Andrew Motion Former poet laureate
My background was very unbookish, and there was absolutely no expectation from my family of my ever reading very much or even writing anything. I wanted to birdwatch and be left alone. Then I was taught English by Peter Way (Mr Way to me), and it was as though he walked into my head and turned all the lights on.
He manifested in everything he said and did that poems were not a strange addition to life, but a part of it. And that is one of the great lessons of my life. He didn't know he was doing this, but he gave me my life. He lent me poems he liked and I showed him poems I had written, which weren't really poems but more an explosion of words. But he took me completely seriously. He introduced me to Woods, Larkin, Keats, Edward Thomas – all people who have meant more to me than anyone else. His way of teaching was very searching but also very passionate and scrupulous. When I left, he gave me the latest published edition of Moly by Thom Gunn, which had druggy poems in it. It was wonderful evidence of his broadmindedness – as if I needed any proof. He was an exemplary figure to me and now a dear friend. I don't doubt that if he hadn't taught me English, I would now be working for the RSPB.
Sarah Waters, Novelist
My most inspiring teacher was Ed Tanguay; he taught me art A-level at Milford Haven grammar school, south-west Wales, in the early 1980s. He was a really brilliant guy – inspiring in the best possible way, not just because he had all sorts of technical expertise and was good at passing it on, but because he encouraged us to think. Until he came along, art classes had been about putting a few objects on the desk and drawing them; he got us to do all sorts of crazy exercises – things about perception and response. He was a bit of an iconoclast, I suppose. One day he arrived at school having forgotten to wear a tie; he got us to make him one out of painted cardboard. He was everything a good teacher should be: stern at times, but good-natured; clever, creative, and fun.
Michael Morpurgo, Author
I'm the proud owner of a third- class degree and have been teaching for 40 years, so I'm interested to learn that the Tories don't think I'd be up to the job now. The teacher who most inspired me was Edred Wright, director of music at the King's School, Canterbury. His great gift was being able to inspire children (like me) who weren't necessarily musically gifted – that's what we should require of teachers in all subjects. With Mr Wright it was never about improving the reputation of the school, just his intense love of music. What that man taught me aged 14 has enriched my entire life.
Robert Peston, BBC business editor
I went to a north London comprehensive in the 1970s. It was called Highgate Wood, and it had been created out of a secondary modern. The ethos of the school, created by the head, Eurof Walters, was that every kid deserved an equal chance to succeed. They were great at not writing off anyone – and lots of kids were given opportunities they wouldn't have had under a selective system.
Two teachers had a particularly big impact on me: Ruby Galili who taught history, and Peter Hudgell, head of English. I have no idea what qualifications they had, but they loved their respective subjects, knew tonnes about them, and were brilliant at communicating their learning and their enthusiasm. I still keep in touch with Ruby. She has always been supportive, then and now. She's like all great teachers – consistent.
Deborah Moggach, Author
My most inspiring teacher was my English teacher at Camden school for girls. She was called Margot Heinemann and wasn't like a teacher at all, she was a hugely intelligent woman with large dark eyes and a Past. This included being the lover of John Cornford, a beautiful young poet who died in the Spanish civil war, and what could be more potent than that? I adored her, we all did, because she treated us as grownups. Camden girls were famously grownup anyway, alarmingly so, but she seemed to take that for granted even more than the other staff. She introduced us to The Waste Land, to books outside the curriculum, and somehow to life itself, with all its tragedy as well as its possibilities.
Paddy Ashdown, Politician
John Eyre really changed my life. He persuaded me to join the poetry society (which all rugby playing "hearties" resolutely despised) and gave me a lifetime love of poetry, even getting me to write some for the school magazine. Eyre lit in me a fire for literature, especially Shakespeare, which has never gone out. He persuaded me to act in the school play (I was a wordless monk in Auden and Isherwood's The Ascent of F6). He even, with the assistance of another master in my house, got me to join a group to sing in (and win!) a madrigal competition – which, to anyone who knows my totally tuneless voice and incapacity to hold a melody, was nothing short of a miracle.
I went to see him for lunch in 2001, five years before he died. He had lost none of his old spark, or his impish and acerbic nature. He opened our last meeting with, "Ah yes, Ashdown – you were always an interesting boy. But you were one of the few to surprise me – I never thought you would get as far as you have. Still, there's no accounting for fate is there?"
Kamila Shamsie, Novelist
Through much of my childhood in Karachi I was painfully insecure. In classrooms, when the teacher asked a question, I'd never raise my hand because I'd worry I was wrong. All this changed in class five when Mrs Rehman was my class teacher. I still don't know how she did it – but in the kindness of her manner, in a certain way she had of asking a question and then looking directly at me as though to say, "Go on, speak up: if you're wrong, that's OK," she made me feel confident. It's not that I started to believe I always had the right answers; instead I came to see that not knowing the right answers wasn't such a problem. From Mrs Rehman I learnt to feel more comfortable in my own skin.
