ACW

ACW

Friday, 23 October 2015

Letter to my teacher - by Helen Murray

To my teacher

I was in your class for English, and English was the first lesson of my first day at senior school.

To start with I sat at the front because I wore my eleven year old enthusiasm right out in the open and I didn't realise that my eagerness to please might be more sensibly hidden somewhere the mean kids couldn't see it. As the school years progressed I chose a seat further back, but the enthusiasm didn't wane, and my goody-goody keenness was justified.  This was my thing, and I loved your lessons. 

You took my appetite for stories and fed it with rich, nourishing food. You introduced me to the big guns of literature in such a way that I was seduced, not overwhelmed. You tamed the giants with new voices, mixed poetry with theatre with prose and left me dizzy with delight.  You took away fear and replaced it with curiosity; you showed me that Shakespeare was funny, scary, inspiring, moving, but above all accessible. You told me that nothing was beyond my reach - that it was up to me to decide. 

You revelled in language and so did I. You made me believe that I could make it work for me, and showed me how to analyse, deconstruct, and build marvellous things with words. You insisted we learn poems, passages and soliloquies and I remember them to this day. Walter De La Mare, Richard Kell, Wordsworth.  Macbeth, Richard II, Julius Caesar. Treasures in my head forever. 

You encouraged, critiqued, jollied and accepted no nonsense. More often than not your eyes were crinkled into smiles but you were stern when it was warranted. Nobody took liberties in your class, and homework was done on time. We behaved. We listened. We tried hard, and we were rewarded by generous praise given in good measure.

I loved your range of voices, from John of Gaunt strident on his deathbed, Wuthering Heights' Cathy, wild with grief, or Subtle the Alchemist, sleazy and suggestive. You strode round the room with theatrical gesture and your energy fed mine; your lessons gave me life. I read everything I could lay my hands on and stored it up carefully.

I wanted to make you proud. Your advice was heeded, your criticism accepted, your encouragement wrapped up carefully and stored away. 

On the day I picked up my exam results you held my hand for a moment. The world is your oyster, you whispered, and you smiled a wonderful smile. That was a good moment, and I wanted to build on it.

A quarter of a century later, I saw you and we chatted. You'd been gardening and you had leaves in your hair. Smaller, greyer, but those eyes still smiled. You remembered me. I told you that I was writing and you clutched my arm with both hands and cried, 'Oh, good!'

That, too, was a good moment.

I hoped one day to hand you a signed copy of a book I'd written, but that won't happen. 

At your funeral there was standing room only. The place was packed with people who held a bit of you in their hearts. 

That inspiration that you gave to me? You gave it to others; you gave it away freely, and lots of people received it. People remembered the smiling eyes, the firm-but-fair, the way you threw back your head and laughed. You had many interests and brought joy to so many people. Everybody spoke of your infectious enthusiasm, your energy and your joy. You left behind many, many people who would miss you badly, but when they think of you, they smile. What a legacy.

For me, you took the raw and unformed and moulded it into a something that could grow. You saw a mixture of enthusiasm and potential and gave me the tools to make something. You told me that I could do it. You made me believe it. 

What a precious thing is a good teacher. I've been blessed with a few, and they made a huge difference to me, but none as much as you. You were exceptional. You made a real difference to my life. 

I pray that my daughters might find a teacher who sees them in the way that you saw me. Thank you. 

Rest in peace. I look forward to seeing you again. 

With love and gratitude

Helen



Helen Murray lives in Derbyshire with her husband, two daughters and her mum.

Having spent time as a Researcher, Pastoral Worker and Hand Therapist, Helen is now a full time mum and writer, currently working on her first novel. 

As well as writing and reading, she drinks coffee, takes photographs, swims and has more Aloe Vera plants than you can shake a stick at. 

Helen has two blogs: Are We Nearly There Yet? where she writes about life and faith, and Badger on the Roof where readers are treated to a blow by blow account of her novel-writing progress, or lack thereof. 

You can also find her here:

Pinterest: @HelenMMurray

Twitter: @helenmurray01

19 comments:

  1. Wise and wonderful, Helen! I hope your teacher is grinning somewhere among the angels, deservedly smug!

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  2. Wise and wonderful, Helen! I hope your teacher is grinning somewhere among the angels, deservedly smug!

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    1. Thank you! Re: the angels - I hope so. She's much missed.

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  3. Beautifully put Helen. What a wonderful start to your writing career

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    1. Thanks, Wendy. I need a bit of her no-nonsense, 'pull yourself together and get on with it!' at the moment.

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  4. I hope someone writes about me like this one day!

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    1. Fran, I have no doubt that they will.

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  5. This reminded me so much of my class teacher at Wellington Primary School in Hounslow, Mrs Shimwell, of blessed memory. I already loved writing before I entered her class but she introduced me to literature I knew nothing about. How many teachers nowadays would introduce 9 year olds to Matthew Arnold's Sohrab and Rustum? I soaked it up like a sponge. I remember she brought in a children's author to talk to the class and singled out some children for him to talk to individually. I was one of them, and I remember having a conversation with him about the books I was going to write when I grew up. My family moved away and I lost touch with Mrs Shimwell and have no idea whether or not she's still in the land of the living, but I will never forget her. Thank you, Helen, for reminding me of her again today.

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    1. Yes! We did Sohrab and Rustum too! and Ozymandias, and Yeats' Cuchulain... happy days. I can still quote chunks of them. How precious is a good teacher. So glad you had a similar experience.

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  6. Oh my goodness Helen, this made me cry. Praise God for good teachers who encourage and inspire.

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    1. Absolutely. They can change lives.

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  7. Oh Helen, I love this...and I love your honesty as always. x

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  8. What a glorious teacher you had, and what a beautiful tribute to her! The insights she had into your potential are no less true today. You write well, with tender vulnerability and in a way that means readers can easily relate to your experiences. One day that book (and more) will be in your hands and that of your eager readers. Mine's a signed copy, OK? Lovely post, Helen. Xx :)

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    1. Thanks, Joy, for your lovely encouraging words, as always. x

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  9. Yes, I had similar brilliant English teachers. Being made to learn poems when aged seven made me cry then, but I too am glad to have all that poetry lodged in my memory, plus the habit of learning by heart, which stood me in good stead when I discovered the Bible!

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    1. Oh yes, great lumps of literature lodged in our heads (she says, poetically!). It's a precious thing. Thanks for leaving a comment, Edmund.

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  10. And I remember the teacher - in my final year at school - who brought literature to life. I had had 5 years of dull, mechanistic teaching and this young teacher, fresh out of university, changed everything. I can still remember, 50 years later, not only the man but actual specific moments in his classroom. He ignited a fire in me that has burned since. Nothing is as precious as a good teacher.

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    1. I'm with you there. I so hope that my daughters find teachers like that.

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