Teachers: Real life influencers

With all the talk about influencers in the form of bloggers, famous people, Snapchatters, Instagrammers etc. it seems like the first influencers that we come across in our lives are left out. The word influencer doesn’t seem to be related to those people anymore as even though they had a big impact on our lives, they did it here, in the real world, not on screen.

But who are these people I am talking about? Well they are parents, siblings, other family members and friends along the way. However, the group I want to focus on today are one of the first ones we come across and sometimes make more of an impact on us than we realise.

Recognising the part they played

In the last few years I have been trying to follow my own rule of complimenting people when it is due and thanking people for helping me at different stages in life.

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Photo by Carl Attard on Pexels.com

We all know how nice it is to be recognised for the things we do and complimented on a job well done. I am really bad at taking compliments and usually try to put my self down a little when that happens. I am working on it though and now try to smile and say: “Thank you”. The hardest thing is to not follow it up with something like “I do not do enough of it though…” or “If it wasn’t for (insert any excuse appropriated) I couldn’t have done it…” and so forth.

The last year or so I have contacted people from the past and thanked them.

For an example I called or messages some of the people that played a role in my case when I was in foster care. People that were working for social services or came across my case in any other way. I wanted them to know I had turned out just fine and that I consider that their role was a big part of that. I imagine when you do a job like that you must sometimes doubt yourself, it must wear you out at times and a lot of the times people forget to let you know what an impact you had.

When I started doing that it actually gave me a lot of satisfaction. The phone calls and messages I received filled my heart with love and care. They told me how well I had done, then and now.

I have also spoken to or emailed people I have listened to at conferences and thanked them if they moved me. I have also told people I work for or with if I believe they are doing a good job.

Teachers

In Iceland children tend to start going to kindergarten at quite an early age and that’s the place we first encounter teachers and then they lead us all through adolescence. Once we are 16 years old we then either go and work or continue studying and if so, they mentor us for a few more years.

Most of us can probably relate with the stereotypes, as I believe stereotypes are founded on reality, then they are exaggerated, or the reality can change. By stereotypes I mean like the teacher that was way to smart to teach what he was trying to explain, the teacher that had been teaching for way to long and just wanted to get through the day, the teacher that was so warm that you felt like you had your grandparent there, the teacher that was overenthusiastic, the strict one you didn’t dare to provoke or the teacher that was trying so hard but just somehow couldn’t reach his audience.

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But then there are the really special ones, the once that touch us or our lives in a way I think they sometimes don’t realise.

I am going to cover the ones that I came across and the reasons they touched me.

Passion for creativity

When I was in 2nd – 4th grade I had a teacher who was also an actress. She was in an amateur theatre group in our town and really wanted to get us hooked.

She was loud, she was strict in a sense that even though we were having fun we were not to take advantage of it, she was creative and passionate.

She managed to convince the headteacher to let her put acting into the syllabus. There were 5 classes in my year and my class was the only one that got these lessons. For two hours every Friday we would be on stage practicing pieces either she or we choose, we would get to put on a show for our parents once each semester. She would have us practice talking loud enough and help us find the courage to do so in front of each other. She taught us how to stand and carry ourselves on stage and at the end of the lesson she would have us all lie down and meditate. We found that part funny and awkward at first but grew to like it.

She was successful and many of us carried the dream of becoming actresses and actors. I was one of them. I got so smitten that I formed my own theatre group. It was called “Pots and Pranksters”. I wasn’t allowed to invite friends in to play very often and when I could I could only invite one or two friends at a time. But I didn’t let that stop me. In the Icelandic weather we practiced outside, in my garden. In order to have enough people in my group I made an advertisement and hung up in my school. The kids that asked to join mainly consisted of me and my brothers’ friends. As I was a bit of a control freak I “of course” wrote the plays, directed them and casted myself in the biggest parts. Next to our house was a day-care centre for children and young people with disabilities. One of my grandmothers worked there and as the leader of “Pots and Pranksters” I marched in there and asked if we could set up a show for the kids once a week, on Fridays. That was approved and this group operated for quite some while.

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I had the dream of becoming an actress until I was about 20, by then I hadn’t been on stage for 4 years and convinced myself I was to old for it. However, I still carry the dream of entering an amateur group at some stage after university.

This teacher also read for us. She didn’t read what would have been considered children books. She read thick and old books, often folklore. I loved that! With my passion for words and stories that was something right down my alley!

