Monday, September 05, 2005

Flashes from the Past: "He was a born teacher..."

If you're a teacher, you probably won't have time to read this because it's the beginning of the new school year. Here's a nice flash from the past about a great teacher when things begin falling into place...

From Caught in the Web of Words, "He was himself a born teacher, never throughout his life able to resist passing on information...". We know who they're talking about. We've been fortunate enough to be mentored or inspired by a number of these folks in our lifetimes- they are generous souls who with every fiber of their being just want to share what they learn and know.

As a young boy, today's 'Flash from the Past' showed this teacherly trait when, seeing his baby brother for the first time, he gave a primer book to the baby and told his parents "I will show little brudder round 'O'and crooked 'S'." From a very early age, he was fascinated by letters.

Later as a young man, he would become an assistant schoolmaster in a country schoolhouse - and he loved it there, visit students at home, gifting them with personally drawn cards or little books, and keeping detailed monthly records of the progress of each of his students in every subject. He wrote his own outline of English literature that included its precursors in Celtic, Latin, Anglo-Saxon, and Norman works, and encouraged 'direct learning' in science adventures in the countryside or by inviting any visitors to the town to meet the school children, point to where they were from on the globe, and talk about their different language or dialect.

Who was this natural born teacher? This was James Murray, author of the Oxford English Dictionary, a remarkable tome about word origins and meanings, and the definite dictionary of the English language.

This biography is great fun to read, and Murray seemed to be a nice family guy as well. Reading his early life history, we were impressed by the good fortune he had having kind and generous teachers and tutors- his elementary teacher took the initiative to teach him Latin because he seemed to love words (he was the only one in his school at that time to study it), a retired minister who took him along rambles in the countryside studying botany and geology, and another schoolmaster who would devise interesting science experiments like exposing the class to laughing gas. The latter teacher also found aneighbor woman who could teach him German and Italian after school for fun.

James Murray did find a way of paying back these generous teachers - by becoming a generous teacher himself - as a school master, as a father, as a colleague, and as lexicographer he could share his encyclopedic memory and love for language. The reverbations of his teaching legacy continue in other ways as well- his biography was written by a granddaughter, a principal in the U.K.

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