In a class of their own... the teachers who gave us lessons to last a lifetime

It was George Bernard Shaw who famously said: "Those who can, do, those who can't, teach."

The saying has been the bane of the profession ever since. Whenever they dare to complain about mounting paperwork and low pay, they know a vocal majority will tell them to be quiet – they have more holidays than anyone else, they finish work at 3pm and what could really be so difficult about teaching the same subject year in, year out?

It's no surprise that a recent survey showed many graduates are distinctly underwhelmed by the idea of entering a classroom. After years of companies enticing the brightest and the best with golden handshakes, teaching has been demoted from first career choice to a fall back plan.

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However, in schools up and down the country, there are those for whom teaching remains a vocation and who quietly, sometimes without even knowing, inspire their pupils to follow their dreams.

Patrick Stewart

The actor was born in Mirfield in 1940. While his career may have taken him to Hollywood and back, he retains strong ties with the city and is currently Chancellor of Huddersfield University.

In my first year at the Modern School, I don't think I took a class from "Sir"... Mr Dormand. But when I went into the second form, I had him for English, and it was in one of those early classes that he dropped on to all of our desks copies of William Shakespeare's play The Merchant of Venice. He told us to open them at Act 1, Scene 1, and start reading. We did... silently to ourselves, of course.

Cecil slammed his hand on the desk and said: "No, out loud. It is a play not a novel." I was cast in the leading role as Shylock and for the first time in my life savoured the thrill of speaking Shakespeare out loud. Many such classes followed and during the winter of that year, Cecil got me cast as the schoolboy Hopcroft Minor in the play The Happiest Days of Your Life, which was being produced by the newly-formed Mirfield Drama Club and mostly consisted of staff from the school. I loved playing that part, but I also loved the new, original almost grown-up relationship that I had with Cecil Dormand and the other teachers as a result of that invitation.

Some months later, in the spring of 1953, I was summoned to the headmaster's office. With him was Cecil Dormand and a man I did not recognise. He was introduced to me as Gerald Tyler, the county drama adviser for the West Riding of Yorkshire. The local council were instituting

an eight-day long residential drama course and Cecil had suggested me as one of the first intake.The only problem was that the minimum age was 14, and I was 12.

"Well," said Cecil, pragmatically, "he could pass for 14. He could pass for 18. He's big enough." I went on that course; another life-changing experience. It cost money to go on that course. But it was only much later that I realised that my parents could not possibly have covered my expenses or the fees for that course. And it is only in the last few years that I think I understood where that money came from.

Cecil never talked down to his students, his tone was familiar, provocative, coaxing, humorous, always encouraging. Cecil taught my brother and me, my brother's children and their children. And throughout the district of Kirklees, there are hundreds and thousands of young people who benefited from this man's dedication, warmth and inspirational teaching.

GP Taylor

The former vicar and policeman from Scarborough found fame as an author when he penned the bestselling children's book Shadowmancer.

As a child who hated school, I never thought I would have anything good to say about any teacher. That was until I met a man called Keith Hodgson who completely changed my life.

On the first day of senior school, he stood at the front of the class and told us his rules. They differed from everything I had ever heard before. "Manners maketh the man," he said in a gravel voice that would sit well with a fine Shakespearean actor. He also looked the part, tall, ruggedly handsome – more a comic book hero than a teacher in a sink school.

Mister H could also tell a story, with great dramatic effect. He would have a class of n'er-do-wells wrapped around his finger in an instant. We would be mesmerised, transported to another world as he suspended our disbelief. Such was our respect and fear of this man that no one in their right mind would ever dare go against anything he said. When someone was stupid enough to take him on, his wrath was instant, fair and just.

Such was his passion, sense of humour and talent that he enthused in me a love of words. I had grown up in a house where there were very few books. Mister H soon changed all that. Taking me to one side, he gave me the secret of escaping my heritage. "READ..." he said in a way that I knew it was more of a command than a suggestion. "Taylor – you green-backed gutter snipe... I want to see you read books..."

And read I did, everything he suggested, word after word. To this day, I honestly believe that I would never have achieved half the things in my life without his guidance. He taught me morality and honour, right from wrong. Mister H was an inspiration to whom I am forever in his debt. Sadly, he died quite young before I could share with him what he had done for me – but he will never be forgotten.

Deirdre Bounds

From being unemployed in a Leeds bedsit, Deirdre launched the ethical travel business i-to-i. Ten years later, she sold the business for 20m and with various sidelines of her own she also mentors other entrepreneurs.

Mr Hope.

This was a perfect name for a fantastically weird geography teacher. He was smelly, hairy and as far as I can remember never wore any socks with his Clarks "pastie" shoes.

He was hilarious, caring and was always giving his time in extra activities. He set up the "Blisters" Club (v original!) and used to take us canoeing, walking and camping. Being from the depressed and depressing Mersey town of Prescot, the green hills of North Wales were a joy to someone like me who never went away on holiday – he awakened me to the fact that there is a big wide world out there to explore and there are plenty of fun people around also. He instilled an "in the moment" and "be yourself" sort of attitude in us all. I admired him greatly and was really very upset when he left when I was about 15 to set up an outdoor pursuits centre in Wales.

