Most people have a favourite teacher, that person who lit a spark, opened up new possibilities and has remained an influence. Mine was Miss Teagle, tall, slim, in sensible shoes and tailored suits in safe colours with discreetly patterned blouses. Her accessories were neat and her only concessions to ornament were sparkling brooches. She had white hair in a Queen hairstyle (I’m talking British monarch, not Freddie Mercury, you understand). She was somewhere in her late 50s, or early sixties.
Miss Teagle taught English and at 10 years old, I was a poet manqué writing ditties about birds and dew drops and daffodils – you know the kind of thing. It was dismissed as a phase by most teachers, or even completely ignored, but not by Miss Teagle. She delighted in words; the sound of words, the look of words, the power of words, words which made you laugh, learn and think. She didn’t worry about how bad the spelling, punctuation or grammar was because what she wanted most was your imagination. We did learn how to write properly with her, but I’m not sure when it happened as she had a skill of disguising serious matters with a veneer of fun. For me, this was a huge gift because I am dyslexic, although, as this was many years ago, it wasn’t diagnosed as such. I was just someone who couldn’t learn to spell and got told off for getting my letters round the wrong way to the extent that I became frightened to write. Miss Teagle freed me from this fear, encouraging me to write with abandon and sorting out the spelling later.
Miss Teagle made us write poems, book reviews and stories, and every week she would read one of them out, always from a different child so that no-one was left out. It wasn’t until years later that we actually recognised how scrupulously fair she had been, making sure that everyone had their little moment in the limelight. At the time, we just knew that we all wanted to be picked, to have her praise because as she read the story, she would always point out exactly what was right about it, even if only one tiny thing, that she could highlight to us all as a positive. She used these positive points to teach us about styles and language, but probably more importantly, to encourage the writers.
We were not a class of prodigies, just normal 10 year olds who on the whole didn’t want to be at school and who were already getting used to a hierarchy where the clever ones got encouraged, the “stupid” ones got told off and the ones in the middle were overlooked. But to Miss Teagle, we were all equal, with something valuable we could talk or write about – all we needed was someone to listen and to guide us. We came out of her class with an understanding of the power of words, that if we read widely, we could learn anything we wanted and that we could open up new worlds for ourselves.
Of all the things she taught us, the most important was that she gave us the power to think and to dream, to realise that we all have potential to be creative in some shape or form and we just need some support and encouragement. Her lasting influence on me is that this is what drives me in my work with my clients.
Who was your favourite teacher? What made them special? And how might you tap into / emulate that to support your creative practice?
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