Sunday, April 05, 2009

Teach us to care and not to care

A few years ago there was an advertising campaign in the UK attempting to make the teaching profession more attractive on the premise that everyone remembers a good teacher. This is true, of course, although I remember a few bad ones too.

Mr Campbell was in his 60s when he taught me, a tall, rather ugly man with a bulbous nose and threadbare white hair, who was given to wearing tweed suits; he was known throughout the school as "Dirty Donald" for his predilection for rubbing his hand up and down the table leg while he spoke and a rumoured, although never substantiated, over-solicitous interest in the young women in his classes. Mr Campbell was a Cambridge scholar who spoke and read Latin and Greek; he had once commanded a much higher salary in a conventional private school, but he became enamoured of the philosophy of Rudolf Steiner and ended up teaching English to wise-cracking smartmouths at my school (on my school copy of Othello, which I still have in an attic somewhere, someone had written across a solemn picture of Othello strangling Desdemona, "My God they make these dolls tighter these days").

I was the only person taking English A Level in my year, so I had the rare privilege of one to one lessons with Mr Campbell. Although he liked to close the curtains in the library when we were in there (cue countless impromptu "visits" for the duration of the lesson from studious pupils urgently requiring a copy of One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovitch), he never made any inappropriate overtures.

Mr Campbell's lessons were so erudite that they were a joy. We read and laughed at Chaucer; we discussed Pride and Prejudice, and The Importance of Being Earnest, and marvelled at Paradise Lost, and Othello, and The Waste Land; and the excitement of the language, and the sense of discovery, and the thrill of learning, still stays with me. Mr Campbell understood what words can do, and knew how to bring out my ideas and responses to what I was reading, and gave me the confidence to think aloud.


Mummy said...

My A-level English teacher put me off literature so much that I barely read anything other than the Economist and my textbooks for most of University. I am glad yours was better.

On the other hand, Mrs Bruell, instilled a love of theology and how people and religion work that I carry around to this day.

Claire said...

Pupils in the class above mine are reputed to have smeared jam on the table leg in a prank aimed at Mr Campbell. Such is the cruelty of schoolchildren. The closest thing I have to a teacher-mentor was Mrs Newton, whose art lessons consisted of her reading to us as we worked - for example Solzhenitsyn's Cancer Ward while we drew our hands - and visiting art galleries, whereupon Mrs N would march her merry flock straight to the cafe for tea and buns.

Claire said...

Oh yes, there was also Mr Began's geography lessons, which consisted of going outside to look at the sky, then going back to the classroom to discuss whatever topic - not confined to geography - that took our fancy. I still got a C in the 'O' Grade. Although whether that says something about geography, or me, I'll never know.

LottieP said...

Poor Mr Campbell had all that opprobrium heaped upon him - not to mention the jam; I'd forgotten about that. Completely unfair: there was never a moment when he behaved inappropriately. Unlike another teacher I could mention, who sent me an "anonymous" Valentines card... Or the teacher, let's call him Mr Bogan, who had a fling with one of his pupils. "Dirty Donald" died an innocent man!

Mancsoulsister said...

I was very lucky to be taught by a whole department of inspirational history teachers. It is rare to find one teacher who changes your perceptions on life, but to find a whole department....

They went so above and beyond what you would expect for normal teachers. I can remember them all dressing up in authentic periodic costumes at least twice a year. I can remember them doing historical reenactments - the Congress of Vienna particularly sticks in my mind. I also remember exotic field trips behind the iron curtain to Prague, Berlin and Budapest as well as less exotic ones to York and Manchester Cathedral.

I still love reading about history to this day and I think a large part of that is down to the teachers I had at school (I do not have this enthusiasm for say physics where I was taught by the most boring man ever to have lived!)

LottieP said...

The title of this post is from Ash Wednesday, by TS Eliot:

"The air which is now thoroughly small and dry
Smaller and dryer than the will
Teach us to care and not to care
Teach us to sit still."