Anyone who has been in the profession of teaching long enough to have students who are now well past their last degree will have had the experience of their pupils coming back to tell them how their time in school impacted their lives. They come back with anecdotes that you cannot recall, lines of wisdom that you supposedly handed them, and the oddest tidbits of memory from way back when. Some may tell you how your particular way of teaching a diffi cult concept suddenly paved the way to understanding, or how your nudge made them work just that extra bit harder for an examination. Others will remember lessons they learned about learning, about life and about relating to their peers. And yet others will remember not one thing, but still have a sense of your smile, your words, your attitude in the classroom, all of which gave them the message that no matter what, things would be okay. Most people will say that they ended up liking classes not necessarily because of the subject matter but because they were taught by inspired – or inspirational – people. Recently, at a mathematics teacher’s passing, many of the condolence messages came from former students, all of whom remembered how they had been infl uenced, in subtle and indefi nable ways, by their interactions with him. They quoted him, about mathematics and life, and remembered his “gentle smile” and his capacity to “let them be” without compromising at any point on his own principles or beliefs.
It’s diffi cult to know what exactly it is that motivates and infl uences people, both children and adults; one can only fi nd out from experience. But listening over the years to what young people have to say about their school days, one fi nds that the teachers who stand out are those who showed a genuine interest in their development as human beings, who encouraged, even goaded them, to make choices that helped them academically, professionally and personally.
Like poets, teachers “can excite in a good cause, enthusiasm which is sure to conquer…”