Ask most people to recall the name of the teacher who had the biggest impact on their school days and they will be able do so in a heartbeat.
It doesn’t matter how many years have passed since you were flicking ink up the back of a ‘pal’s’ shirt, there are some educators who you never forget.
While a small number of people would rather forget their formative years, I would wager that most of us look back with a degree of fondness, not to mention some regret that we didn’t listen hard enough, and, if we think about it, are incredibly grateful to at least one former teacher for helping us on our way.
Those of us with the appropriate number of grey hairs will remember the 1997 television and cinema advert, No one forgets a good teacher, which was commissioned on the tidal wave of optimism which followed Tony Blair’s iconic ‘Education, education, education’ pledge and his subsequent election as Prime Minister.
The advert, which featured Blair himself, alongside the likes of John Cleese, Seb Coe, Joanna Lumley and David Seaman (thankfully, before he grew that ponytail), was a simple tool and involved each famous face recounting the name of the teacher who had made the biggest impression on their lives and careers.
Designed to recruit the people needed to fulfill Blair’s key manifesto pledge, the advert’s brilliance lay in the fact that it struck a chord with the vast majority of the audience and had us all thinking about the teacher who inspired us the most.
Although I was lucky enough to be, largely, taught by a host of good, honest people, the teacher who had the greatest influence on my transformation from spotty, know-it-all Herbert to a not-so-spotty know-it-all ‘grown-up’ was David Thompson.
He is a chap who I often think about, given the thanks he is owed for keeping me on the straight and narrow some 25 years ago. I like to think that the positive lessons he offered will stay with me until I eventually roll up my tent.
The evidence that the influence of a great teacher can be lifelong was there for all to see at Sunday’s Bafta ceremony when living legend Ridley Scott accepted his fellowship from the organisation.
During his speech the director of classics such as Alien, Blade Runner and Gladiator reflected on his struggles as a hard-working North East schoolboy in the 1940s. Even at the age of 80 and with the untold riches that 40 years in Hollywood have brought him, he still took the time to remember the teachers who encouraged him all those years ago.
He told millions of television viewers: “Teaching is the most important of professions. Sort that out and social problems will get sorted out”. It was an important intervention from a man who, while wouldn’t be known by most people if they tripped over him in the street, is without doubt one of the most important cultural figures of the past four decades.
Most of us will agree with him about the importance of teachers and we cannot escape the fact that the profession is gripped by a recruitment crisis – we have 13,000 fewer secondary school teachers than there were 11 years ago.
The Government is quick to point out that it is spending record amounts on education but it clearly isn’t enough.
The teachers of today need more support if they are to continue having the profound effect on the leaders of tomorrow.