again after reaching for the wine after one morning of fractions. One skimmed through all the things their kid would need to get by in life and settled on percentages. The child may fail maths miserably, but they'll never get gouged on loan interest.
My daughter and I are still scarred by that fateful homework evening when I realised the whole multiplication thing had been overhauled. Apparently no one carries numbers any more. I couldn't grasp her method, she looked at mine like it had been painted on a Stone Age wall and there were tears, until I pulled myself together. We've all, with any luck, been touched by an inspiring teacher who helped to unlock a talent, or was just kind, or brilliant, or funny.
Actress Emily Blunt was a chronic stutterer until a teacher persuaded her to sign up for the school play. Cue international film career.
My English teacher was my biggest influence. She made Shakespeare make sense, made poetry dance and encouraged a love of language that's never left me. I'm still not convinced that Chaucer's Canterbury Tales are a laugh-a-minute riot, but we tried.
There was a physics teacher who helped me grasp calculus. It was one of those moments like the sun coming out when something made sense. It only lasted for the afternoon before the clouds of impossible science rolled in again, but it's a brief, beautiful memory.
A technology teacher set my friend on the journey to engineering when he took the time to find a new route to impenetrable scientific principles. He changed her life.
A chemistry teacher shared the great lesson of disappointment, which has carried me through parenting. No amount of screaming or shouting can cut as deep as the blade of being disappointed. Sometimes it worked so well I almost felt guilty using it.
Before I get carried away with the eulogising there are of course the teachers who should never be let loose on a young mind, who regard teaching as a torment in which the pain should be shared out. I had one maths teacher who regarded every mistake as confirmation of our essential worthlessness. Maybe maths does that to you.
One particularly deranged nun could stretch a reprimand for an entire lesson. A friend still talks about the day she was caught idly chatting instead of diligently learning. She was hauled to the front of the class and instructed to apologise to everyone she'd transgressed against.
After several minutes it included us, the teacher, the school, her parents, their parents, but it wasn't enough. By that stage everyone except her knew it was God who needed an apology, and even God reckoned Sister Psycho was milking it.
But they're the teachers who now just raise a nostalgic laugh. The truly great ones set us on a lifelong path. And I can now spell 'go'.