We originally wrote this piece as part of National Thank a Teacher Day. We thought it was only right to pick our teams brains to see which teacher inspired them the most and they kindly shared their experiences below.

(Any and all attempts for their stories to be accompanied by embarrassing images of team members in their school uniforms were roundly ignored so you'll have to imagine that teenage angst and geekiness all on your own.) 

Catherine Hine.
Chief Executive Officer

I was battling with existential angst in my teens whilst trying to find ways to make a difference, my school was quite conservative and my interests were considered unconventional.

I made it easy to dismiss my attitude, but my amazing Economics teacher, Mrs Hughes didn’t.

She encouraged me to read radical philosophy, volunteer, think globally and to set up a politics society in the school, when I was at university I continued to receive newspaper cuttings and book recommendations!

Without her encouragement, I am not entirely sure how I would have made it through sixth form, let alone to where I am today. Mrs Hughes made self-acceptance easier, encouraged my idealism and a belief that change is (always) possible.

Paul Corry
PR and Media Manager

A huge thank you to all the teachers at Wood Farm, St Margaret and Cheney schools in Oxford who, way back in the 1970s, opened a world of possibilities by sharing their love of words.  Wood Farm, built to house workers at the nearby by Cowley car factory, was a long way from the ‘dreaming spires’ of Oxford.

It took large dollops of time, effort, imagination mixed in a big bowl of hope to encourage many of us to stand tall and see that factory life was only one route through life. Some of us found it hard to hear the echo of Iambic Pentameter beyond the classroom walls.

The teachers managed to put many of us on a path away from our immediate concerns and instil a belief that we were as good as anyone else. So, thank you for that.

Dionne Walton
Youth Activism Co-ordinator

I am really fortunate to have lots of good experience with great teachers.
I guess that's why I was inspired to go into teaching too.

However, that does make it impossible to highlight just one.

When I was at school the standout teacher was Oliver Saunders; he taught me sociology as a 16-year-old with no experience of the subject and he made it accessible, interesting and relevant. From that point in my life, I became more engaged, inquisitive, politically interested and aware of my personal values and the type of person I wanted to be in the world.

After graduating, I worked in roles supporting migrant children and those with special educational needs and disability. I was mentored by Jenny Alkins, an inspiring English teacher who consistently modelled what nurturing, inclusive teaching looked and felt like for vulnerable young people. She also gave me the confidence and self-reflection tools to go on to train as a teacher.

Finally, Reuben Woolnough, who interviewed me for the GTP training course and subsequently was my training mentor. Reuben was objective support to me and helped me push through when times were tough and when people doubted me. Reuben helped me to value my relationship-building skills with young people.

Thank you, Oliver, Jennie and Reuben.

Abi Froud
Projects and Networks Officer

At 16, I had my heart set on studying psychology at uni.

The main thing that stood between me and that was an a-level in science – an entry requirement for all psychology degrees. I couldn’t conceptualise physics, hated chemistry which left me with biology and I wasn’t completely thrilled at the thought of it.

My biology teacher seemed to sing a slightly different tune to every other teacher I had up until this point. He told us to do homework for our own sake rather than for fear of punishment. He taught us things that were interesting rather than just things that were in the exam (a genuinely very new and exciting concept for 17-year-old me) and he welcomed questions that led down tangential opportunities for learning.

Biology became something interesting, relevant and even sometimes fun!

This was particularly impressive considering most of the curriculum was on plant reproduction. Our dingey wooden benched classroom felt like a place to listen, learn and perhaps, more importantly, be patiently listened to as we tried to grapple complex concepts.

In my early classes in my psychology degree, the lecturer had the horrendous task of explaining the transmission of a nerve impulse to a group of 18-year olds early in the morning. As the atmosphere in the room became frustrated and people around me muttered things like "how do they expect us to ever understand this?" I smugly sat back.

I already understood these concepts thanks to it being explained to me in a way that felt fun and accessible back in school by my teacher. My biology teacher gave me a real feeling of fun in learning and exploring things that feel interesting to me as an individual. He is retired now and I think unlikely to have an internet connection (or contact with the outside world) but I am still very grateful for what he taught me!

Deborah Sinclair
Administration & Finance Co-ordinator

Thanks, Miss Cottingham

My second year at junior school stands out as a shining memory of my childhood. I was a shy kid at school. Kept my head down, never in trouble, working hard to get good results, but not a super achiever. I was in the middle and as such never really had much extra support or attention from my teachers. Apart from Miss Cottingham, when I was 9 years old.

This teacher encouraged me to be the best I could be in everything, by having fun and being creative. She inspired me to write short stories, with illustrations, and enter my design for a Christmas card in a competition, which I got to the regional final of and attended a swanky do in town. But what made Miss Cottingham so special is that she nurtured every child in her class, we all felt valued and heard by her and the way she taught. We had music on whilst we worked, she read the Hobbit to us, a chapter at a time whilst we practised our handwriting. We learnt about different periods in history by creating our own imagining of the time.

I remember producing a 15 minute musical about the Black Death and performing it to the whole school, the songs were 50s and 60s pop tunes, because that’s what me and my best friend were into at the time. Miss Cottingham let us bring ourselves and our interests into our learning, with no judgement, and as such I remember so much of what we learnt that year.

But what I remember most about that year in Miss Cottingham’s class is how much fun the whole class had together. We were all pals, there weren’t any cliques, it didn’t matter which table you sat at or which team you were on in PE, because Miss Cottingham fostered a sense of togetherness, friendship and acceptance within her class. That is what was most inspiring about Miss Cottingham.

Chris Flack
Online Communities Engagement Co-ordinator

I was the sick kid in our school.  I'd had about five major operations by the time I started second year and was more interested in getting as far away from school than I was anything else.

My solace came in the click of a borrowed black and white camera.

The first time I picked up the camera was on a school trip to a coastal town called Ballycastle on the North coast of Ireland, it took so long to drive there and back on a rattly minibus that we had about 45 minutes to photograph anything. I fell in love with the camera and the place, though not as much as our art teacher John Mulvenna, who apparently had time to drop into The House of McDonnell for a pint wherein he found himself a commission to produce an oil painting of the building. The last we heard at the time was that he had packed everything up and moved to the coast.

It was on that trip that I fell in love with the idea of capturing moments in time on film, Johns ability to motivate and inspire was something that became quickly apparent and he became something of a mentor for me, the middle art room became something of a hideaway, somewhere where I could go and create whatever worlds I wanted to.

I didn’t have the money to buy a camera at the time or in the years since though I took every opportunity I could to borrow others. In the end, it took about 15 years for me to be able to afford a 'good' camera. I helped out at a new venue in Belfast, bought a camera and upgraded until I found one that could work in the dark; I added lenses, flashes, a mobile studio kit, that kind of thing.

I thought about all this when I was writing about photography a few months ago, I chased John down through a school Facebook group and directed him to the article and it wasn't until I was writing that I realised just how much of an inspiration this fresh out of college teacher was. I thanked him for his patience, his eye, his kindness and for the gentle nudges that made the sick kid move. 

I told him that I have the privilege of working with my heroes, that I am occasionally paid to photograph events, weddings, special moments in peoples worlds. And that I can bring that into my work too.  I thanked him for corralling us all into a rattly minibus all those years ago and for putting that old camera in my hand.