In praise of... educators and teachers

When I opened my Twitter feed this morning, I discovered that today is World Teachers' Day. For many, it's been an opportunity to shout out their gratitude to those teachers who have inspired them and made a positive impact on their lives - and to record our appreciation for all those who work in education, often in exhausting and difficult circumstances.

I can remember most of my former teachers, especially the ones who taught with passion and creativity, and inspired this in us, their pupils. Several of my middle school teachers were real characters, who somehow coped with a few hundred chaotic, hormonal 9-13 year olds; some with strict rules, others, at times giving us the trust and free reins we needed as we moved awkwardly from childhood into adolescence. I disliked maths but retain a fond memory for Miss McCabe, who taught an unpopular subject with energy and enthusiasm - and a winning combination of strictness and eccentricity. I also recall Miss Peters, the art teacher who encouraged me with extra tuition; she was our form teacher while we collectively went through a difficult phase, and somehow communicated that she believed in us, and trusted the best selves we usually kept hidden.

The Ursuline Convent High School was, by contrast, a calmer, more contained environment, with some lovely rooms and grounds. Ursuline sisters have been educating girls for over 400 years, and there was a sense of solidity and tradition which rooted us, teenagers whose lives were full of change and uncertainties. Standards and expectations were high, for personal and spiritual growth as well as academically; but our school motto, like that of all Ursuline schools, was Serviam - I will serve. So we were encouraged to use and develop our gifts, and success was applauded, but the ideal of service was central.

And then I joined the Society of the Sacred Heart, founded in the aftermath of the French Revolution for the education of hearts as well as minds, and now responsible for over a hundred schools and colleges throughout the world, many now staffed by lay colleagues. Over the years, in several different settings, I have lived with a lot of committed educators, while my own pre-entry enjoyment of training and mentoring has been nurtured and developed. In a way, in the Sacred Heart every day is world teachers' day! - and we've been able to celebrate the achievements of our different schools and their students, for example when we cheered on "our" Olympians this summer.

There are no Sacred Heart Olympians in England, but several former students are well-known figures in politics, media and the arts. I used to live with a sister who proudly followed the careers of two journalists she had taught: the affection was mutual, as we saw a few months ago, when one of them wrote a lovely and loving appreciation of this sister in a feature in The Tablet called The teacher who inspired me. She ended by recording her appreciation of all the sisters who had taught her, words describing vowed religious but which can also be applied and aspired to by anyone who truly serves and educates from their heart...

In the way they lived ...[the sisters]... taught us so much about the value of a life spent serving God and our fellow humans. They also made clear to us that the worth of a human life cannot be measured in money or possessions, but in the love and kindness in our hearts and the difference we try to make in the world. And that there is very little that a woman cannot do if she sets her mind to it.

Caroline Wyatt, The Tablet - 9th April 2016