Home' Teacher : October 2009 Contents 66 TEACHER OCTOBER 2009
Courage, Richard Sheridan's The School for
Scandal, William Shakespeare's Macbeth,
the poetry of John Donne -- this was 1978,
remember -- and Les Murray, and some
other titles. The Go Between and Macbeth I
remember best. I thought it was just because
they were really good books.
In my own teaching, and I was an English
teacher, I used to think that a good text acted
like a catalyst that caused a positive reaction
in the teacher-student relationship. Good
texts enabled good learning. These days, I
think a good teacher acts like a catalyst that
causes a positive reaction in the relation-
ship between the student and the content
and skills that are, hopefully, at the heart
of the course. Good teachers enable good
learning. That's why, of all of Shakespeare's
great tragedies, Macbeth sticks the hardest
in me. It's because one teacher assumed with
respect and interest, but without distinction,
that this was something we should all get
our teeth into -- and we trusted her.
This is what happened for me when we
happened to study The Go Between, The
Red Badge of Courage, The School for
Scandal, Macbeth, the poetry of Donne
and Murray. The texts mattered, but they
mattered because the teaching made them
matter. I'd studied Macbeth -- or should say
Macbeth was on the cou rse -- the previous
year, but it was mere gibberish then.
There were two mature-age students in
the class when I moved the following year
to Rosny College and this probably had a
substantial influence on the dynamics of the
group, but I think it had most to do with
Her name is Ginny Jackson, and she isn't
a teacher any more, at least, I don't think so,
but I thank her for teaching me so much. T
This month's Last Word was written by
Steve Holden, Editor of Teacher, and the
2008 highly commended winner in the Best
Columnist category of the Melbourne Press
Club Quill Awards for the Last Word.
Photo by Barun Patro courtesy of stock.
I was late to my first English class as a new
student at Rosny College in Hobart back in
1978, because the teacher had for some rea-
son managed to find a classroom in which
to hole up in the Music Department of all
places. God knows why she wanted to teach
English in the most remote corner of the
labyrinth that was Rosny College. She cut
short my grumbling quick smart.
It was not an auspicious beginning,
considering that she was probably the best
teacher I ever had.
I've been taught by many good, some
excellent and a few superb teachers, and I've
worked with them, too, but there was some-
thing extraordinary going on in my 1978
English class. What made her such a great
teacher? I think it was because she assumed
that to be a whole teacher she had to trust
her whole person to her students. I'm not
even sure she assumed it. I suspect that's just
the way she was.
I was lucky enough some years later to
work with her, and I realised then that she
related in the same way to any student, or
our head of department, or principal or
superintendent, with respect and interest,
but without distinction.
There was, in this, I eventually realised, a
tremendous amount of courage. I remember
a behavioural management workshop where
teachers were debating the proposition that
teaching is necessarily a role, that teachers
cannot teach unless they hold something of
themselves back. I suspect that many of us
do hold something of ourselves back, but I'm
not sure that supports the proposition that
teaching is a role. I think good teaching is a
way of being, and at the best of times that's
exhilarating. It's also why, at the worst of
times, it can be so debilitating.
At Rosny College, L.P. Hartley's novel,
The Go Between, was on the course, along-
side Stephen Crane's The Red Badge of
The last word
World Teachers' Day
Good, better, best
WHAT TURNS A SUPERB TEACHER INTO AN EXTRAORDINARY ONE?
STEVE HOLDEN HAS ONE ANSWER.
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