Monday, April 18, 2011

Who Was Your Favourite Teacher at School?

Good teachers can change lives. They have the potential to touch so many lives and at such an important time too. Bad teachers can do so much damage and yet good ones... heaven sent.

We already know how much I adore David Tillinghast, my darling singing teacher. He is amazing, and he gave me the confidence to sing and sing well. David isn't the only teacher that has changed my life though...
When I was 7, I had a teacher named Mrs Grant. When we were 6, everyone crossed their fingers that they would get Mrs Grant because her room was the most colourful and she was so pretty. During the week that the 7 year olds got to visit Kelly Tarlton's aquarium each year, fairies would visit overnight and the room would be transformed into an underwater fairy tale. Fishing nets made from thickly tied roped hung from the ceiling. Fish dangled underneath, suspended amongst seaweed of cellophane and crepe paper. Starfish and Octopus lounged on the walls and the windows were covered in blue and green cellophane too, turning the whole room into the depths of the ocean as the sun shone through.

I remember during the summer holidays before the year I was 7, walking through the school grounds with Mum and some friends to play on the playground equipment. We peaked through the windows of Mrs Grants Room 3 and sure enough, name tags already stood proudly on each desk. When we spotted my name, that was it. Even at 7, the whole year felt full of potential, because I had the best teacher in the whole school.

That year, I got in the most trouble of my entire school career, fell in with my first 'wrong crowd', made my first best friend, saw my parents separate and my Dad move out of home. But every time something I did made Mrs Grant happy, I knew I was heading in the right direction, and to strive harder.
I didn't have another teacher that compared until I was 15. I had always been good at English and Art classes, but Maths and Science were my downfall. I thought I was terrible at science even though I tried so hard at the experiments and put so much effort into every failed Science Fair exhibit. Mr Ward changed that. I have never known a teacher with so much energy and enthusiasm. His explanations just clicked with me and his passion was inspiring. That year, I got 79% in School Certificate Science, the first year of formal high school qualifications. 1% off an A grade, and far from the 50% averages of previous years.

Even when Mr Ward was having a bad day, he didn't let that affect us. Sick of standard curriculum, he once declared it National Dry Ice Day and bought in a chilly bin full of it. Every class that day, no matter what year they were in, got to spend the whole hour playing with dry ice and watching Mr Ward make it squeal by pushing coins into it amongst other tricks and experiments. I recall him telling us how a particular chemical reaction had led to great Flying Machines when he was younger before saying "bugger it, come on guys!". He led us out the back door of the classroom, put a couple of the boys on look out lest he get in trouble, and then proceeded to climb onto the roof of his classroom and launch said flying machines, made on the spot with the materials in the classroom.
The following year, I was inspired enough to want to do Science again. Mr Ward specialised in Chemistry and I seriously considered taking Chemistry purely to have him as a teacher again. In the end I chose Biology, just in case I decided to study something related to animals after school. Biggest mistake ever, I should have done Chemistry. The Biology teacher was one of the worst I ever had. I failed that subject an gave up on science.

In my final year at high school, I was lucky enough to have two of these heaven sent teachers. Mr Thomson taught us English and all blame can be attributed to him for my love of 1950's movie stars. He introduced us to Grace Kelly, Jimmy Stewart and of course their work with Alfred Hitchcock. This led me to seek out Audrey Hepburn, James Dean and films like Casablanca. When I get to Monte Carlo and stand on Avenue Princesse Grace, it will be because of Mr Thompson.

In the very same classroom, I had the honour of being taught by Miss Waugh. Miss Waugh was my Classical Studies teacher, and she ignited a flame that will never die out when she introduced me to the world of Classics. I had taken the subject because I thought it sounded interesting. Mrs Waugh though, had a passion for her subject like no teacher I've ever come across, and she passed it on to me.
Even after I left school and moved to Australia, I nerdily sent her a Christmas card to say thank you for being such an inspiration. Even worse, I could not have been more excited when she replied. Similar to my experience with David and singing, knowing Miss Waugh believed in me meant anything was possible. When I returned to New Zealand a few years later I did a few papers in Classics through extramural studies at Massey Uni. Miss Waugh (now Mrs Spence) is the entire reason we are going to see the Pont du Gard in France, explore Rome and visit Greece. She is the reason I spent half a day pouring over vases and busts at the Met in New York City and carefully packed away my ridiculous collection of text books and philosophers prose to store while we're away instead of selling them.

Miss Waugh is the reason that I've decided to go to Uni next year and get my degree in Classical Studies. I won't graduate until I'm 30 and that thought alone is terrifying, but if I don't run away to lead tours in Greece, maybe I'll do a teaching diploma and grow up to be just like her. I can only hope.

Who was your best teacher at school and what did they inspire you to achieve?