In Praise of Inspirational Teachers
Today I received a squashy parcel in the post. It was my birthday last week and I assumed it was a belated gift from friends who sent me a fox cushion last year. I tore open the wrapping and was stunned to find the most beautiful and intricately constructed quilt depicting Gaspard and Peter the Cat. It had been made by Beth, the wife of my Middle School form-teacher, Michael Boast. I laid it out on the bed and every time I looked at it I found another extraordinary detail: three-dimensional foxglove flowers and inside the kite, flying above Peter's head, a map of The Shipping Forecast, a reference to my other job as an announcer on Radio 4. The enclosed card thanked me for meeting them both recently to sign books on a visit home to Lowestoft. I was speechless and very very touched indeed.
I sent photos of the quilt to my colleague James Mayhew and he suggested I start this blog with a post in praise of the inspirational Primary teachers we both had.
Mike Boast, as I now call him and I have exchanged a Christmas card every year since I left his school over 30 years ago. He was one of those teachers that leaves an impression. He was eccentric in the best way: full of character and with a twinkle in his eye that, if you behaved yourself, meant learning would be a game.
The one thing each of my inspirational teachers had in common was that they were strict, their standards high and you wanted their praise more than anything. Aside from being my form-tutor Mr. Boast also taught science brilliantly: meticulous in his explanations, theatrical in his demonstrations and with a temper that could rattle test-tubes!
At primary school I was encouraged to write stories. I remember sitting around listening to the greek myths on BBC Schools' Radio and the spellbinding magic of a storyteller coming into assembly, holding the attention of the entire school with folktales and music from a hurdy-gurdy - the first time I had ever seen such an extraordinary instrument. The Norwich Puppet Theatre performed James and the Giant Peach and one summer we released helium balloons from the school roof with notes attached to whomsoever might find them. All magical food for a child's imagination.
James, when we're presenting our Gaspard events, tells children how it was a supply teacher at primary school who taught him to draw in ink with a dip-pen - the same technique he used with such skill in our book. He describes how her encouragement lit a small artistic flame within him.
Teaching is a tough job. I did it myself briefly before I joined the BBC and remember that feeling of going into battle each time you leave the staffroom. It is a heroic, selfless occupation. Good teachers like Mr Boast and James' supply teacher light flames in children and are never forgotten. Thank you.
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