Michael Winner, Director and critic
When I was 17, I went to a private tutorial establishment that was based in Buckingham Gate and Guildford, and met the greatest educationalist I have ever met. Her name was KM Hobbs. She wrote to my parents and told them I was illiterate. She said, "If you think your son is going to get into Cambridge, you'll have a long wait." Within a year I had passed the necessary exams and I was a student at Cambridge, still at the age of 17. She turned a moron into something close to a genius. That was a great achievement.
Sharon Horgan, Comedian
I didn't have great luck with my teachers. I remember a series of chinless wonders and impotent bullies. And that was just the nuns. The only one I ever think about was a lady from my primary school days called Eileen Daly. She was tough as a brick, scary, opinionated, a bit of a dark horse, she'd tell you to sit down and shut up if she felt like it, but she had the ability to make kids feel like they were individually important. And she had a sense of humour. I remember once cycling with my friend to the village where she lived and knocking on her door, hoping to sell her some tickets for a sponsored charity thing. She invited us into her home. We sat around, drinking coffee and shooting the breeze with her, like equals. It was so exciting. She bought a load of tickets and we left buzzing from all the caffeine. The thought of making her proud makes me happy.
Bonnie Greer, Playwright and critic
One of my best teachers was my history professor, Dr Turner, at university at the beginning of the 1970s. He laid the facts down and was able to show how history moved in cycles. He predicted the disaster of Richard Nixon and Watergate, based on Nixon's activities in the 1950s. He let me see that history is written by the victors not the vanquished, and that it is always necessary to investigate – never to take anyone's word for anything.
Alexei Sayle, Author and actor
When I was at foundation art college in Southport there was a teacher there called Max Eden who had known Picasso in the 1950s. He was wonderfully dismissive about things like art A-level. "Just draw the fingernails and you'll pass," he told me. He also showed me how the way you lived your life could be a work of art. Recently I opened a new wing of Southport college and they gave me one of his paintings, which I treasure.
Kate Mosse, Author
I went to a comprehensive school in Sussex in the 1970s, where one teacher stood out, my A-level English teacher, Henry Thomas. He was by way of being an eccentric – tall, patrician, often done up in a white suit and Panama – kind of a Jean Brodie, though young and English. He was passionate about writing, reading, talking too, always engaged and enthusiastic, and made each lesson unique, fun, exciting. He didn't suffer fools, but in return treated us as thinking people with opinions worth listening to. As a result, we all raised our game and, in his lessons, were students rather than schoolgirls. Most important – and even harder these days of league tables and inflexibility – he encouraged us to think not about passing exams and grades, but rather the books themselves and the writers behind them. An exceptional teacher.
Rory Bremner, Comedian
Derek Swift taught me French at Wellington College. He was unconventional, original and inspiring, constantly inventing his own teaching materials and covering the whiteboard with words and phrases in anything from German to Serbo-Croat. In his class of 24, 21 got A grades and 3 got Bs. He taught us Russian in his spare time – four got As and two got Bs. We were like Alan Bennett's History Boys. He always challenged us, setting sixth-formers Oxbridge Finals prose exams and using Asterix and other comic strips as learning aids. He also introduced me to Voltaire's novel Candide – and therefore to satire.
Shazia Mirza, Comedian
My drama teacher Mrs Fisher-Jones was a great teacher. She always told me I was really funny and that I should develop that. I didn't know what that meant – I hadn't even heard of stand-ups then. She would let us write our own plays and do improv. There were loads of us who didn't go into the arts but still remember what a brilliant teacher she was. I still get Christmas cards from her now. She says she always knew what I would do.
Trevor Baylis, Inventor
I failed my 11+ and went to Dormers Wells secondary modern in Southall after the second world war. We were considered to be inferior to those at grammar school and we were made to feel that as well. To start with, I didn't want to know. Teaching me must have been like trying to communicate with a slab of tripe. One teacher in particular encouraged me to get hands on. He taught woodwork and metalwork and showed me, literally, how to use a spanner. He would show you how to drill a bit of wood, how to sharpen your tools etc. He was a very bright type, a very intelligent chap but he was a very fatherly type too. This was before the days when health and safety came into the equation and we didn't have safety helmets but that helped me grow up as well. My teacher had to know about first aid because every lesson someone would cut their finger, so he was also a nurse as well.
David Nicholls, Writer
There was something of a double-act at my school (Toynbee Comprehensive, Eastleigh, 1977-1983); music teacher Mary Granger, and drama teacher David Dalton. Both showed incredible tolerance and enthusiasm, given that I had no discernible talent in either subject.