I believe she was one of the first people in my life that encouraged me to be creative and helped me connect with that side of me. Without her I am not sure who I would be today as the traditional education in the other classes in my year wouldn’t have focused so much on letting our artistic side develop.

Finding her feet in the world of teaching

As a teenager I was in a class with very colourful people. Like most other teenagers we were all trying to discover ourselves and striving to stand out in our own way. Some of us, however, tried our best to blend in, in order to be left alone and not become the target of ridicule.

When I was in the 9th grade we got a new teacher. The teacher that had led the class for quite a few years was now letting go and we got a new vibrant teacher that had just graduated.

She used unorthodox approaches in her teaching. When teaching us history and geography she would bring things to class to make the subjects come alive. Food from the countries we covered and objects related to them. She also invited the whole class to her house one night, for a cosy-out-of-class experience. That was so nice and made me feel like she wanted to know more than just whether we could detect where “the X” (algebra pun) had gone!

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In English classes she brought lyrics with blanks in. She would have us listen to songs that had emotional lyrics or songs that were popular at the time and fill in the words. For the poet and story writing me that was a favourite! I was always excited about which song she would bring next.

With everything she did and all the effort she put into it I always felt like the class didn’t appreciate her. I felt like she was bullied by the class and had to deal with a lot of attitude. On behalf of my class I have carried guilt due to that. Recently I contacted her. I wanted her to know what an impact she had left and that I was grateful for what she did and how she did it as a teacher. She was thankful for the message and to my relief told me she actually enjoyed teaching the class and loved all the different characters in it. This shows how different perception can be. She was probably prepared for what she was getting into, knew she was teaching a class with teenagers and that they would test the boundaries.

The Math-artist!

Yep! That’s what I will call him! As I have found one really has to have skills to teach maths. You can be really good at maths but crap at explaining it. Many of the math teachers were so clever there was no way they could put themselves in the shoes of people that simply didn’t get it and therefore couldn’t “dumb it down” for them. Then there are teachers that talk to people that have a hard time with maths and speak to their students like they have learning disabilities and are 5 years old on top of that. Degrading.

When I became a teenager, maths started becoming my Achille’s heel. I developed a very negative relationship towards the subject and in fact, anything that had to do with numbers. Throughout the years this relationship got worse. Then all of a sudden when I was 19 I had a teacher that got to me! I am not really sure how or why, but he did. The fact I had decided that semester that I would do my homework EVERY day in maths probably helped. I put all other subjects on ice, as they came easy for me, and mainly focused on maths when I did my homework. It also helped that the teacher put me next to a guy that NEVER did his homework. Me and that guy got on well and the teacher encouraged me to help him a little “as he himself was so busy with all the other students”. I think that was his main trick! Having to verbalise everything I had done at home to someone else made my understanding of the subject a lot deeper.

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After quitting this course 5 times in different schools I finally sat through it and didn’t have this constant inner conversation of “You just can’t learn maths”. I learned that I indeed could and I was quite good at it. I passed with the highest grade given in the class!

The one that knew me better than I did

This teacher touched my life in many ways. When I was a teenager, she didn’t teach me but she worked for social services and worked on my case. She also taught in the school I attended. Therefore, when I returned to school at the age of 25, she remembered me.

From the age of 25 to 27 I did a few courses at my old school, as many as I could, being a mum of a young daughter, then pregnant and finally, mum of two young children.

Her office became my haven. When I went through the split ups with the fathers of my children I sat in her office and cried. The first place I could think of when the father of one of my kids sued me for custody was her office, where I sat and cried and gathered my thoughts and strength. She had a way of letting me vent out and then look at me kindly and give me some advice or encouraging words. She knew who I was and what I was about. As she had been involved in my case when I was a teenager she knew better than most what I had been through. She even told me it was a shame the school system didn’t value life experience at all, that one could not get any credits for that, as she said she knew I had a lot of that. She empowered me.

Empowered

I will never forget when I came into her office and asked her: “Is it true that you conduct ADHD tests on people?”

I hardly finished the sentence when she excitedly said: “YES!”

And I said: “Well, I was wondering…”

Again, she answered with excitement: “YES!”

By that point I got a little awkward and thought I was missing something: “….well…you know… whether maybe I….If I should perhaps take a test like that?”

Like she had been waiting for this lightbulb to come on for a long time she said: “YES!”

