My Best Teacher
Vice Chair of Governors, David Howe shares his thoughts on his time as a student at Lawrence Sheriff.
MY BEST TEACHER
Every week, editions of the Times Educational Supplement carry a feature called 'My Best Teacher'. A "celebrity" of today is asked to recall, describe and analyse a teacher who inspired him or her. This feature has run every week for many years. I doubt whether the "'T.E.S.' is close to running out of subjects. The latest contributor is Danny Mills, former England full back and Match of the Day star, extolling the virtues of his erstwhile P.E. Teacher Mr Nicklin.
I was reminded of these laudatory pieces when I learned recently of the death of Mr Alan Staveley, Head of L.S.S. from 1958 to 1968. He arrived four terms before I left. His predecessor gave no sign around the school of recognising me, even though he had caned me six or seven times. Perhaps he found it easier to recognise me from the rear. Mr Staveley knew, or appeared to know every boy by name within months of arriving. I shall never forget the moment in his second term when he approached me one morning in the Whitehouse Quad. On the previous evening he had seen the school play in which I played the small part of a landlord. He greeted me with characteristic bonhomie:
"Ah. Mein Host. Morning landlord. Well done"
Only seven words, but I walked on grinning broadly, feeling taller.
In August 1959, when our A level results came out, we stood around the board where the results were posted, sharing raucous congratulations as appropriate. I had done better than I expected. Mr Staveley approached:
"Well done Howe," he boomed cheerfully. "So what are you going to do with these results of yours?"
"I've got a place at Coventry College to do teacher training sir."
"Training College? You cannot possibly go to Training College with these results. You must go to university."
As far as I, my limited horizons and my bemused parents were concerned, he might as well have said Mars. I smiled politely but said nothing.
"Leave it with me. I'll see what I can do and get back to you."
I mentally decided that he would soon forget all about it and I could go quietly off to college. How little even then I knew him. A few days later he contacted me:
"I've got you two offers. One at Leicester and one at Leeds. You can start at Leicester in October. If you want to go to Leeds, you'll have to get your Latin."
The thought of another whole year at school just doing Latin which I might fail was untenable. I took Leicester. At least I knew how to hitch-hike there. I thanked him very much - and prepared to embark on a life-changing course of action. Three weeks later I set off for Leicester with a suitcase, a bike - and a map.
If I ever doubted just how momentous was the decision I'd made - well, been pushed into, I realised when I sat down at once to write to the Principal of the City of Coventry Training College to explain that I would not after all be honouring them with my presence. I felt anxious and guilty, for the Coventry start of term was now just days away. I was sure I had cast a slight on the College's honour, not to mention administrative chaos and indignation. I posted my letter and received within three days a handwritten reply from their Principal in person Miss J D Browne. I recall two sentences from her letter:
"Of course you must take up the university offer. You did exactly the right thing, and we at Coventry wish you well."
I read that literally with tears in my eyes. Such magnanimity confirmed in my apprehensive mind that what Mr Staveley had achieved for me was a major and potentially life-changing opportunity. And so it proved.
Mr Staveley was a Classics teacher who emphasised the importance of care and precision in one's choice of words. In his honour I must be clear. He was not my best teacher. His weekly R.E. lessons for which he often arrived late did not merit that tribute. But his determination and initiative without doubt changed my life for the better. One wonders just how much more good he dispensed in his ninety nine year old life.