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Why we always remember a great teacher

“Most of us end up with no more than five or six people who remember us. Teachers have thousands of people who remember them for the rest of their lives,” said legendary Emmy Award-winning American journalist and broadcaster Andy Rooney and he was absolutely right.

Everyone remembers a great teacher but what does it mean to be great? It transcends academic achievements and results, surely: top grades in examinations are ultimately the end goal in education but the great teacher does this and more.

“Of course credentials, knowledge, critical thinking and all other faculties of intelligence are important. However, a great teacher should be much more than credentials, experience and intelligence,” writes Rusul Alrubail on Edutopia.

A great teacher shows kindness to students, is compassionate, empathetic and positive. A great teacher bridges gaps and builds relationships. A great teacher inspires.

There’s no secret template to being an inspirational teacher. It’s not exclusive to a certain style or personality of teacher. There are many different types of teacher from “disciplinarian” to “friendly,” “fun,” “sporty” and “cool” — and there are variations in between.

We shouldn’t assume that all cool teachers will click with all students and that those teachers who are considered disciplinarians will fail to connect with theirs. A stricter character can still be brilliantly effective in the classroom and forge strong bonds with students. Many of us will have a teacher we can recall instantly as being memorable and influential during our formative years.

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My nomination was the English teacher who helped me to channel my ideas into my writing and really push myself to achieve as much as I could. Friends and colleagues have similar fond recollections of teachers who have left lasting impressions and it’s clear that inspiration can be found throughout all stages of education.

“My primary school head teacher, Mr. George, was and is a constant inspiration for me,” said Mark Leech from Boston. “He drove a sports car, had long hair and lived for the kids at our school. He was the five-a-side football manager and also played guitar and he was the reason I first picked one up. I still play to this day. He retired several years ago to become a full time luthier (guitar builder) and he still services my guitars in his workshop today! His pure passion for teaching and helping kids learn was the basis for my long term education and for that of lots of local kids in my generation.”

For Laura Miller, from Lincolnshire, her first ever teacher is the one she most remembers.

“I honestly believe if it wasn’t for my first teacher, Mrs. Hill, I would never have made it through my first year at school!” she said. “I would cry and cling onto my Mum every morning, begging her not to leave me, while her (sic) and all the other mums would walk away, quietly sobbing to themselves. I hated playtime and never wanted to go out into the playground so, instead, Mrs. Hill would let me and my best friend stay in the classroom and play with our own special dressing up box that she’d brought in from home. She was always so warm and supportive and by the end of that year she’d built up our confidence and made us love school so much that, by the end, we were asking to go to school! A true inspiration.”

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“Mine isn’t a teacher exactly but a university lecturer, Alan Smith,” recalled Jade Tolley from Peterborough. “He taught one of my creative writing classes and would read your work out to the class if he liked it — he had an incredible way of reading that spurred you on to write more (just so he’d choose you again and share it!) Plus, he was always honest when critiquing your work and knew when to stop other people from being too harsh in the class — some of the boys thought they knew best and liked to really rip work to pieces. He always found the good in what you had written, even if you hated the piece and he never allowed you to scrap anything and start again.”

A secondary school teacher, a primary school headmaster, a reception teacher and a university lecturer — four very different types of teachers across different stages of education and yet each of them have been influential and inspirational in their own way. And all for different reasons. It’s little wonder that some consider teaching to be the most important career in the world.

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