Recently I’ve been thinking about teachers that I’ve had, which ones were good or bad, and what makes them so. I can remember teachers who inspired me, and whom I loved, whose classes I enjoyed. I can also remember those who worked like a sedative, or whom I didn’t respect.
Well, I just remembered a teacher who was both the best and the worst teacher. It’s a good reminder that ‘good teacher’ and ‘bad teacher’ may only exist in fairy tales, and that, just as people in general, teachers are multi-dimensional and complex. There may be aspects of their teaching that are good or bad, but they themselves can be both.
My teacher of Russian (from the age of 6 years to about 16) – and I knew her well until she died at the age of 91 – used to torment me with disparaging remarks about my ‘bad’ character, as displayed in my handwriting (narrow at the time, an obvious mark of mean character), and the fact that I was Pisces. At the age of 9, I had reached saturation point with her constant negative remarks and exploded at her, telling her that I hated her. We made up, and she continued to teach me. As an adult, I continued to visit her, and was able to forgive the early years, developing a close relationship with her, and considering her earlier ‘faults’ as idiosyncracies.
What I will always remember her for was her passionate commitment to teaching. She would speak about literature, art, drama, architecture, historial events in a way that convinced me they were part of her life, never something she had just learned from a book. She used to direct Russian-language plays, and would be directly involved in every aspect, including stage design, music, choreography – she would paint the set, design costumes, edit the script, coach us with our lines and expression, research for historical accuracy, give us the background to authors, genre, etc. She gave up every hour in her day, and we were fortunate to have had these experiences, although we didn’t always appreciate this at the time.
I think she would have embraced modern technology. I was still visiting her up until her death. In her last days, before her cancer became too unbearable, I remember her little unit with its map of the world on the wall, so that she could follow world news events, and all her books, her notebooks with summaries and research, sketches, plans. I can imagine her enjoying Google Earth, or saving her newly found links in Delicious. She lived to teach, but even more than that, she lived to learn, and I saw her learning with an unquenchable fervour, her mind fresh and excited, until her death. She is a real inspiration to me. She wasn’t perfect, and she’s a reminder that none of us are, and that you can still be great, even as you are imperfect.