Rhetoric around teaching encourages us to think that teachers make all the difference to the lives of their students. In an article for TES, however, Clare Jarmy, Bedales Head of Philosophy, Religion & Ethics, suggests that perhaps the idea of ‘heroic’ teachers is best left to fiction.
When Clare returned to Bedales after the Easter holidays last year, it was to the news that a dear colleague, formerly head of history, had died. When former students heard the news, comments rolled in about the massive impact she had on their lives. For many, she was a heroine. They cited her influence on successful careers, getting to good universities and, most importantly, in encouraging them to love academia in general and history in particular. It was, they said, all because of her.
“Sure, it feels good when kids say nice things when they leave, or when you bump into them in future”, says Clare. “What they say is always sincere, but I find it impossible to believe that future success is truly because of me.”
Books and films – you only have to think of Mr Chips or Miss Honey or Dumbledore – underline this perception of the teacher as hero or heroine all the time, she says. And she suggests that her colleague would have been moved but perhaps alienated by her elevation to such a status.
Rather, Clare observes that a good teacher does, by working with others, make a real difference in people’s lives. But part of the magic of teaching, she suggests, is that you don’t ever know the full extent of your effect.
She concludes: “You don’t know which things you said have struck home; which lessons made a difference. Teachers are certainly central to the heroic endeavour that is education, but as for trying to be one of the hero teachers’ of popular culture, perhaps that is better left to the world of fiction.”
The full article can be read on the TES website (subscription may be required).