I’m a sucker for a good teacher, modern or old school

I believe teaching is the most criminally undervalued of all professions

Colin Hegarty. Remember the name. Few outside of Wembley’s Preston Manor School knew it before he reached the final stages of a global competition to find the world’s most exceptional teachers. But so many more do now that the awards ceremony in Dubai has taken place – although Palestine’s Hanan Al Hroub won the $1m (£710,000) prize.

Mr Hegarty (inset) is still a winner. You don’t reach the last 10 in the world of anything without being exceptional – in teaching it is truly something. He is a maths teacher, which means we all have someone to compare him with in our own lives. Believing that there is no such thing as “a maths gene” or being “inherently good” at maths, he feels anyone can achieve in the subject if they “just stick at it”.

That’s so “old school” that it’s worth noting the initiative that got Mr Hegarty noticed was decidedly modern. He set up a website with videos teaching pupils how to solve maths problems. He first had the idea when one of his pupils had to leave school to care for his sick father and wanted to keep up with his maths lessons.

Mr Hegarty’s explanation is that maths lends itself to online videos because pupils can benefit from looking at problems repeatedly until they understand. Mr Hegarty’s “workings-out” are half his attraction.

But then I’m a sucker for a good teacher, believing teaching to be the most criminally undervalued of all professions. Perhaps I’m just emotionally suggestible, because this past week I had probably my last serious encounter with teachers in my lifetime. After my 14 years’ schooling and both my daughters’ respective 14 years, last week I attended my last parent-teacher meeting.

Two daughters, two meetings a year respectively and 14 years each. That’s a hell of a lot of angst, emotion, ambition, expectation and – yes – joy, as dozens of dedicated teachers emphasised just how much they go beyond grades and the syllabus to demonstrate that they truly understood my girls, sat nervously between their parents in the school’s great hall. 

We have known many a fine teacher over the years, and as a result the girls are confident enough to tell me unequivocally that I’m not allowed to single any out. One daughter is still there and it would be “so embarrassing”. But I will mention two that have since moved on: Marika Lowe and David Benefer, sport and art respectively – people who have literally changed my daughters’ lives. Thanks to you both and the many others.

Thank you too, Pat Liddiard, Hugh Hargreaves and the late Bernie Robson, three stand-out teachers from my own school years. My appreciation of sport, literature and open debate stems from their inspiration.

Fancy quotations are not normally my thing, but Mrs Lowe, Mr Benefer, Mr Liddiard, Mr Hargreaves and Mr Robson, Colin Hegarty and so many others, I salute you with the words of Aristotle: “Those who educate children well are more to be honoured than they who produce them; for these only gave them life, those the art of living well.”

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