On inspirational teachers who open doors….

My new novel, ‘The Silver Ladies Do Lunch,’ begins many years ago in a primary school in Oxfordshire. Three ten-year-old girls, Josie, Lin and Minnie, who live in Middleton Ferris, are about to embark on their final year before secondary school. As they wonder who their new teacher will be, they think about what the future may have in store for them. They know they will always be friends, but they have no idea what awaits them. Then Miss Cecily Hamilton steps into the classroom and their lives change forever.

I remember being a scrappy blonde-haired kid in primary school, and the cocktail of emotions that went with it. I was self-assured, gifted, outgoing, and at the same time I was an outsider, getting things wrong, into fights, full of self-doubt. The two extremes seemed to go together. One teacher wrote on my school report, She is far too overconfident, then the next term he put, lacks confidence. By term three I was far too full of herself. I think he got me wrong every time. Or he caused the fluctuation – I was often in trouble.

I remember the wonderful, best moments of my schooldays though, snuggling up in my desk against a too-hot radiator, the stench of school dinners in my nostrils, listening to a teacher read from a book. I adored The Wind in the Willows, the idea that animals had human personalities and qualities and secret lives. They also had adventures, battles, friendship and loyalty. It took me to a wonderful place. Isn’t that what teachers do, open doors, offer opportunity, choices? It should be.

If I asked you, who was your best, most inspirational teacher, no doubt you’d be able to launch into incredible and moving stories about someone who had a great influence on your learning and your life. (I hope so, but I can name at least two people who wouldn’t be able to tell me about even one person who treated them well.) If I asked who was your worst teacher, you’d be able to tell such thrilling and horrific stories about injustice and wrongdoing. We all hope that education continues to move forward: I remember getting the cane, receiving public humiliation from teachers who made bullying routine. I remember students being turned off learning for good because one individual had no conscience and no ability to teach. So the influence and potential of a teacher to change and build lives and a love of learning is priceless, invaluable. It is immense. Life changing.

My own inspirational teachers were not often people I learned from as a student, but gifted professionals I learned from as a teacher. I could name so many – Shaz, Erika, Jon, Martin, Cath, Jill, Sue, Dawn, Dave, Pete, Nigel, Ellie, Jim, Pete, Joan, Trev. I could go on. And my best teachers were my students; I wanted to bring them the most powerful and beneficial experience I could, to champion their right to be who they were and to smash glass ceilings. I owe the kids I taught so much, every single one of them.

I enjoyed wonderful days being a teacher. The stories I could tell would fill a novel. But they are not all my tales to tell. I remember once though, coming into school on a Monday morning and someone had paint-sprayed graffiti on the school walls over the weekend, proclaiming in perfect vernacular that all the teachers in the school were excrement. Then the perpetrators had sprayed, Except Ms Leigh She’s a legend. Ms!!! And Legend was spelled perfectly! I felt honoured, although the context was a bit awkward….

Dynamic and inspirational teachers are role models; they are life savers; they set us onto a life path where we blossom and flourish. (Bad teachers do the complete opposite, but this blog post is not for them.) Miss Cecily Hamilton walks into Josie, Lin and Minnie’s lives at a point where they stand at a crossroads, not knowing which path they will take or what will happen along the road. She replaces a teacher who caned everyone as they nervously recited tables, who punished Lin unfairly for bad handwriting and forced the class to partner people they felt uncomfortable with for country dancing. Miss Hamilton is a breath of fresh air, a devoted educator who loves children and books and knowledge, who gives her life to their learning.

And sixty years later, she is back in Middleton Ferris at ninety years of age, riding a purple mobility scooter, ready to offer inspiration, guidance and the benefit of her knowledge yet again to the three friends and to the wider community. They meet, share lunches, laugh, cry, love, resolve problems.

There is no substitute for great teachers, those who teach us well, those who teach our children fairly, honorably, without discrimination or dislike, and to whom each child genuinely matters. I thank them all from the bottom of my heart. They are golden people.

