After a few tweets from the lovely Miss Whanau and the wonderful Ali Ikram, I wanted to talk a bit about one of the most inspirational teachers I had.
His name is Trevor Williams, and he was (and still is) a teacher at Taita College. He was always regarded as something of a character, variously loved (“wow – he really gets us”) and loathed (“what a pretentious git”) by students. He was always incredibly animated and ultra cool with his almost biker image and long pony-tail. But there are a couple of things in particular I want to share with you.
In the fifth form (that’s Year 11 to you young ‘uns) we were studying a book called I Am The Cheese by Robert Cormier. It is a book a still love to this day. The story essentially involves three different parallel plotlines. One being a boy riding across three states to see his father in hospital, another story about a boy who is being interviewed by a psychologist and as it turns out recounts his family being put into witness protection, and a final plotline that I won’t divulge. These stories interweave. There are points in each story that correspond to other points in the other two stories.
“Whenever you are on the edge of revealing something important in your past, you stall, voicing suspicions of my questions because you are afraid, because you are reluctant to face your past.” – I Am The Cheese
I muttered to the kid sitting next to me how it was like plywood. You know, the grain of the story line goes one way, then at another level it goes the other way. Trevor heard this as he was passing and stopped mid-sentence. Turned to me and mouth agape asked me to repeat it. Being shy, I was reluctant to do so, but he insisted, and for him, I repeated to the class. Saying how those interweaving storylines created a strong base, like plywood or a net, that holds the character in place. And without them, he would fall straight through.
…there are the Never Knows. Never knowing who can be trusted. Never knowing who that stranger in town can be.
He was astounded as if it was the most amazing thing he had ever heard.
When I was leaving school at the end of the 7th form, I asked him for a testimonial. I will always remember one of the things he wrote:
David has an ability to see connections between seemingly disparate material
What I loved about this is that he remembered. I knew he was referred to that event two years earlier.
The other event was something more profound to me. In the sixth form I had a different English teacher. Our project for the year was to create a personal profile. We had to write a letter to ourselves at the start of the year, talking about who we are, where we hope to go, what we felt. Through the year, we had to just keep journals, write about ourselves at that moment in time, and essentially track our growth. At the end of the year, we had to write a second letter to ourselves, like the first. The objective being to see how we had changed.
At the start of the year, when we were told about this, I stayed behind and talked to the teacher (Desiree Mulligan) and said “I cannot do this. I am too shy, too terrified to write about myself like this. Surely there is something else I can do instead”. But I was told to just give it a go.
The end of the year came all too quickly, and when we were told to hand it in, I had the cover page and nothing else. “I told you, I cannot do this. It just terrifies me too much”. Trevor came to see me. He said “You’re doing it – I will give you one weekend to writesomething. And I will give you a pass mark on the condition you agree to do something special next year”. He purposely did not tell me what that something was. So that weekend I had a go at it. Put a few things together principally about how introverted I was, some of my fears. And of course, I got a pass mark (Accredited University Entrance it was in those days).
The next year, he told me what the special thing was. I was to be in the senior drama performance. I recoiled in horror. You have GOT to be kidding. I couldn’t do the damned profile, what makes you think I can do THAT??
Well, he coached me through. At one point, he took me into the AV lab where the performance was going to be held, went to the back of the hall and told me to sing. Any song I wanted. “I can’t! I don’t know how to sing! Please don’t make me!” But he did. I think I chose “God Save the Queen” being something of a royalist in my youth.
Well, it was something of a turning point. I went through with it, and LOVED it. We performed excepts from JK Baxter, ARD Fairburn, John Mulgan and others. At the end of it, he gave each of us a wee present. Mine was a couple of books. Inside one was a note.
Remember when you said you couldn’t do that speech? Well – you did. Let that be a lesson for all you do. Don’t defeat yourself first – there will be plenty of others who will try to do that for you.
I hope you’ve learnt something; I hope you’ve enjoyed yourself.
I have never forgotten this. I still have the book (The Clowns of God by Morris West) – and the other one he gave, Firelord by Parke Godwin - and I still have the note inside it.
This is an example of how one person, one teacher, can change many lives. I genuinely believe I would not be the person I am today without him. And I know that the love I share with so many people, and the impact I have had on their lives would not have happened.
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