One teacher can make all the difference

It’s a well worked, but nevertheless, compelling thought that just one person can make a difference. As Christians, our faith and intimate relationship with God is based on one person who came with the intention of making a supreme difference that would change the lives of ‘as many as would receive him.’ Made in his image, as all mankind is, we humans seem to be wired to make a difference in the lives of others. Examples of self interest abound for sure and the world can be a very bleak place because of the selfish actions of others, but more than this, we look for inspiration to those who positively change the lives of others; we are surrounded by people who made a difference to us and most of them unknown to the rest of the world.

Of course teachers are in this category. Mr Lockwood was my first English teacher at secondary school and I can even now remember where I sat in his class, where he stood to teach, what he wore, how he used to speak, how he used to look, at me in particular; how he made me feel and how he brought books alive. The first book I really got hooked on was The Silver Sword by Ian Serraillier. My teachers would probably have described me as a ‘reluctant reader’ at the time, but Mr Lockwood just pulled me into a world that was completely absorbing. The leap came when he asked us to take the book home and read another chapter for homework. That same feeling I had in his class I could replicate for myself, simply by opening that book. He gave me something of real power. I probably read the whole book that night, the first time I had ever done such a thing. I began to measure what he said about the characters and the story and what I thought. He went over episodes in the book and drew our attention to characters and their motives. He said things I had thought or half thought and that made a connection between he and I. I never spoke but he heard me; as a shy child, the connection was real. I thought, here is an adult who understands me. I felt safe, I felt that I was known, I felt significant. I could decipher print aged eleven but it was Mr Lockwood who taught me how to read. As a reader, ‘I was off’ and that fact changed the course of my life. A few years ago, my wife took me in hand and spelt out a harsh judgement; we would not be buying any more book shelves! One of the Unicef indicators of poverty is a home with less than eight books…I’ve got that many under my pillow! I have made my living by reading books with children and seeking to create the same feeling in them that Mr Lockwood created in me.

What about you? Do you have at least one teacher from your childhood and education who blessed your life? Almost everyone I have asked this question to can answer positively and with the slightest of nudges will launch into a description with vivid anecdotes about someone who encouraged them profoundly. I have been reading the Times Educational Supplement for the past thirty years on and off. The one feature (apart from the jobs section) that has remained the same in this publication is the page where a famous celebrity, politician, sports person or public figure recalls a teacher who was amongst the first to recognise the unique talent or ability that would one day become the aspect of a person’s being that defined their sense of purpose or calling. We all need to find people who acknowledge our being, our significance and who begin to tease out of us what we can become. One teacher can make all the difference; one teacher can unlock potential by making that personal connection with an unconfident child. In the snakes and ladders of life there are many ‘snakes’ that will bring us down in the board of life. Teachers are people who nurture us towards the foot of a ladder.

I recently sat in our school having bought a ticket for James and the Giant Peach. The hall looked different, somebody’s creativity had transformed a space I have walked through and worked in a thousand times. I sat there enjoying the rare moment when I was not in charge and not responsible for what was about to take place in that space.  Our students came past me dressed as centipedes, spiders and ladybirds. Two of our lovely Y10 girls had turned themselves into spiteful hags. I recognised ‘James’ of giant peach fame, but I had never seen him like this before. Mr Phillips, the school’s drama teacher, had managed to transform dozens of our students into somebody else. All of these young people, though dressed in different costumes, were recognisable at one level, yet at another level had been transformed. Each, somehow, had a different look on their faces, a look of eagerness and enjoyment, a look that one suspects is often there behind the mask they compose every other day; a mask that had somehow dropped, revealing a more truer depiction of the real person underneath. Mr Phillips’ project had profoundly brought our students to life. I sat anonymous in the twilight of the ‘theatre’ and watched our students become more their true selves. Thank you Mr Phillips and all the other members of our staff team who regularly create these moments.

So I sit in a staffroom with ordinary people, with bills to pay, lawns to cut, who need to go home to the shopping or the cooking or simply piles of marking and preparation. I quite often see the break between lessons or weeks of lessons as a boxer who slumps to his stool and spits out his gum shield for a minute or two. But when the bell goes for the start of another round or the start of another lesson, colleagues pull themselves up, expressions change as they walk out of the staffroom to another lesson with a welcoming first line on their tongues and the intention to turn another lesson into an event and not just an occurrence.

It has always been a demanding job, one played to an ever increasingly critical audience. I work with ordinary people who are also great teachers. I celebrate them here, as well as all the other teachers I am thankful for in my formative years; teachers I have worked with and learned from as well as the people I work with on a daily basis for the futures of your children at Bradford Christian School.

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