An open door

Other people’s words about … inspiring teachers

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I brought Vera to one of [my mother’s] lectures. It was held in the quadrangle at Sydney Uni and the hall was packed. Vera and I squeezed in at the back next to the open window and then my mother made her entrance, rushing in with a briefcase under her arm. She didn’t know we were there and didn’t see us. Applause broke out, brief but enthusiastic.

‘Oh,’ she said as she reached the front, ‘you are being entirely silly and adorable.’ And then she put on her reading glasses and began the lecture. I didn’t hear a word of what she was saying. I just kept thinking that I too would have clapped had I not known her. There had always been a kind of heat emanating from her. People responded to it, and that day was no exception; that day she made everyone feel that Political Science 101 was a gateway to a brilliantly inspired life.

from ‘What the Light Hides
by Mette Jakobsen

When I began my Arts degree at university, the one subject I refused to enrol in was the subject in which my father was a lecturer. I didn’t want to have the experience of being tutored by, or lectured to, or graded by, a parent. I wanted to make my own way through university, no strings attached.

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Still, word gets around. My father was an immensely popular lecturer: fallow students in other subjects began to come up to me and say incredulously, seeing the surname I shared with him, ‘I think your Dad’s my lecturer.’ The lecture theatre was always packed when it was his turn to speak. He told anecdotes that made students rock with laughter, and the passion he expressed for his subject lit up his eyes, filled his voice, guided his gestures. He was cool; he was a legend: friends told me this all the time. I know now, as I did then, that his students, walking under the shaded trees of that campus, strolling past the old stone buildings with the arched doorways and the spreading lawns, were lucky to have him.

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It’s a cliché, but teachers and lecturers really do change our lives. When I was in Year 12, I had a teacher who shared the same kind of popularity amongst students as my father did at university. She taught Australian history — a subject as dry and dusty as any you could think of, at least back then, in the days when the history of Australia’s first people was rarely considered or contemplated in high school classrooms. She took us through the history of the Australian Labor Party, the social history of (white) women in Australia, the beginning of national pride in Australia.

Like my father, she taught by telling stories. She had a flat, slightly croaky voice, and crinkled, grey hair through which she would push her hand as she walked between our desks. The whiff of cigarette smoke hung about her clothes — woollen jumpers, tweed skirts — leaving a trail behind her. She kept a sheaf of notes on her desk to consult if she needed to, which she rarely did. Mostly, she just talked. Sometimes her voice grew sad, sometimes urgent. If I close my eyes, I can still hear her talking.

Beyond history, she also taught us how to study. It was from her that I learned how to take notes, how to structure an essay, how to study for exams, how to practise good time management so that you could hand in an essay on time. I took those skills with me to university. I wasn’t happy socially the first time I attempted university — indeed, I left at the end of that first year and didn’t return for another six years or so — but I loved the academic challenge of the subjects I was studying, and I have my Year 12 Australian history teacher to thank for that. To this day, I still use the skills she taught us to structure anything I’m writing or drafting, and I rarely miss deadlines. That’s because of her.

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If you look closely, you’ll see a common theme in each of the photos I’ve chosen to accompany this post. They are all taken on or around my local campus, the University of Adelaide — and every one of them shows a door or a window. That’s because learning should be about opening doors, letting fresh air into our minds. It should be about allowing us to enter new worlds, to see things from a new perspective.

Gifted teachers guide us through this process — people like my history teacher, people like my father. They change our lives for the better.

In return, we carry their teaching with us for the rest of our lives. We never forget them.

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Rebecca

I'm a nature-loving, tea-drinking blogger and writer, and I've had two novels for young adults published. You can find me at twentyonewordsblog.wordpress.com and www.rebeccaburton.com.

One thought on “An open door”

  1. Going to University changed my life so radically – i grew into a totally different person through this experience, which included six lecturers who had passion for their work and a genuine interest in imparting knowledge and enthusiasm to students. I can’t imagine what would have happened if I did not have this experience. Many years later, it still underscores how I think and act every day. Without it, I would not be ‘me’.

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