Tell us about a teacher who had a real impact on your life, either for the better or the worse. How is your life different today because of him or her?
Maybe it was the age – a long time ago – but I don’t remember any ‘bad’ teachers. Some I didn’t like particularly, but that’s life, and nobody’s fault. Some I found boring, but no doubt their teaching style suited others in the class, so bad luck me. Again, that’s life.
But there are two whose classes had a huge impact on my life, and to whom I’ll be forever grateful.
When I was 9/10, I lived with my grandmother for a year (my parents were overseas) and my teacher was Mr Ferguson. Before that, I’d been at the local Demonstration School where the teachers were hand-picked: it was associated with the Teachers’ College, and these were the teachers who supervised students doing their ‘prac. teaching’. But Mr Ferguson wasn’t hand-picked, nor was he interested in new-fangled theories, and what’s more, he was teaching a combined class of three grades. So in Mr Ferguson’s class, you learned by rote. And one of the things you learned by rote was parsing: when parsing a noun, you think of the kind, the number etc, and when parsing a verb… and so on. And then we put it all into practice. I doubt many kids enjoyed pulling sentences apart, but I loved it, and it stood me in good stead in all sorts of ways that I could never have imagined – although it does mean I get grumpy when journalists are ungrammatical.
Thank you, Mr Ferguson!
The second teacher to influence my life was Ruth Aytoun Young, a fiery, fierce and highly intolerant little Scotswoman who taught me English in my last four years at school. I’m sure she caused the sort of damage to adolescent self-esteem that would have her thrown out in her first term, these days, but even those who disliked her intensely admitted in hindsight that she gave them a better grounding in English language and literature than they’d have had anywhere else.
For me, she was brilliant. Anything less than your best brought down fire upon your head, and being innately lazy, this was just what I needed. I don’t suppose she taught me to love poetry – many others she taught didn’t – but when she realised I did love it, she introduced me to new poets and lent me her personal copy of a book on poetic technique. She encouraged me to write, and in my final year, she recognised that the chances I’d remain standing long enough to do my final exams weren’t high (I was ill) and did everything in her power to keep me going.
God bless you, Miss Young. I write because you made me, encouraged me, and when the chips were down, probably saved me.