I hope you’ll enjoy ‘The Silver Ladies Do Lunch’ and that, as you read, you remember your own inspirational teacher, (I hope there was more than one…) who made each day better for being there and offering you the chance to become the rounded, happy and bright person you now are.


12 thoughts on “On inspirational teachers who open doors….

  1. I had an inspirational teacher. It was because of him I became a teacher, and weirdly he was the first headteacher I ever worked with. Shortly afterwards, he was killed by OFSTED, brutally and senselessly, but I then lived my whole career in his name. Those special teachers give so, so much more than the knowledge of how much wheat is grown in North Carolina or how to multiply vulgar fractions, and they stay with you for life. Great post, Judy 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s so important to make the point in novels and blogs. My brother was ignored and held back by bad teachers who didn’t care, and my experience was one of blinkered teachers making everyone fit a ridiculously narrow mold, whatever their background or culture, so I’m very much in awe of teachers who see the individual person and work with their potential. It’s a tough job now, and I feel the need to speak up for all the wonderful teachers, as so many of them are golden people, worth so much more praise than they get. You are one of the inspirational ones, Peter, who will always be remembered for your gifts and how kindly and generously you bestow them.


      1. You are very kind, Judy. The difference between mainstream and special school is that mainstream school strive to make the pupil fit the needs of the school, while special schools do the opposite.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Yes indeed – well said! And many mainstream teachers are so caring and try to work against that attitude, bless them all. Kids come first every time. 🙂


  2. Dan

    I was fortunate enough to have had an incredibly inspirational teacher.

    After my GCSEs I left one school to study my A-Levels elsewhere. I’d really struggled socially at the first school, having been mercilessly bullied on an almost-daily basis, so I was excited (and scared) to start somewhere new. I was a little lost and didn’t really know who I was or what I wanted out of life, but thanks to one teacher at the new school I was able to mentally get my s**t together so much more. She helped me to understand what I was good at, and I started to develop a sense of self esteem.

    Because my past experiences had left me with a chip on my shoulder I ended up leaving that school before taking my A-Levels (although a couple of years later I paid to complete them in evening classes elsewhere and went on to get a degree in English with Drama). I really regret letting that chip get the better of me and hated having to tell that teacher that I was leaving, but no matter what she may have felt at the time she didn’t do anything to fail me. It was she who had set me on the right path; it was she who had helped me more than anyone else had up to that point; it is she whom I think about every single time someone mentions a great teacher, an inspirational person or a brilliant human being.

    I should point out that I had nothing to do with the graffiti, and although I disagree with the artist’s first point, their second point was right on the money. Ms Leigh, you are a legend. I would not be where I am or who I am today without your influence. I can only hope that my own children are fortunate enough to have a teacher as incredible as you one day.

    Thank you.



    1. I wasn’t expecting the ending. How beautifully written is this, Dan. What a lovely person you are. I am in tears. How could I not be? And what a fantastic guy you are. I’ll never forget you singing the Philosopher’s Song!! You’ve flourished – and I send you my warmest, warmest wishes. x


  3. Wonderful Blog Post Judy. Your students would continue to be proud of everything you continue to do through your books, kindness and compassion.

    I have a few great teachers on my list. I also received some never forgotten advice.
    1. Clever is not he who never makes mistakes. Clever is he who knows how to swiftly rectify them.
    2. Only people who speak can be helped.
    3. Envy only sees the flowerbed and not the spade that stands beside it.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. A lovely post and it sounds like a wonderful book you’ve written.

    Teachers come to us in many guises as you so aptly describe. I have enjoyed seeing how my son flourished by changing to a school that wasn’t mainstream, where teachers develop a wonderful rapport with students and yet maintain considerable respect. It is heartening to know that does exist and can be found.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s so important that teachers engage with the individual and allow him or her to grow. I know so many incredible teachers but a blinkered one can do so much damage. I’m so glad your son found the right place for him- and for you. Sending warm wishes.🌞

      Liked by 1 person

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