David Martin was my geography teacher. But, more than that, he was the first person to inspire me to do what I do now – and in the way I do it.
Dear Mr Martin
Room 34 was the best room in the school. And Wednesday mornings – periods one and two – the highlight of my school week. Your combined teaching and management duties usually meant you arrived a few minutes behind schedule, but the wait was always worth it.
Inevitably, the chalk scrawlings from the previous day’s lessons remained on the gigantic roller blackboard; this was always a source of consternation for you, triggering a few mutterings under your breath and a wink of the eye. But, once the tedium of mathematics had been brushed aside, the wonder of world geography began to unfold…
The word ‘wonder’ is no overstatement. It was created by your knowledge of, and passion for, your subject. I sat, transfixed, as the outline of the United States took shape before me in the white, powdery chalks. To this, you added the main rivers in blue, forests green, urban areas brown, industrial yellow. And, as these masterpieces emerged, you articulated the stories behind them: the people, their successes, tragedies and legacies. Even now, some forty years on, I can recall individual lessons: the magnitude of the American iron and steel industry, the Lever Brothers’ development of Port Sunlight on Merseyside to house their workers and, closer to home, cement production beside the River Adur in Shoreham, West Sussex.
You took us on field trips around our local area, the South Downs – a place I knew well from spending hours exploring it on foot and bicycle as a child – and I drank in your explanations of how the meandering valleys and steep slopes I loved so much had been shaped by glaciers, marine deposits and continuous erosion. I remember spending hours writing up my notes and creating maps of my own – mini works of art – in an attempt to emulate your own skills. You rated me as A1 on each of my school reports, saying: “I wish everyone had the same enthusiasm as Simon for this subject.” This enthusiasm stemmed from you and your love of what you do.
I don’t ever recall a desire to follow you in to teaching. But, from watching you, listening to your words and feeling your passion, what I do recall is a desire to have the same feelings as you about whatever career I did choose to follow – and to be exceptional at it. So it’s interesting that I became a trainer – an educator of adults rather than children. In all my years in such roles, I’ve yet to meet a trainer who set out to become one – I guess that’s because it’s one of those professions you don’t really know exists until you enter the world of work. Anyway, I hope you will look down on me and think my career has shown at least some signs of realising the ambition you fired inside me and, if so, I want to thank you for lighting that fire: at Portslade School and Community College, room 34, 1974-1976.