Think about your favourite teacher from your school days. What made them so good? Perhaps they inspired you to love a subject that has since defined your career. Maybe they taught you something about life. Maybe you didn’t realise how important their teaching was until later in life. Did you get a chance to thank them?
These are the questions we asked via our website during October when we invited people to write ‘thank you’ notes to their favourite teachers, as part of our ongoing work to raise the status of teachers. So what did people write?
There are those who engaged with a certain subject in a profound way. The most touching example is provided by one contributor, Sally, writing about her English teacher. “You introduced me to the First World War poets and I was forever lost,” she writes. “For that joy I thank you over and over. A shared love of Owen’s poetry was a strong factor in bringing myself and my husband together.”
Besides the subject itself, great teachers impart skills that are transferable to other subjects, and other areas of life.
Andrew puts it concisely when he writes about his music teacher helping him to develop “the discipline to learn” and “the enthusiasm to study”. He goes on to say: “I know from fellow alumni that I am not alone in saluting your lasting effect on our lives. Miss Manley you will never be forgotten – your legacy lives on.”
The key to motivating children is to be supportive of them, judging by the number of people who mentioned this in their ‘thank you’ notes. This certainly chimes with my recollection of my favourite teacher who gave me her time and supported me at a time when I was struggling to keep up and cope with life as a teenager. I wanted to do well because I could tell I mattered to her.
Jenny makes a similar point when thanking the teacher who gave her a love of English and drama: “You saw something in me that I couldn’t see myself and you nurtured it.” She sums up, poignantly: “Because you believed I could, I started to believe I could too.”
So, perhaps unsurprisingly, people liked the teachers who used plenty of praise to encourage them. “You managed to overcome my lack of confidence through encouragement, support and praise and sent a letter home to my parents,” writes Brian, recalling the power of that impromptu report from the teacher who taught him to swim. “The fact that I still remember that experience quite vividly decades later is a tribute to your greatness. I believe that that experience changed my attitude to myself, raising my self-confidence and self-belief.”
There are also lessons about the importance of behaviour management. Many were happiest with a teacher who could impose their authority – while remaining charismatic. This is clear in comments such as “I loved the authority of your expertise” and “you were strict, fair and inspirational”. We see it again when one contributor, Coleman, writes: “You didn’t suffer fools gladly or otherwise.”
So, these great teachers had a few qualities in common. They were compassionate but firm leaders who were enthusiastic about their subject matter. The skills they taught were transferable and, perhaps most importantly, these teachers took the time to build children’s confidence.
I suspect the last thing the teaching profession needs is yet another person saying what constitutes good teaching. However, it is interesting to see the patterns emerging from these messages. Take a look and see what you think – maybe add your own thank you. The notes will stay on our website as a testament to the value that teachers add.
Julian Stanley is chief executive of the Teacher Support Network. Visit www.teachersupport.info or call 08000 562 561 (England), 08000 855088 (Wales).