Letter to My Teacher…

A letter to much loved teacher Jan Lyons:

Dear Jan,

I had quite a few great and memorable teachers in my time at Haileybury between 1978 and 1983.  At Castlefield (then the Brighton Junior School), the formidable Headmaster Paul Aldred gave me a love of Latin and other languages.  I fondly remember the big-hearted Hugh Postema encouraging me to play The Star-Spangled Banner on my clarinet in American History class, and the brilliant and acerbic maths teacher the Reverend Graham Brennan reminding our class of 25 14-year olds that, statistically speaking, at least two of us would not make it to age of 40 (we all furtively scrutinized each other for signs of impending frailty).  These and other teachers helped me to become co-Dux of the Brighton Junior School, with Andrew Kenyon, in 1979.  Our names are probably still on a board there somewhere in very faded gold.

At the Keysborough Senior School, the Principal Michael Aikman, a former Olympic rower and Renaissance man, was urbane, intimidating, and so kind to me and my family when my father died suddenly in 1982.  Michael Roland and a babyface Stewart Bell were extraordinary mentors and friends in Drama, directing us through an epic run of Robert Bolt’s A Man for All Seasons in 1983 (“The law is not a light for you or any man to see by!”)  For four years, the inimitable Harry Knox taught me German as the class size progressively dwindled from 20 to about four in my final year.  Harry collected toby jugs, as I recall, and once, during an oral test, inexplicably wore two pairs of glasses while barking Was machst Du nächstes Wochenende?  And who could forget the great George Logie-Smith as his mop of white hair flew from side to side and his baton rose and fell while conducting us through the opening bars of the 1812 Overture… over and over and over again?

Even amidst this abundance of talent and large personalities, it was the Senior School English Department that hosted the real professorial pantheon: the young and handsome Jamie Wishart, the gifted and drole Brian Ennis, the maestro Ivan Collins.  And then… there was you.

LYONS.jpg You are the teacher, Jan, whom I remember most and best, the one who pops into my head and heart most often and unexpectedly, like a wise and friendly visitor looming larger than life from 35 years ago. Your physical presence could certainly not be missed, and some of my peers in our English class were cruel to you, as only kids can be.  Perhaps we connected because we both felt a bit like outsiders.

Hopelessly inept at anything sporty, you let me skip practice sessions for the lowly 4ths hockey team – of which as I recall you were the unlikely coach! – to go home and read more books. You were brilliant, intellectual, witty, dry, funny, philosophical, sophisticated, reflective and kind. You saw my ability as a writer, and you nurtured it fiercely that year, frequently marking my essays down when I hadn’t risen to the standard of which you thought I was capable. I particularly remember the weekend when you brought your best students together at home to cram before the final (then HSC) statewide English exam.  Like one or two other teachers in that final year, by treating me and my Year 12 peers as young adults, you gave us a first glimpse of our future selves.  In the last class you taught me, you returned my final essay marked – for the first time all year! – 10 out of 10 – a clever and incredibly motivating gesture as I grappled with high expectations from myself and others for the big exam ahead.

A few weeks later, on the day I got my 100% result in HSC English, you called me at home, and I think we both shed a tear.  Right after I hung up, as my adrenalin flew through the roof, I played – somewhat incongruously in hindsight, but you would have appreciated the irony – Goodbye Blue Skies by Pink Floyd on the stereo at full volume.  I still love that song, and when I hear it now I relive the pure joy of that moment long ago, and I think of you. I’ve always felt that I owed my success as a lawyer, and later as a policy writer for the World Health Organization and other international groups, in large part to you.  I never got to thank you for it, and when I read that you had died a few years ago, after I’d left Australia, I had no way to convey either gratitude or sorrow.

With this belated letter to you, Jan, and to the many other wonderful teachers in my years at Haileybury, I express my lifelong thanks.

Ian Grubb (OH ’83)
Consultant writer in health and development, Toronto, Canada

Would you like to write a letter to one of your teachers who you feel impacted on your development at School?  Please send your letter along with any photographs to [email protected]

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