Wherever you are now "Hopey", I know you'll be blissfully doing whatever you want to do – that was your talent that you passed on to us kids and I thank you from the bottom of my heart.

Tim Quinn

Born in Leeds, Tim began writing comic strips while working as a stagehand at the City Varieties. His talent was spotted first by DC Comics and later Marvel Comics in America where he worked alongside Spider-Man creator Stan Lee.

I learned to read and write at school. I have no idea how Sister Ethelreda got that knowledge into my thick head because I was about as academic as a kid from Bash Street.

Somehow, she managed it and I've taken delight in

using my writing skill to keep in touch with her every Christmas since the heady day I mastered the spelling of the word E-L-E-P-H-A-N-T back

in 1958.

Thank you, Sister Ethelreda

(I do still have to think twice when spelling your name though). I've made my career through writing and spent my downtime reading, so that was quite a gift you gave me.

My next school was a tough, no nonsense regime run by Irish Christian Brothers. They were a brotherhood, and they were certainly Irish but I have no idea where the Christian bit came in.

I have the prospectus from 1960, which uses the following line in its sales pitch: "We will instil a fear of God in your child." While they failed in that mission, I do retain a healthy fear of the few remaining Christian Brothers.

Just as at Dotheboys Hall in Nicholas Nickleby, there was

one teacher who stood out from the pack. Mr Fitzgerald.

We boys called him "Super Sir". He was my form teacher from age nine to 11 during which time he planted so many seeds of interest in every subject under the sun that I'm still catching up.

A month ago, I re-read Conan Doyle's The Lost World for the first time since 1965 and every character leapt off the page with Mr Fitzgerald's tone and characterisation.

I remember only one occasion where he had to reprimand the whole class. Every single one of us felt ashamed for having let Super Sir down. That is an amazing achievement in a school where you were regularly beaten soundly for whatever irritated the teachers on any given day.

Twenty years after leaving school, I realised the impact that Mr Fitzgerald had had on my life and tracked him down to thank him. I found that he had got out of teaching because he didn't like the way that councils and government had encroached into the system, leaving a true teacher with no time to inspire his class.

Thank you, Mr Fitzgerald,

from the bottom of my heart, and up yours bloody governments who have made teaching a chore rather than a calling or vocation.

As I sit here at my office desk, a battered old ruler sticks up out of my pot of pens. On it is what's left of a transfer of a Spanish bullfight scene that Mr Fitzgerald presented to me for "Good Work" back in 1964. Forty-six years on I'm still proud of that tatty old transfer. That's impact, that is.

Ian Brown

A former teacher, Ian has been behind many of the big productions at the West Yorkshire Playhouse in Leeds where he has been artistic director and joint chief executive for the last eight years.

I hated school; I was unhappy and not very academic. I got easily bored. I was extremely hard to teach. I loved playing the fool. I got away with murder. Thank goodness when I became a teacher I didn't have a kid like me to teach!

However, I was lucky to have some very inspiring teachers and my love of words, ideas and literature lies somewhere at the feet of a man called Kit Martin-Doyle.

He was ex-Army, and rather dashing with fingers on one hand missing. He wore an academic gown but torn into shreds. He smoked a pipe and his love of words and stories made every lesson a pleasure.

When I first came across him I remember being slightly afraid of him but at the same time in awe. He seemed so self-assured, clever and witty.

He had a mercurial temperament. He brought warm sunshine and exotic scents into his lesson. I have memories of South Africa through a book called Jock of the Bushveldt and later for A-level the British Raj in A Passage to India. He managed to bring literature to life and to make it real.

I was at boarding school and in the sixth form I got to babysit his children. He and his wife would leave me bacon and eggs to cook and homebrew beer to drink.

These evenings seemed like heaven away from the spartan conditions of the school. Kit Martin-Doyle died young and I never knew him as an adult. The memories of those lessons with him will never leave me. The world he created was truly another country, but the enthusiasm for reading and stories he imparted will remain with me forever.

Ed Balls

An adviser to Gordon Brown since 1994, he was elected as the MP for Normanton in 2005 and is the current Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families.

You can tell a good teacher when you walk into a lesson – it is like a bolt of electricity going around the classroom.

I remember the head of English at my secondary school, Mr Charter, because of his passion for DH Lawrence – it was because of him and his command of his subject that I took A-level English.

There was also my politics and economics teacher, Peter Baker, who was very passionate about the subject, a really, really great teacher who always had time to talk and discuss ideas, and relate them back to the world. We ran the politics society together

at school.

He taught me that if you want to understand politics, you've got to understand economics, and that you can make a difference by making good or bad critical decisions. He was always pushing me to ask

more questions, to stay behind at class and he was generous with his time.

Since school, I was inspired by James Griffin, the Oxford professor, who taught me philosophy at university and who authored an influential book on wellbeing. I also have a huge amount of respect for Larry Summers, the former US treasury secretary, who taught me at Harvard.

Great teachers perform "minor miracles" daily and I know that the foundation of school achievement is excellent teaching by excellent teachers.