I did the test and found out I do not have ADHD. She told me, however, that I’m dancing on the line. She said some factors are very high, while others are within the scope of where they should be. She told me in many ways it was harder to be in my position. If one is “normal” then that is that. If one has ADHD it can be worked with and handled accordingly. However, she told me to use it to my advantages. She also told me I just had to be aware of it and use cognitive therapy when I felt like I needed to.

She taught me 2 or 3 classes. She taught upbringing. I loved the subject as I had worked in 3 kindergartens and was a mum of one and soon to be two. I went over the top in all the assignments she gave us, I always did a little extra. Or a lot..

It was in her class I also found my voice. My voice in school. When I was a teenager it was considered uncool and nerdy to participate in classes. To engage with the teacher. When I sat in her class, as a mature student, surrounded by 16 – 18 year olds I discovered I wasn’t expressing myself out of fear of judgement. It was in one of her classes that I decided I was studying for me, that I wanted to get the most out of it and that I didn’t care what other students thought. I enjoyed classes so much more! I asked questions and I engaged with her in conversation about the subject.

Since then I have been quite vocal in classes. Nowadays I am not afraid to take up space in classes.

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The motivational duo

When I finally went to do my equivalence of A-levels full time, as a single mum of two, I came across many great teachers. However, in that school there was a married couple. She taught Danish and he was a school counsellor. They were amazing!

She was cheerful and positive and managed to make Danish fun by showing us funny music videos and sketches. She was so full of spirit in classes that it transmitted over to the whole class.

He became my guidance when everything became too much. I would talk to him about this and that. Sometimes I would pop into his office just to talk to someone older than the age of 3. I would also go in there and cry my eyes out if needed and understanding and kindly he would listen and let me get it all out. When I was making life hard on myself by over analysing things or by taking so many notes while listening to lectures that one could have published a new textbook, he would make fun of me and then guide me in the right direction. When I didn’t believe in myself, he would help me focus and point out what I had actually achieved and told me I could do anything.

I try to see them when I drive through the area of the school as I highly appreciate them and how much they give of themselves when interacting with other people.

The supportive philosopher

When I did my bachelors I had to do a course in political philosophy. I had dreaded it throughout my studies as neither politics nor philosophy were my favourite subjects and there I had a course that combined both!

After having one philosophy teacher before him that opened my mind a little and helped me connect the theory to real life and showed me how relevant all these old books and ideology actually was, I was a little more open to his course. Still, it was this mixture of philosophy and politics.

Once I started his course I quickly detected how enthusiastic he was about the subject. As I was a distance student I went to classes once or twice each semester and then listened to lectures online. When I went to his lecture I was the only student that showed up. Lucky me! I got a private lesson and it really helped me to understand the subject and I discovered it was very enjoyable and one could debate it back and forth for ever.

To make a long story short this was one of my top subjects. I was highest in the class when we finished and I went on to doing a big group research assignment and it involved both politics and philosophy. He was our tutor in it and gave really informative guidance. While working on that project I was about to have my youngest child. At the end of it we turned in a big dissertation and then had to present it and defend it for a panel. I had my daughter 12 days later!

Once my daughter was 6 weeks old I had to start working on my final dissertation. At the university I graduated from one can request a tutor. I knew I wanted him. Because of that and my brothers reactions when I told him I was going to study PR I chose to write about PR and ethics. I could not have had a better tutor. When I was at a breaking point and thought I had misunderstood everything I was doing and that I would probably have to postpone my graduation I sent him a message. He told me to call. We had a 45 minute long conversation where we talked about the assignment and he pointed out he wouldn’t be as much involved if he didn’t believe in me and what I was doing. He helped me straighten my back, brush the dust off and sit back down and put in these final words needed.

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When I applied for the University of Leeds he was one of the people that wrote me a recommendation letter and the letter he wrote means the world to me. What he wrote empowered me and made me think there may be a little more worth in me than I sometimes see.

Reach out

All these people touched me one way or another. They helped me to get to where I am today. Some of them I have thanked and told about my thoughts, others are still on my list.

There is a saying that it takes a village to raise a child, there is so much truth in that. However, I want to extend that as we need “the village” all our lives as our learning, no matter whether it is in school or not, requires this village. The people that laugh with us, pick us up when we are down, encourage us, point out things that we don’t recognise within ourselves etc.

I encourage everyone to reach out and let the people that have influenced them know they did so and tell them how. It will hopefully give them something back for what they gave and the odd thing is it gives you so much as well!

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