Importance of teachers

By the time you read this, George Osborne, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, will have delivered his Budget.

People will be calculating how much extra the Chancellor has given and, very probably, how much more he has taken in the form of petrol duty, duty on beer or general tax.

I will want to write about the Budget and what it means for Hartlepool next week.

In the meantime, however, I want to outline the terrifying and exhilarating experience I had at St Hild’s School last week when I taught a lesson.

This was as part of Teach First Week, in which the charity Teach First highlights the vital importance of teaching as a means of inspiring and motivating pupils to achieve their best.

I taught an English class and haven’t been as nervous about anything in a long time.

I speak in public virtually every day and can do it without a great deal of trepidation. But last week before the lesson I was a bag of nerves.

I think that was because pupils are somewhat unforgiving. I don’t mean that in a critical sense, but with a belief that young people are curious but demand to see the relevance of a subject or situation. The job of a good teacher is to inspire and motivate the pupils to want to learn.

I was meant to be teaching Shakespeare, in particular Shylock’s speech in The Merchant of Venice, and relating that to public speaking.

Shakespeare often gets a bad press and is seen as boring, especially by kids having to learn it as part of GCSE. But actually he is interesting, gritty and very honest.

Shakespeare is often just seen on the written page, and its arcane language can often, in cold print, seem impossible to understand.

But if you see it as it was meant to be seen – as a drama – it is very easy to understand and relate to the characters.

I showed students a clip of Al Pacino playing Shylock in the film version of The Merchant of Venice and, believe me, it is really powerful and dramatic – it’s like watching Godfather Part II.

I also tried to show examples of great public speaking. I used three of the best – Winston Churchill, John Kennedy and Barack Obama.

The pupils thought that Obama’s speech was the most engaging, possibly because it was the most modern, but were very astute in recognising the value of Churchill’s “We shall fight them on the beaches” speech.

The use of repetition in remarks and short snappy phrases that Churchill employed were similar to the Shylock speech, and students picked that up really quickly.

One girl in particular said of Churchill – “I thought he was speaking directly to me” – which I thought showed remarkable sophistication and caught in a very simple phrase how Churchill was able to command such leadership and respect in the Second World War.

The ability to inspire and motivate young people is very important, and many, many teachers do that every day. We often forget that. We owe them a huge debt of gratitude.

We also need organisations like Teach First to ensure that the brightest and best of our graduates go into our schools to help young people achieve their potential and learn about the world around them.