Miss Granger, in particular, was obliged to hear me alternate Imagine and In The Air Tonight on the rehearsal room piano, often for hours at a time. Both teachers gave a great deal of their own time to pursuing out-of-hours projects. "Strict but fair" is an awful cliche, but both managed to combine passion for their subjects with discipline and rigour. They also managed to conquer the suspicion and indifference of the (male) students. I sometimes wish that I'd had the same inspiration in more "sensible" vocational subjects. Instead I spent far too much of my adult life pursuing a career as an actor, without ever really having the ability to act.
Glyn Maxwell, Poet
In the old days there was a "seventh-term" set aside for Oxbridge candidates. There were only two or three of us going for it at my school, so we'd wander round, in and out of the building as we pleased, beholden to no one, a vaguely celestial "upper-upper-sixth".
One of my Oxbridge tutors was a man called Peter Gardiner. What was odd about Mr Gardiner was that he'd come from a glittering career in various top private schools – headmaster at one of the best – and, for his own reasons, had decided to finish his career as deputy head at our Welwyn Garden comprehensive. It seemed to me like this chap had walked right out of Greyfriars into Grange Hill. We made fun of his accent and his two posh middle names.
I went to him for one-to-one coaching in English. I'd shamble into his office reeking of smoke from the toilets, I'd not have read anything he recommended, I had all the miserable self-pity of the fortunate and promising. And this fiftysomething old gentleman – I didn't know any gentlemen – looked at me with the face of a passionate boy whose love of books and stories had filled his life to the brim.
We were different generations: I was the old at their worst: mind made up, black-or-white, full of myself, bad habits. He was the young at their best: open, innocent, self-effacing, eager to share. I think a great teacher isn't talking to you: he's talking to someone he can see inside you, so that in time you shed who you think you are, like an old skin, and walk out into the sun again as young as you can be.
Shami Chakrabarti, Director of Liberty
I don't think it's enough that teachers just need to be an elite graduate – you have to like children and be skilled at communicating with them, so I would challenge the idea that you have to be an academic genius to be a good teacher. It is more about opening up children to the possibilities that come from learning. Many of my best teachers taught music. I was never going to be a professional musician, but that didn't matter – to have a teacher who took an interest in me, and shared their passion was hugely valuable.
I couldn't pick out a single teacher, I had many who inspired me. The difference between the teachers I loved and those I didn't was whether they treated me as a person, engaged in a debate. You may find this hard to believe, but I was probably quite a challenging, argumentative kid. The teachers who were best were the ones who realised how important intelligent dissent is, rather than churning out people who become cogs in the wheel. Not all were like this, but enough of my teachers respected me, encouraged my curiosity and dissenting nature.
Lynne Truss, Author and journalist
I went to Tiffin Girls in Kingston from 1966 to 1973, and my recollection is that it never occurred to any of us to criticise the teachers, or appreciate them very much either. In the run-up to my history O-level, I did realise I wasn't learning enough, but I blamed the period, not the teacher. To save the situation, I asked her whether I could look at some exam papers, to see what else I could answer questions on. Then I just mugged up this other stuff by myself. The best teacher I had taught religious knowledge, so I took it to A-level, despite being a non-believer. His name was Levi Dawson, and I'm pretty sure, now I come to think of it, that I looked up to him mainly because he was the first person I'd ever met who had written a book.
Dinos Chapman, Artist
I hated every single one of my teachers and if any one of them are still alive, I hope they read this. They were horrible old fascists, convinced you could beat education into kids, and they threatened to cut my hair because I had lovely locks back then. It obviously traumatised me because now I'm completely bald.
"Teacher, You Touched My Life"
It is because of you that I will, one day, be able to go on and become one amazing teacher. I thank you for that.
From the Teachers.Net Chatboard:
Look What A Student Wrote Me!
Posted by anonymous
It's the end of the school year! It's a time that I would normally be so anxiously awaiting; but not any more. For I know that by summer simply coming, I end up losing two of my greatest friends. You are one of them, and I'm pretty sure you can figure out the other.
The impact that you have had on me this year is inexplicable. You have affected and changed me in so many ways that it's hard to single a few out. Under your teaching, and your influence, I have become a kinder, nicer, and more caring person. I find that I am so much more thoughtful towards others and much less likely to judge.
You have changed the way that I think about mathematics. Sadly, I used to despise math, and it used to be my weakest subject. I just couldn't figure out how all those numbers really would take a role in my life, and after all they weren't anything important to me personally. Where would numbers get me? I now look forward to math class with great anticipation, and ever so infrequently do I get a problem incorrect. Through you I was able to acquire a love for math that I'm confident will continue to grow as I get older.
You have also changed the way that I think about myself. Through you I was able to obtain a higher self esteem and a higher opinion of myself. I am able to look into the mirror and for one of the first times ever, be proud of the person that I am. You believed in me, and that's all that I really needed. You took the time to care, and not only that, but you made sure that I knew you cared. That has made the difference.
