Last week, one of my most influential teachers died. Mrs Mason was my Year Eight form tutor. I’d been in regular contact with her and her son for many years, calling her Pat far longer than the few years for which she was Mrs Mason. But it was as Mrs Mason she gave me a definitive example of how – and why – to be a real teacher.
Mrs Mason once told my mother the reason she liked having Year Eight classes was “That’s when they realise life isn’t fair.” Yet, with Mrs Mason as my form tutor, it was. A benign, sensible power greater than myself was on my side in everything I did. I knew it wouldn’t let me get away with laziness or murder, but I also knew I was seen: recognised and supported for who I was. Like everyone who understands the practical applications of kindness, Mrs Mason created though her own behaviour the world she believed should be, making it a reality as far as her power stretched.
Years later, during my LAMDA Exams teaching diploma, the senior colleague observing my lesson commented I treated pupils “with respect”, recognised their individuality and spoke to that. Mrs Mason is the reason it would never occur to me to do anything else. Respect for my individuality was a given. She recognised how my dyspraxia affected my coordination and socialisation, and how consistency, respect and empathy created a solid ground beneath me, letting me be, and explore, my full self. That is what I try to offer every person I work with now.
The best bit? Mrs Mason taught my worst subject. Maths was never something I was talented or interested enough in to excel, which is why her taking the trouble to consider how I thought and who I was, helping me become myself on my own terms, made her such an important ally and example. I got the C I needed in GCSE Maths, moved on with my own interests, but most of all I learned from Mrs Mason that our greatest and most significant connections won’t just be those with the same experiences, abilities, talents or tastes. If they were, perhaps we wouldn’t need them so much.