Oxford staff are sharing their stories about the teachers who inspired them when they were at school; teachers who were special to them, who encouraged them, dared them to dream, to think differently.
Here are their stories:
“When I was in Primary school, I couldn’t draw, sketch, paint or sculpt to save my life. I remember once failing an art assignment set by a teacher who had very fixed ideas of what art should look like. By this time I had completely written myself off as a thoroughly uncreative individual. But in my last year of primary school, I had a new art teacher, Mr F. Unlike previous teachers, he was a professional artist who had had some success in local galleries. He completely changed how we understood art – it was no longer about creating things that would good in the school newsletter. Art was now about self-expression, trying new ideas and taking risks. He taught me not to worry about living life according to someone else’s criteria, and to approach new situations with a sense of imagination and wonder.”
“I could never pronounce her name correctly; she was larger than life in both personality and girth, and I’ll never forget her – she was my prep teacher back in the 70’s. She was the most colourful person I had ever seen in my short existence and I was mesmerised every time she entered the classroom. Her clothes were amazingly psychedelic, she had red wavy hair to her waist and the hugest hoop earrings and best of all, loved teaching art and craft to her students. She made school colourful and inspired me to explore my artistic side!”
“In Grade 6 I was cursed with the worst teacher in the world, who declared I would be a failure in Junior High School, and in life in general. Once I got to Junior High School, and subject-specific classes, things got worse for me in the mathematics department. I was spiralling into hopelessness. In Grade 9, however, Mrs Moore recognised that I had had a very bad experience in my earlier years. She gave me special attention and introduced me to the fun and mystery of mathematics. By the end of the year, I could play chess, loved Cartesian planes, and excelled in algebra and trigonometry. She also read stories from Rudyard Kipling on rainy days.”
“My most inspiring teacher was Mr Garner. Mr Garner was genuinely interested in History and he was able to convey that interest in his subject to his students and encourage their own interest. Despite being presented with plenty of evidence to suggest otherwise, he believed his students had the capacity to be intelligent human beings and he encouraged us to participate in robust discussions about historical and contemporary events. Mr Garner also had a great sense of humour and he was the first teacher to make me realise that teachers were actually people too!”
Sam, Rights & Permissions
“Mr Doubtfire (yes really, that was his name!) was my Sixth Form English teacher. He was passionate about literature, passionate about good writing and passionate about passing his love of books onto his students. He would lend us books from his library, recommend books, provide additional study support outside of the classroom; he was never too busy to help a student. He gave me the confidence to aim high, his exacting high standards made me push myself and, combined with his encouragement and support, this enabled me to achieve the high English grade I needed to get into the university of my choice. And I still reread some of the books he recommended to me!”
Nicola, Marketing Operations
“My history teacher knew how to bribe his students to pay attention. He would promise gory stories from Horrible Histories if we read the boring bits in the textbook. He would have end of term movie rewards if all our work was done before time (historically orientated of course – for e.g. ‘Platoon’ after studying the Vietnam War). And with this there was always the bright, infectious enthusiasm he had as he’d walk around the classroom telling you about a time and a place and with all the little details that made a particular event so significant. He was so passionate about it all and endlessly fascinating that it was easy to pay attention even without the bribes!”
“The teacher that inspired me most was Mr Tate. An old rock musician with an English major. I taught several of my subjects in Years 10 & 11; English, SOSE & Guitar. He was the most engaging, thoughtful and enthusiastic teacher I have ever had. I remember the first guitar exam I had, every time I started to play I would mess up. He told me to sit and look out the window and pretend he wasn’t there, I did and I played all 3 songs perfectly and passed with flying colours. In Year 12, even though I no longer took any of his classes, he asked which courses I had decided to apply for and would check in monthly to give some encouragement towards my goal. My number one university choice was entry by interview and portfolio and I received my provisional acceptance to the course the week before my exams began, all I had to do was pass convincingly and I was in. I finished my last exam and he was out the front to congratulate me on my acceptance. The best part is I was not the only person he did this for.”
Tanya, Customer Service
“My year 12 English teacher was a huge influence on me in realising, guiding and achieving my dreams. Having always excelled in English studies, praise from teachers was common. It wasn’t until year 12 that an English teacher provided me with valuable constructive criticism. This drove me to push myself further and continue developing my writing and analytical skills, rather than remaining static. I thought working in the book publishing industry might be a fantasy career choice, but Mrs Smith encouraged me and suggested an arts degree. I went on to study a Bachelor of Arts (English Language) and a Masters of Publishing and Communications. Now here I am, working as an Editorial Assistant at Oxford University Press, forever indebted to an amazing teacher.”
“Frau Doolan, my German teacher was an inspirational teacher and entering her classroom was an experience rather than a lesson. As well as teaching us the language, she also focused on German cultural aspects, from its cuisine to special celebration days such as saints days, Christmas traditions (including German Christmas carols of course!). She also encouraged those who could to participate in an exchange program to Austria where not only my German language skills but also my life skills were extended. This was an amazing experience and reminds me of the energetic, passionate teacher who encouraged her students to look beyond the classroom.”
“The best literature teacher I ever came across never exempted from her high standards – if she thought you could do better, the assignment had to be submitted again and again until each student reached what she considered to be their potential. The best assignments were turned into old-fashioned overhead slides and the whole class would go through them sentence by sentence, so students learned from each other and from her. She maintained strict discipline in her classes (door was locked to late students!), and at the beginning of each class (and often several times during a class), we had to repeat a ‘recipe’ for good writing, a formula I still remember fondly and use today.”
Do you have a story about an inspiring teacher? We would love to hear it! Just reply to this post to add your story to the stories here.