Figures of Inspiration


Last night’s inspiring ARCH event, Exploring Entrepreneurship, was a fabulous evening where students were able to spend time with, and ask questions of our esteemed guest list, taking inspiration from the stories and challenges faced by each of them. Those words of advice or encouragement will help students make more informed choices as they head out into the wider world.

And more is to come – Clare Balding joins us on 22 February, when students from The Abbey and other schools around Reading will have another opportunity to unlock an idea or passion from her talk ‘Dare to be Different’. 

People who inspire us and shape us can be pivotal in our lives – and Abbey students are lucky enough to be surrounded by such folk on a daily basis: our teachers.

Do you remember your favourite teacher from school? I’m 50 now and I certainly do: two in fact, and they still inspire me today. The educational scene in 1980s Peterborough was very different from what our students enjoy here at The Abbey. Sadly most lessons were mundane. Sterile. No energy or spark to inspire kids who, despite their playful attitude at times, wanted to learn. It seemed like my educational journey was destined to be unremarkable. 

And then I met Mr Coleman – my new English teacher. He was the Deputy Head, and my preconceived opinion of him was so very different from the classroom experience; it was the first time I understood never to judge a book by its cover. He was engaging, funny, warm and charismatic. His style helped my 40-strong class of disengaged students to sit up and listen. For the first time, hands were going up to answer questions and there was a buzz. Learning was fun!

My attitude at school was not what it should have been, and often my days were spent trying to make my friends laugh rather than understand the subject matter at hand. But with Mr Coleman, I was the model student. I wanted to listen. Absorb his every word. My love of Shakespeare comes from him. Although I am no writer, my love of wordplay comes from him. I was lucky enough to be taught by him for three years, and when he left for pastures new, the entire year group clubbed together for a replica top, mug and scarf from his beloved Charlton Athletic. And in his final lesson, I was privileged to present a spoof ‘This is Your Life’ to him, in front of those who had given up their pocket money to thank him for his help over the years. I cried as I presented it because it felt like such a loss – the emotion is still there, my eyes are welling up now as I remember that beautiful time.

The other teacher I remember was Mr Blades – my history teacher. Now I had been taught historical events by my father during a weekly Sunday lunchtime quiz…a cheap bribe to dry the pots as he washed up, and my sister put everything away in the respective cupboard. I was the first boy in Peterborough to know the achievements of Rowland Hill and his reform of the postal system, and could name all US Presidents up to Ronald Reagan who was in the White House at the time. Those Sundays used to fly by!

So in a way Mr Blades had a head start. I loved history and needed little persuasion to put my best foot forward, but an uninspiring first couple of years failed to light my passion as I hoped. That was until Mr Blades had the dubious pleasure of becoming our history teacher. Boom! From the first lesson we were off…and the subject burst into life. He engaged with every student and made them feel part of the lesson. I remember wanting his approval for any piece of work I completed. He was a genuinely good man. 

Years later I saw him at a bus stop at Peterborough train station, and rather embarrassed I went up to him and asked if he remembered me. “Holliday. Enthusiastic lad at school weren’t you?”. I took that as a back-hand compliment, possibly to do with my role as a tree in a Christmas panto, as my impromptu actions rather took the shine off the lead actors!

“You inspired me to learn Mr Blades, and if I was smart enough to be a teacher, I would like to see if I could teach like you,” I replied. We shook hands and I thanked him for the impact he has made on my life.

So I wonder which teacher it will be that your daughter will remember for life? From Little Knellies through to Sixth Form we have a host of incredible teachers who inspire students on a daily basis, and I hope your daughter will have their very own Mr Coleman or Mr Blades to look back on with genuine fondness. 

Pete Holliday, Director of Marketing and Admission

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