Clever schoolkids raising hands at workplaces during lesson

To be a great teacher means to aspire to be a great leader. In the classroom, the children look up to the teacher to lead them, to take them to new and exciting destinations, constantly adding to their knowledge and honing their skills. They may not be able to say so in these exact words, but that is what, deep down, they know.

Educators are magpies, always on the look-out for good ideas, ideas that glint. So it is that all teachers especially remember their own teachers, especially those great ones who were able to take them on memorable journeys. If we are honest with ourselves, we often try to emulate their very attitudes and the activities that impressed us all those years ago. By just remembering we pay them homage, long before any recycling of their planning and their hard work delivering classes.

Over fifty years ago, in a small Primary in a county just south of London, I delighted to be in Ms. Cashman’s classroom. While I can recognize now that she was not an especially patient teacher, she steamed ahead in her own bold, decisive way and we, her craft, willingly took up our positions in her wake.

One day, in Class 7, when I would have been about eight years old, Ms. Cashman introduced a trainee teacher who was going to be with us for a few weeks. (I can see him now, and perfectly, but to my shame his name now escapes me.) It was he who introduced me to making plaster of Paris molds of sycamore leaves, eventually chiseling away at the edges to reveal a serrated edge. Once painted and glazed, the deep green glowed in a glorious fashion when placed in the sunlight on the window sill. 

Better, though, were our classes about the Romans. Very soon we were up to our elbows in gluey papier-mâché, fashioning a centurion’s helmet on top of an old and bulbous plastic lampshade. And what did a cross-section of a Roman road actually look like? What were all those layers for, and why was there a camber at the top, too? Where, in Britain, were roads made and why? Could one still see any remains? Soon we were speaking a little bit of Latin. The word “fossa” (a drainage ditch for the run-off from the camber) possibly was my first stab at that excellent language. Soon followed by “hypocaust”. 

Writing this short piece today, recalling classes taught over half a century ago, has been as delightful as being taught by Ms. Cashman and her wonderful assistant. Great teachers touch real lives; great teachers inspire. So, here, I want to thank them for inspiring me, giving me a life-long fascination for both language and history.  

In the 1980s, Ms. Cashman was to attend my wedding in that same little town. Happily, she would have known I also was starting my career as a teacher. I really hope, too, she knew how inspirational she had been to me.  

Written by Tom M. J. Wingate, Headteacher