The best from the rest

The past few weeks have been very teacher-dominated. I’ve had to survey people about the teaching profession, speak to people about motivations for teaching, done an assignment which was me reflecting on myself as a possible teacher and where I am headed, and had to think about where I’d consider applying for practical next year. As well, Ninglun has started a new blog up (I’d name it, but it seems to have a frequency of changing names and layouts) where he talks about a number of teaching-related topics. He also has a poll up at the moment, asking “What matters most in a good teacher?”, which I answered in.

All of this culminated in what I would call a self-reflective day on Friday where I started to toy around with the question of who was my favourite teacher, and why. That small question managed to consume a lot of time as I tried to explain to myself why it was the Mr. Luke Cosgrove was my favourite teacher.

Mr. Cosgrove came to my school (East Hills Boys Technology High) I believe fresh out of university. He had served time in the army, then undertaken a career change. This fact alone (that he was a soldier) scared us all straight for the first few weeks: no one was game to be subject to the hundreds of ways he could kill a man with his bare hands. Eventually, the real teacher inside of him came out, and he wasn’t rough or fear-invoking or deadly. Rather, he was a fantastic teacher.

As I said, he was fresh to our school. I was in Year 11, and in the top streamed class, as well as doing Extension 1. I was an English subject fanatic, having been in the top class since we started getting streamed, and having ranked in the top three every year. And here I was, given this new teacher to take us through the HSC. I fretted for a while, but any fears I may have had were quickly dispelled as Mr. Cosgrove did the most fantastic job I had seen to date, for a teacher and for a person.

It’s going to be very hard to describe what made Mr. Cosgrove that good, but I’ll give it a stab. He had control of the classroom, but not in a ‘rules and order’ fashion. No, it was that he harboured control through having us engaged, wanting to be there and knowing what he was talking about. When he was talking, we were listening, almost hanging on his words. Part of that would have been us knowing we needed to know what he was saying to us to get to university, but the other part was because he made it genuinely interesting.

And we really did have some dull texts to deal with.

Mr. Cosgrove also gave across the feeling that he actually cared about what was going on. You knew that he gave a damn about our individual results, whether we were learning anything, and if we needed help. This inspired many of us to put in the extra effort to reflect his care in our results, which ultimately got us better results than if we had an apathetic teacher.

Additionally, Mr. Cosgrove was very approachable. The Extension 2 class in Year 12, which I was also a part of, had an email address we could write to that he would answer. This also goes into the whole issue of trust. You trust that a teacher is going to do the best job for you. For our Extension 2 class, all of us were writing a fictional piece, and a few of us were writing about issues that were very close to one another. As a result, we didn’t want to give away mark-getting secrets to the other students, so emails were much more preferable (as you can tell, it was very competitive among the top few students). Also, the volume of work we were dealing with meant that Mr. Cosgrove had to put in a lot of extra hours reading and critiquing what we had written.

Extra hours which reflected commitment and, again, care.

It’s all of this, and those indescribable characteristics of Mr. Cosgrove, that cements him as my favourite teacher. Hot on his heels are Mrs. Mountakis, my Extension 1 teacher who was very much like Mr. Cosgrove, Ms. McCombie, my Ancient History teacher who was somewhat abrasive at times (though who I chose as my mentor in the program we had running at the school), and Mr. Walker, who I only had for two terms, but left such an impression on me, and turned my whole school ‘outlook’ around, that I probably wouldn’t be where I am today. But at the end of the day, there was that undefinable quality about Mr. Cosgrove that made him that little bit better than the rest.

And to link this all back to where it started, the poll that Ninglun has up lists a variety of options of what makes a good teacher. For me, yes, nearly all of those options are part of what makes a good teacher, but there’s that last, special thing that the best teachers have that separates them from the rest.

Thomas.

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4 thoughts on “The best from the rest

  1. Thomas, I just came across this (yes, I was Googling myself – but not in a sad, pathetic way – I swear there was a purpose!), and had to (belatedly) respond.

    I am touched beyond words at the kindness and generosity of your thoughts here. If there is a purpose to teaching, if there is any reward in it, it is in moments such as these – realising you have made a difference, an impact.

    I sincerely thank you, not for the public plaudits but for the personal affirmation. I will keep your words in a recess of my mind to return to when I need inspiration and reassurance.

    Luke Cosgrove

  2. Mr. Cosgrove, to say I was surprised that you found my simple page in the deep and dark recesses of the Internet is an understatement. I’m glad, though, that you got a chance to read it because it all still rings true.

    I could write another something similar again, and it would come easy. But, in the chance it might seem insincere, I might just leave it with this: Not exactly clear in this post is that I, myself, am well underway to become an English teacher myself; probably having been inspired by the best.

    Thank-you very much for your generous comment. It would be great if we could stay in touch, though I understand the schedules of teachers a bit better these days. Take care, and keep doing a fantastic job.

  3. Thomas,

    Do keep in touch – you know where to find me. I would love to hear how you are going and I would be happy to share any resources, thoughts, whatever with you. (Trust me, you’ll need all the help you can get in your first year out teaching!).

    L.C.

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