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Those who can, teach

Pretty much everyone will have a favourite schoolteacher, whether you’re still at school, left a couple of years ago or left 50 years ago, it’s more than likely that one will have stood out.

Maybe they inspired you, gave you belief, helped you through a hard time, made you fall in love with a lesson, were kind or just a decent human being; we all remember that favourite teacher.

For me (and many, many, many others at All Saints RC High School in Rawtenstall) it was Mr DP Brennan, head of English and my form tutor in years 10 and 11.

“D.P Brennan. Think he must have had choice conversations with most pupils making them feel they were important and motivating them. Plus, such a dry sense of humour and could discipline when needed but also make English lessons fun”.

“Mr Brennan absolutely. My grades were slipping, and I remember him giving me a sort of motivational speech”.

“A personal chat he had with me to give me encouragement and belief in myself and my abilities. He didn’t need to do it, but he did make me believe in myself a bit more. And he was funny as fuck”.

“He was a legend!! I can still hear him saying to us over and over again ‘metaphors are the similar of dis-similars’ I loved him, he was great”.

“It really mattered to him that we learned our stuff”.

That’s just a selection of some of the comments I got about Mr Brennan – without prompting. 

Now, I have to admit, at the start of year 10, I hated him. In fact, after a week of sitting in his form room and English lessons I was adamant I did not want him to teach me English.

“I hate him, he hates me, I want to go back into Mrs Gill’s class” 

I trotted this line out to my mum for weeks (he’d also taught her during his 38 year career at All Saints), so she told him at parents evening.

“She’s not going out of my class, I’m hard on her because she’s going to get an A, if she works hard”.

Year 10 report – I hoard things

I don’t think anyone had said I was going to get an A in anything ever before. I started to understand that actually not spending each lesson talking was in my best interest and maybe I did need a teacher who was going to make me work hard.

Cocky 15 year-old who thought she knew it all

That’s not to say there weren’t other incidents where I pushed my luck – my mum caught me skiving (it was very easy to walk out of school after getting an afternoon registration mark) and told school, I’m pretty sure it should have been the other way around.

The next morning as he passed my desk I got a very disapproving look and a simple question…

“Are you stupid?”.

“No Sir”.

“Then why skive?”.

I had no comeback for that. 

I’d like to say I never skived school again but that’d be a lie. I was stupid and also not very good at skiving, I got caught every, single time – I even had to hide behind a seat on the bus once because my mum got on it and a local drug addict kept asking me what I was doing.

He encouraged my love of reading and writing. He got me to enjoy Shakespeare but not George Elliot. He made learning about social history fun with Boys from the Black stuff. He introduced me to my favourite book To Kill A Mockingbird and taught me and other to learn about the world through books.

I remember him standing up for our year on one of the final days of school. As tradition dictates, when you leave school you write on each-others shirts (I hope this is still a thing), anyway it had been decreed that anyone with writing on their shirt would be sent home. Ruth and I scribbled on each other quick and headed to form to say unfortunately we’d have to miss out on a final afternoon.

Mr Brennan was pretty outraged at the whole thing calling it ridiculous. So, when the teacher who’d made this rule came to inform him that anyone in his form with writing on their shirt would be going home, he told her it was utterly ridiculous. Now, it was awkward watching these two senior teachers arguing about school shirts, I wanted to give him a high five, he saw it as a tradition that we should be allowed to enjoy and to be honest – a graffitied uniform wasn’t going to be any more of a distraction than only having hours left at school.

Most importantly Mr Brennan made me believe that I could be a journalist – something I’d dreamed about from the age of 8 – he’d probably have something to say about me opting for radio rather than print. He made me believe I could write. He made me believe I was capable of achieving something, that is priceless.

The reason I’ve been thinking about this a lot is because I came across my leavers book (that is an amusing read). I got two teachers to sign mine Mr Brennan obviously being one of them, he wrote:

“Sarah, be proud of your abilities and your style”.

I’d like to say that I’ve kept that advice with me and carried it in everyday life, unfortunately adulthood has a way of knocking that pride out of you. The world and some people in it can grind you down over time. We all lose that feeling of invincibility that we have as a teenager, the idea that we can do anything we want to starts to fade.

There’s been times that I didn’t remotely believe in my abilities and style, let alone have any sort of pride in it.

Everyone suffers imposter syndrome.  I still think someone is going to catch me out for not having a clue what I’m doing, even though it is quite clear I do know what I’m doing. I still at times have that really shitty voice in my head when I’m about to do a live on LBC that says:

“Eddie Mair is about to introduce you, you’re going to make an idiot of yourself, your voice will go shaky and squeaky, you don’t know what you’re talking about AND he’s a proper a journalist”. 

I shut that voice up a few weeks ago, I remembered that quote. I’m a proper journalist too, and I am proud of my abilities and style, no matter what the world throws at me, what the haters say or who makes me question otherwise. 

Year 11 leavers book

The last time I saw Mr Brennan, I was working in Tesco to save some cash for my post-grad in journalism, he was as lovely as always and seemed genuinely interested in what I was up to, he told me “you must get that diploma and write”.

You see the best teachers, give you that belief, they let you work out your talents and guide you to where you want to go.

All Saints class of 2001

When I think back to school, I now realise we were quite lucky at All Saints with a group of kind, passionate teachers who pushed us to be the best versions of ourselves – even if we couldn’t see it at the time.

Mrs Doyle, Miss Carsley, Mrs Gorton, Mr McKewan, Mr Costello to name a few. I asked what people would tell their favourite teachers if they saw them again and what they took from teachers.

Mrs Wilde, Mrs Doyle, Mrs Wolley, Mr Brennan and Miss Carsley

“Thank you for being kind”.

“Mrs Doyle, Mr McKeon and Mr Brennan, I climbed out of an inherited hole to where I am now because of those three”.

“I loved Mrs Doyle in high school! Always got the best out of me! Unfortunately, I had few bas ones along the way. Actually, it was the bad ones who inspired me become a teacher myself and make sure kids got a better deal than they did with them”.

“So many passionate teachers at All Saints when you think about it. They really cared and wanted us to learn. If it wasn’t for them it would have been so dull, but they made it interesting. I’d thank them for making it memorable”.

“I’d apologise to Mr Brennan for not doing English at A Level but would hope he’d understand and be chuffed with the outcome regardless”.

“Miss Carsley changed my way of thinking and was a legend”.

“I’d love to thank Mr Brennan if I saw him again”.

Strangers told me about how teachers had taught them to question the world, how they’d taught them to love literature, were firm but always fair. Almost everyone had a special memory or lesson they’d taken from a teacher.

So, what would I say to Mr Brennan?

“You always said I talk too much and now I’m actually paid to talk for living, so, jokes on you”  (slight joke)

What I would say is this:

“Thank you for your warmth, kindness, help and belief. Thank you for reminding me – 20 years later – to be proud of my abilities and style, I won’t forget that lesson again. Thanks Sir”.

radiosarahc View All

Journalist, writer, traveller, music lover, collector of hats, news addict, bookworm

2 thoughts on “Those who can, teach Leave a comment

  1. I’m the same my English Teacher at school was really good. Like I wanted to be like her you know The texts she chose were like the right ones. They were simpler and she didn’t just throw us in at the deep end she kinda had faith in me and adult hood beat that out of me. I still want to go back and sit in a stuffy classroom and analyze poetry but that doesn’t mean I want to die just cause life now is different and isn’t as good. As a teenager I was really passive but lives beaten me up so much that I’ve become quite aggressive and not the person I was. I hate when people say they have it easy in prison , I was in hospital for ages and its messed me up big time to the point I have dementia style symptoms.


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