As the new school year starts, I wanted to share a story with you about inspiring teachers. One in particular from my childhood.

A few years ago, I had the sad news that my school English teacher, Michael Pearson had passed away. It hit me harder than I thought it would. Other teachers have passed away over the past 20 years and while I was sad for them, I didn’t feel the loss as personally as when I heard about Mr Pearson. I couldn’t quite put my finger on why.


A few years later, the school was dedicating the new library to Mr Pearson. They asked for former pupils to send in some memories of Mr Pearson. I volunteered to write a little something to read out at the library dedication. To be honest, it wasn’t until I started writing that I realised just how much he meant to me and hundreds of other children he’d taught over the years, some of whom are immortalised in his book.

Mr Pearson - Winners and Losers

I was asked to write a few words in advance to send to the headmistress so she could get an idea of the content. I started writing a few words and then it started flowing. Before I knew it, I had filled a page and then two. This is what I wrote.

Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen. My name is Tasnim and I was a student at Red Maids’ between 1993 and 2000. I am delighted to be here today as the new library is named after my old English teacher Mr Pearson…

The story that springs to mind immediately is when my friend and I discovered his published short story book “Winners & Losers” in Westbury library. We weren’t sure if the author was really our Mr Pearson, as we thought that the School would be shouting from the rooftops that they had a published author as one of their English teachers… but that was typical of Mr Pearson, he wasn’t interested in being ‘famous’.

Anyway, after we had read the book, my friend & I surprised him with a joint book report as part of our paired oral GCSE presentation. Firstly he was very surprised we’d found a copy, and secondly he was surprised that we had read it (and enjoyed it!).  He told us afterwards that he really didn’t want to give us an A grade but we had done a genuinely good job of presenting the book in line with exam board criteria, so he was forced to! I do think he was only half-joking.


Mr Pearson had a
no-nonsense style but he would give us a bit of wiggle room for fun. He always nipped it in the bud before it got too distracting and wasted class time. One day in class, we let a small mechanical pig toy loose around the classroom. Mr Pearson asked who it belonged to, and we girls invoked a conspiracy of silence, to protect our classmate from getting into trouble. Mr Pearson could see straight away what we were doing, so calmly said “That’s fine, I don’t mind the pig in my class, but I can’t guarantee that I won’t wander over there [pointing] and roll over the poor chap.” At that, the owner of the pig jumped up to save the toy (borrowed from a sibling I think) and then she was caught out.


Mr Pearson was
smart like that. He knew how to handle difficult or annoying teenage girl pranks, and treated us just the same way as he treated the boys at his previous school (some of whom were caricaturised in his book). I did wonder whether he would write a follow-up to Winners & Losers, but based on the antics of Red Maids…

maybe he did and I just haven’t found it yet!


I would like to just describe a little about
how I personally benefited from Mr Pearson’s teaching. To be honest, I struggled with English and was only just making a C-grade when I started his GCSE class in year 10. Mr Pearson was always pushing me to do better. Very annoying! At the time it felt harsh but he knew I could do better. He strongly recommended I do extra coursework essays in my own time to boost my grades. I grumbled, he ignored my grumblings.


In a year, I moved from scraping a C-grade to scraping an A-grade. I was really happy with it and was
ready to relax. Mr Pearson wasn’t going to let me sit back and do that, so he pushed me further in Year 11.

I grumbled even more… and he listened to my grumblings even less. In the end I got solid A-grades across both of my English classes and have been left with a genuine love of reading for pleasure.


Before Mr Pearson’s guidance, I would
speed-read books just to get them ‘done’. After Mr Pearson showed me that analysing meanings and really reading in-depth and between the lines was much more meaningful and fun, I’ve genuinely enjoyed reading.


I used to think that I was
too simple or too stupid to understand deeper meaning behind books, but Mr Pearson was a stubborn man and didn’t give up on me. I grumbled a lot more. Directly to Mr Pearson as well as to my family. My family just told me to stick at it, and I’d see the reward later. They were right. But I couldn’t have done it without the (rather annoying) pushing (I now realise that was supporting me) from Mr Pearson.

I wasn’t the teachers’ pet. I wasn’t the best in class, not by a long shot. I was a regular student and this is how he helped me.

My one regret is that I never thanked him. Not really. Of course, I said thank you when we left school, but it wasn’t as heartfelt as this speech is today. It wasn’t until many years later that I realised how much he had taught me, and I am genuinely sorry that I didn’t let him, and all of my other teachers at Red Maids’ know just how good their teaching was for a shy, “quiet and conscientious” (seriously, this was in every school report I ever had) girl like me. I grew from a shrinking violet into a quietly confident teenager. As I moved through the sixth form, and went on to university, and eventually the world of work, this quiet confidence became the rather louder confidence I have now.


Even now, as a
busy single mum with 2 small children and 2 jobs, I prioritise reading, whether it’s with my children or for my own enjoyment. It has broadened my mind and my outlook; it really has shaped the ‘adult-me’. A lot of this is down to Mr P, not all of it, but he really kick-started the confidence in me and set me on my future path.

 

The speech was much less polished than the other girls who spoke and they were only 17/18, but mine was from the heart, as rough and raw as it was. Mr Pearsons mother was the guest of honour and she was in tears (proud tears she told me afterwards) after my speech. Even Michael Morpugo, yes, the world-renowned author, who was attending the library opening had a few words about how pleased he was that the work of English teachers was not forgotten even years later by the students, and he thanked me for my heartfelt words about my teacher. That was nice but I wish I had all said of that to Mr Pearson while he was alive. I hope that he knew deep down that he had a positive impact on my life, in terms of my confidence and not just my grades.

Mr Pearson - Winners and Losers

I can’t end this post without a plea to all of you. If there is someone who has inspired you, helped you, motivated you, or challenged you to do better, let them know how much it means to you.