Thursday, March 12, 2009

Those That Can

I was delighted to see one of my former Primary School teachers on Reporting Scotland this evening. Maureen Tremmel, or Mrs Tremmel as she always was to me, is now Headmistress at Gullane Primary, where pupils have just won a national cookery award.

To win, the pupils cooked, sourced and prepared a meal using local food, even visiting a local pig farm in the process to learn how to make sausages. All good stuff, and TV interest notwithstanding, just a little bit different, I'll bet, from how the same part of the curriculum will be taught elsewhere.

I encountered a few inspirational teachers along my way through school. Straight away, I can think of Mr Wood and Mrs Brydon, both Heads of the Music Department and Conductors of the school orchestra; Mr Tillie, the Head of Geography; Mr Savage, the Head Teacher of History, who would probably be quite chuffed to know that even though the timetable meant I had to drop his class in 3rd year, I still ended up with a degree in his subject; Mr Wilson and Miss Scotland in the English Department, and Mr Simpson in Physics - all of whom spurred me on in their own particular ways. However, I'd have no hesitation whatsoever in placing the redoubtable Mrs T, my teacher in primaries 6 and 7, right up there at the top.

Why? Simply, without a word of exaggeration, she is one of that rare breed who was born to teach young minds - really. She treated every one of her pupils, and I mean every one, like the individuals they were while brooking absolutely no nonsense whatsoever. She encouraged us to think in shades of grey, to challenge, to express ourselves, and once the work was done, invariably to her exacting high standards which could push you well beyond what was required just to simply 'get by', drew out hidden talents in us all by giving us the absolute freedom and trust to go and discover things for ourselves.

Maybe there was a touch of the Jean Brodies at work. You always felt special as part of her class – somehow trusted, mature, adult. Her confidence and presence rubbed off, helping turn us into the young adults we were inevitably going to become. And knowing the challenges that would come as we entered high school, no matter what the guidelines did or didn't say, she had the foresight and interest to encourage us to work ahead of the class as we felt able, so that we'd be as well prepared as possible academically for the jump that was to come.

Particularly, I remember the gentle nicknames, the obvious affection for all her pupils and interest in their lives outside school, the class debates, the time I was allowed to spend on art and music, the class trip over the water to Pittencrieff Park, the party the class organised for her in strictest secrecy before we left for high school... only in retrospect can I see that perhaps more than any other teacher I ever had, she epitomised that 'leading out' process of what is within, the very educto root from which we derive the word education itself.

Lots of people become teachers, most of them I'm pleased to say very good ones. However, there's precious few who have the sheer natural talent and obvious love of the job which Mrs Tremmel did. The very fact that the purple prose can still flow here, even after two decades have passed, might in some way serve as a testament to how fortunate I think the pupils and parents at Gullane are to have a teacher like her in their midst.


subrosa said...

What beautifully expressed memories.

Anonymous said...

Sorry - this must be a joke heard before but:

Was there any reason you paid particular attention in Miss Scotland's class?


Richard Thomson said...

Very droll, IoC :-)

Actually, there was. She had a fearsome reputation amongst the younger kids, which I could never see any justification for.

I suspect it stemmed from a sense of humour which was about as dry and arch as could be. Great fun to see others on the receiving end, but always something to steer clear of yourself if it could be avoided!