I’m sure we can all remember teachers from our own childhood who made an impression on us whilst at school. The one who leaps to mind for me was an English teacher called Mr McCallum. He had a passion for literature and a near encyclopaedic knowledge of quotations. Whether Milton or Masefield, Shakespeare or Steinbeck, he was able to cite texts from across the ages and, more importantly, make them relevant to the times in which we lived. He was always encouraging us to ask questions, take nothing at face value and be prepared to defend our opinions with evidence.
Mr McCallum was truly a renaissance man, able to speak with as much authority about music, art and philosophy as he was literature. His lessons were unpredictable, exciting and, at times, unconventional. He was, perhaps, a teacher of his time and one who may have found the restrictions of assessment, constant monitoring and the pressure of league table positions and SATs scores stifling. The good old days were not all good, but at least they offered teachers the time and space to teach and students the chance to develop into mature thinkers rather than just lurching from one test to another.
When I look around my colleagues at Sidcot, I see the traits of Mr McCallum. If you ask any head, whether in a junior or senior school, what the greatest resource in the classroom is they will reply, without prompt or delay, the teacher. Despite living in an age of technology with interactive whiteboards and virtual learning environments, there is still no substitute for the influence of a truly great teacher: one who has a command of subject knowledge, clarity to enliven its imparting to students and the ability to inspire learning.
IWK – January 2016