You have changed the way that I think about teachers. Before you, I always respected my teachers, but I was never really aware of the amount of work a teacher puts into their job. Before this year, I never realized how much certain teachers cared, nor did I ever take the time to thank them. Before this year, I never really thought into the fact that a teacher was a person with a personality, and you could like the person that a teacher was and befriend them for it.
I wish that I could have seen this before, for I had so many great teachers before you, but I am glad that I was able to realize it for at least half of this year. It would have been a shame if I never would have seen it, for I truly would have missed out on some great friendships with some amazing people, including you.
I wanted you to realize though, that without you, I never would have seen any of this. Without you, I would not be the person that I am today.
I also wanted to tell you, even though it is incredibly hard to write this, that you have done even more. Around the beginning of the year, I began to fall into a deep depression. I began to feel as if nobody cared, as if I wasn't even wanted in this world. I felt as if I wasn't worth anything to anybody; that nobody would even notice if I was no longer here. During those times, what kept me going was the thought of Mrs. ***** and you because I knew at least you two cared.
Those nights, when I felt as if I was no longer wanted in this world, I would call the homework hotline, dial 646, and simply listen. I'm aware that this sounds corny, and I feel unintelligent writing this, but hearing your voice was enough to tell me that, at least if no body else did, you wanted to see me the following day. And when I would walk into class the next day, although you had no idea of what you had done for me the night before, you would smile and greet me, only confirming my belief.
I'm intelligent enough to realize that you greet almost every student and that you didn't treat me differently or most likely even think of me differently than others, but for me it meant everything. I felt as if these greetings, the smiles, and the comments were a way of you communicating to me that I was your favorite, and although these thoughts were way off and quite selfish, they were the thoughts that kept me alive. It was because you took the time to show that you cared, that I was well aware of it.
At times, I truthfully believed that you (along with Mrs. *****) were the only ones there for me; but you were enough to save my life. If it weren't for you, showing how much you cared, being there for me, and simply doing your job to the best of your abilities, I probably wouldn't be alive today. You saved my life. I can never repay you for that; even these measly thoughts barely express the amount of gratitude I owe you. It is because of you that I will, one day, be able to go on and become one amazing teacher. I thank you for that.
Beyond simply saving my life though, you have touched it. You have changed the way I think and the person that I am. You have done all of this by only doing your job. So if you ever think that you don't matter or that you don't make a difference, think again. You have most definitely made the difference to me, upon what I'm sure are many others. Although, I have stated this before� I admire you, for you are an excellent teacher. You do everything an average teacher does, which in itself can drive a person insane; and yet you still do so much more. You look to each student as if they are an equal; never really looking down on them, treating them with respect even though you were the one that deserved it.
You care about every student, and you are able to see the positive in every child that walks into your room. You try and motivate and inspire every student, never giving up, and in many cases because of your perseverance you succeed.
You are never afraid to be funny, or to be yourself in front of a class, and students appreciate that. Learning to be yourself is one of the first steps in becoming an outstanding teacher, and you have conquered that already. Your students like you, not only because you are a good teacher, but because you reflect your personality in your teaching, they are able to also like you for the person that you are.
Because of all this mentioned, I can never repay you. I could not simply buy you a gift and figure well that's it. I will never forget you. You are the teacher that made the difference, the teacher that inspired me, and the teacher that saved my life.
I will never forget, although you may have already, the one day when you made a comment to me that went something like this, "I wish I would have had a daughter, for then she could be as sweet as you." I wanted to let you know that, in many ways, you have become somewhat of a surrogate mother to me this year. The manner in which you nurtured, cared, and looked after me this year has meant so much, for I rarely see my own mother. She is often not home when I am, for her strenuous work schedule is to blame.
The comment mentioned above also meant so much to me, for if you, a truly kind, caring, and remarkable person, could say that I am sweet than you must really see something in me. And that got me thinking, if I respect you and admire you so much, and you are able to make remarks like that to me, then I must be special too.
You will forever remain my role model, most likely for the remainder of my life. I am confident that I will never forget you--even in the depths of my most troubled times. You will forever remain in my memories as the extraordinarily astonishing person you are, never to be faded or rubbed away.
I am crying as I write this, for I know that this is the end of a friendship--or maybe not. It might only be the beginning, for who knows what the Lord has in store. I can make one promise to you that I will never break, even when I am wrinkled and tired, whenever you need somebody, I will be there. Whenever you may happen to look skyward and think of me, I can promise you that no matter where I am I will be thinking of you too.
I will never forget all that you have done. I will never forget your presence, your existence, or your memory. I will never forget all that you have taught me, both mathematical and otherwise. I will never forget you. I can now say, with all honestly, after I've poured my heart and soul out onto paper, that I love you. I love you, and I always will.
Your Student, Friend, Admirer, & Fan
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