By indexer
156 days ago

Naming my favourite teacher

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This is tricky – there are several to choose from. However, I think I have to go for John Bristow, who was the senior English teacher at Poole Grammar School during my time there between 1963 and 1971.

I always had favourite subjects – nothing unusual there – but history was a strong contender and I got on well with all the history teachers (I ending up marrying the daughter of one of them, but that’s another story!). The reason why I decided to study English at university, rather than history, must go down to the tuition and influence of John Bristow.

The thing about his teaching style was that there was nothing forced about it. He clearly enjoyed literature, and he passed that enjoyment on to his pupils. Apart from music, what other traditional school subject studies a form of entertainment? Much of what counts as “Eng Lit” was written with the intention of creating pleasurable feelings in those who receive it, but it is very easy for a teacher to forget that and make the study of literature into a chore. John Bristow was quite the opposite. As a result, I read literature these days for fun, including what people regard as the “classics”.

My wife cannot understand why I like to analyse poems. She reckons that a poem should be read and appreciated for what it conveys as a first impression, and not pulled apart and have its entrails examined. That is because she did not have a teacher like John Bristow when she was at school. He made the analysis of poetry interesting and rewarding, because he was able to make a poem reveal so much more than a first reading can give. For me, close analysis increases enjoyment if done sensitively and carefully.

The other string to John Bristow’s bow was drama. I got involved with drama quite early at the Grammar School, and continued to perform in plays until I left. He was excellent at getting the best out of his cast by trusting them to get it right and by listening to their ideas as well as by imposing his own. Some directors are dictators and others are team leaders. I have come across both, both at school and later, and respond better to the latter approach although I appreciated that others might not agree.

He never seemed to get flustered, even when things went wrong. A play that I did not take part in (“Unman, Wittering and Zigo” by Giles Cooper) involved the set of a school classroom, with the desks raked upwards so that all the “pupils” were in the view of the audience. During one performance part of the set collapsed, with boys falling over the place. I don’t know how he did it, but Mr Bristow somehow ensured that the show went on with hardly a pause.

John Bristow did have a few annoying habits, one of which was to smoke like a chimney during rehearsals and stuff the fag ends in his trouser turn-ups. What his wife thought about this is not on record, but can be imagined!

He had the idea of doing a musical at some point, although it never happened during my time. He therefore developed the habit of accosting people at odd times during the school day and asking “can you sing?” As it happened, I could, so it was a bit disappointing that the proposed venture did not come off.

So there you are – John Bristow was my idea of a darned good teacher. He did it by not appearing to make any great effort. Perhaps his ability as an actor (he sometimes took parts in plays as well as directing them) meant that he could perform the role of a teacher without appearing to do so. He was just a “natural” who inspired by making people want to follow his example as a connoisseur of literature.

Do you have a story to tell about your favourite teacher from school?
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Violeta Very nice ar
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soncee Great artikle
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