Life lessons I learned from my favorite teacher
This week a lot of past and present pupils, myself included, said goodbye to an exceptional teacher. He was one of those once-in-a –lifetime Robin Williams from Dead Poets Society or Jack Black from School of Rock kind of teachers. What he taught permeated beyond the classroom and equipped you for the harsh realities of adulthood. With his broad Scottish accent and cheeky grin you knew that no two lessons would be the same and they would be the ones you would take with you from your school days. It’s still raw, and in some ways I refuse to believe that he is truly gone but I know that I will try and remember the lessons below that he taught me through my life.
Don’t take life too seriously
Even within the midst of GCSE panic (or SATS for all you Americans out there), he would always have time to make you howl with laughter. You would be stressed out of your mind with coursework and exam revision but he would still try and make you smile. He would constantly put himself forward for silly sketches or charity events for the school where he would not be afraid to do anything to get a laugh. I, for one, have always been very aware of what others thought of me and so I was in awe of this man who was not afraid of ridicule and was fearless in his mission to make you giggle. Some of it must have rubbed off on me: For one inter-house competition I dressed up as Nemo from Finding Nemo using bright florescent orange trash bags (Yes there is photographic evidence, no it will never see the light of day). Life needs to be taken seriously sometimes but if you take no time to just jump in, do the most ridiculous things and genuinely belly laugh until your sides hurt, you are doing something wrong.
Standing up for what you believe in is important, but so is keeping an open mind
As part of his lessons, we were always encouraged to debate pretty contentious topics with our classmates. Cloning, God and euthanasia were all pretty big topics to cover, and ones that in the wrong hands could lead to a room full of teenagers going out of control in seconds. Yet, I always remember there being very calm and civilized conversations which included everyone’s viewpoints. Even if there wasn’t total agreement between the ‘for’ and ‘against’ sides, there would always be attempts to at least understand where they were coming from.
He would sit, observe, and allow us to come to our own conclusions in our own time. In my adult life, I’ve often run into a situation where it’s been difficult to have a conversation with someone who I strongly disagree with.In times like these, difficult as it may be, I try and take what I learned from those classroom debates and see what it is like from their point of view. Everyone has battles that they are fighting, or backgrounds which greatly influence their arguments. If even a smidgen of openness allows debate and talk about serious issues from different standpoints without hostility, it’s got to be a good thing, right?
Being a geek is actually the coolest
I admit, the likes of The Big Bang Theory and Sherlock have in recent years made geekiness and being nerdy cool. But back when I was at school it wasn’t so good to openly show intelligence. Always having my head in a book, wearing glasses and more often than not staying in at break times to help out teachers made me the ultimate stereotype geek which often I got bullied for. But he was never shy about praising me for my work or allowed me to slack off with work and pushed me hard.
Yes, at the time it embarrassed me when all I wanted to do was blend in and not be noticed. However, looking back I realize he was trying to get me to accept the “geekier” aspects of myself, the qualities that are actually really rad. He constantly did everything he could to let me know that it was okay to be proud of what you are.
Hard work is important
I remember my teacher being the last person always to leave the school and the first one hanging around the classroom in the morning. He was a constant fixture on every school trip, and during exam season, ran a lot of extra revision classes just so those who wanted to get last minute cramming in could do so. It may be obvious, but hard work is so important no matter what path you follow in life, not just in academics. I have worked hard to get my degree and my masters which took a lot of effort, especially when it would have been very easy just to give it all up which I was close to doing. Yet, it was also hard work to go to my part time job at a supermarket and be physically on my feet for hours, stacking shelves, dealing with customers and still be courteous and polite. Hard work comes in different shapes and forms but what you want in life doesn’t usually fall at your feet.
You are an individual, not a number
I can imagine being a teacher you could very quickly get lost in constant piles of paperwork. With the sheer amount of pupils to look after, it would be very easy for them to blur into one and for them to become numbers on a spreadsheet. With his classroom it was almost like a drop in every lunchtime. If you had any difficulties, no matter how small, you would be sure that he would take the time to sit and talk to you. He would also be very aware of the different pupils he had within the classroom and what their weaknesses were and that no man was left behind in his lesson.
It’s very easy to group people by race or religion or disability but he never did. He always treated everyone as an individual with their own aspirations and goals. He taught me that everyone deserves the right to be treated as a person on their own terms and not as part of a collective.
Don’t let go of what you are passionate about
I admit, this is the one lesson I am still struggling to put into practice. I will always have my passions with my reading and my writing but nowadays they are feeling a little bit neglected. Those big adult terms of “responsibility,” “rent,” “bills,” and “jobs” occupy me more and more as days go by. There’s still some small hope however that one day I will be able to turn these into a living. I look to the teacher I said goodbye to and how he inspired so many people. He thrived as a teacher because he was so passionate about what he did. He was so fortunate that he found what he loved and never looked back. If you find something you are good at and you love, never let go of it. You never know where it might lead.
Yasmine Merriott is a rusty freelance writer with a soft spot for David Tennant. Anything bread-based makes her happy. She can usually be found reading far too much into popular culture in front of my computer screen.
[Image via Universal Pictures]