Inspiring a generation

Teachers  retired Dick Gillingham with wife Gill and son Mark at Montgomery High School, Bispham.

Teachers retired Dick Gillingham with wife Gill and son Mark at Montgomery High School, Bispham.

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IT all started with Lord (John) Prescott.

The former deputy prime minister and now firebrand Labour baron – and wouldbe Humberside police commissioner – saw red when public school educated David Laws, who resigned as the Coalition’s chief secretary to the Treasury and is now back in office as education minister, claimed school pupils were being held back by teachers’ “depressingly low expectations” and lack of ambition for those they taught.

Laws contended teachers were effectively “encouraging” many children to believe top exam grades, places at elite universities and professional careers, such as within “banking, law and journalism” are all beyond them.

They were being pushed to settle for middling exam results and careers with “medium-ranked” local employers – rather than reach for the stars.

Laws added: “There are too many young people who think that the two or three big employers in their local town are the limit of their aspiration.”

Some might well argue that chance would be a fine thing in the Fylde given the uncertainty concerning traditional major employers such as the civil service and BAE Systems.

His comments followed criticism the scrapping of the educational maintenance allowance paid to pupils from lower income households would limit their prospects further.

Alan Milburn, the Coalition’s social mobility advisor, maintains 20 per cent of teenagers from privileged backgrounds are seven times more likely to get into top universities than the poorest 40 per cent.

Pugnacious Prescott was quick to fire back. “Let’s show David Laws how inspirational state teachers can be,” he tweeted – which is the vast online social community served by Twitter.

That was a week ago. People have been tweeting ever since.

“Mr Douglas instilled a love of literature in me. My first novel will be published in April.”

“My maths teacher Mr Werker saw my love of maths and nurtured it, which helped fix my poor behaviour and attendance.”

“Jenny Murray RIP. My (state school) headteacher. So inspirational hundreds of ex pupils attended her funeral.”

It’s proved a touchstone – to youth, to community, to that sense of enduring gratitude owed to an inspirational teacher.

And most of us have one. One who went the extra mile or simply made us realise there was more to us than the endless lines I Must Not ... or the extra hours in detention.

Dick Gillingham retired from Montgomery High School last February, having taught three generations of various families geography, history, English, art and design, geometrical and engineering drawing, religious education and, for many years, field games. He clocked up 41 years unbroken service at the same school. Dick is also married to a teacher there, wife Gill is head of music, and their son Mark teaches there too.

So it’s to Sir, with love, that I turn for our own tribute to teachers. For who was his?

“It would have to be the legendary Dorothy Bennett – our 11 plus teacher at Chaucer Boys. She was a big part of our lives , even checked whether you had been to church or Sunday school.

“She was an inspirational lady who followed my career and pastime till her death.

“When I started speaking on local history themes, she would frequently be in the audience and always keen to offer ‘advice’!

“She also made a shy little boy sing to an audience for the first time and gave myself and close pal Ron Baxter a lifelong interest in traditional folk songs. Many Fleetwood men still talk of her influence and her funeral service filled St Peter’s in Fleetwood.

“Ann Howarth, my A Level art teacher was another teacher who influenced me greatly. She created a marvellous atmosphere of calm and diligence in her room – you could hear a pin drop in there but we all loved the silence!

“She also introduced me to another passion – architecture. She had a firm ,quiet authority but spent time individually with every pupil in every lesson.

“One of her masterpieces, the beautiful memorial stained glass window in memory of former Fleetwood Grammar School pupils who were lost in WWII, is for many the highlight of a visit to Fleetwood Museum. Dominating the coffee house, it has brought ex pupils from all over the world back to Fleetwood to view it.

“Great teachers all reveal a lot of themselves and cultivate enthusiasms in their charges.

“There is no magic formula as the government would have us believe. Much I believe has been lost by the desire to be too prescriptive. Schools need the quirky and the different – the unexpected!”

Lynne Pattinson, Blackpool Council’s arts officer, regularly runs workshops with local schools and has also helped organise this month’s Wordpool Literary Festival, in the resort:

“It would be the English teacher and no, I can’t remember her name, but am forever thankful to her for introducing me to novels like Cranford, Far from the Madding Crowd and Great Expectations.”

Claire Mashiter, who helps train people of all ages become volunteers through the gateway services offered by Blackpool, Fylde and Wyre Volunteers Centre , based at Stanley Park, says: “The best teacher I know was my former manager Dr Helen Day, who teaches children’s literacies and the cross over between adult and children’s stories and their real meaning.

“And more recently I really rate Dr Mike Clark of Uclan, a fantastic lecturer in environmental management. Every lecture was like a journey into the mind. He encourages 
individual thought and to follow a critical review process, very much supporting the questioning mind.

“My favourite teacher of old was from infant school – Mrs Greenwood. She was kind but firm, very old fashioned and used to dress in pleated skirts and blouses with ruffs round the neck and always smelt of the same flowery perfume.

“Even now if I smell the same scent anywhere it takes me back to playing dress up and doing colour of the day exercises – well, we were about four or five!”