A tribute to my father

Returning to work today after the Easter weekend, I embarked upon the long-avoided task of tidying up some of my files and folders. In doing so, I came across this tribute to my dad which was written two years ago by one of his former colleagues. (To be clear, Dad hasn’t just died, he passed away in 2015!)

The colleague who wrote these words has gone on to have a successful teaching career and has become a headteacher. When Dad died in 2015, it meant a lot to read these words. It still does now.

“I have a personal connection with your grief. Rod inspired me at the beginning of my career and I personally owe so much to him for developing my love, knowledge and understanding of Geography…particularly out in the field . I could never keep up with him …as he always set such a cracking pace  but I always wanted to work to the very best of my ability to reach his very high standards .

 He gave me the freedom to try new things….I once asked him to give me the £100 that he spent on a day’s fieldwork at an FSC centre and said that I would take the Sixth fomers away for a week on the same budget. He let me do it …..we ate very badly …but we did do a lot of good Geography on Exmoor!!

 I wasn’t a very good teacher when I started off but Rod never made me feel as if I was failing, he quietly encouraged and helped me to develop my skills. He divided up work so that each member of the team produced different sections and he trusted me to develop units that he and other colleagues would use. Obviously the schemes that he produced were far superior and were fantastic examples to follow…but he was prepared to use the units that I put together .

He was a “real Geographer” ie he could identify every periglacial feature on Exmoor and was known at Universities for producing students who could identify “ice wedge polygons “etc in the field. He laughed but I think was quietly horrified when I told him that I had incorrectly identified the flat piece of land by the sea under North Hill as a wave cut platform when it was actually a flattened municipal waste tip.!!

The day that I turned up late for school, I found Rod in my classroom, patiently taking my register. I had to explain to him in front of my class that unfortunately I had got lost on the way from the harbour  (where I lived ) by taking a short cut across the marshes behind Butlins!! A Geographer lost on the way to school !! He laughed about this with me …did not take me to task ..but must have been worrying about my Geographical competence .

Rod gave me the freedom to develop in my own particular way as a teacher. Although he was outstanding …he never tried to get me to conform to a particular style. He was prepared to give me A level teaching very early in my career when I know that he would have done a far better job !!

…I would have loved to have been able to command the respect that he did with the Geography students that he taught. As you know he had them “eating out of his hand”.

 I think that the most powerful word that I associate with your dad is respect.

He supported me every step of the way in the first two years of my career when as a teacher you are the most unsure of yourself and your ability to teach. He provided the structure and organisation that a “probationary teacher “needs and the exemplary practice to aim towards.

When you are 22…it feels as if the other teachers in the school are like your mum or dad……..and Rod was a paternal figure who guided me in the right direction.

I feel very sad writing this. You must be so proud of Rod and all of the students whose lives he enriched with his love of his subject. There will be no one at West Somerset School who has been taught by him who will have forgotten that passion. I know of at least one boy who was there at the time I was there who eventually became a Head of Geography in Torquay. I wonder how many other professional Geographers there are who were inspired by Rod Wheeler. ”

In my reflective mood this morning I am reminded of the quote used by Dad’s twin brother Alan at the end of Dad’s funeral service:

 ‘For when the one Great Scorer comes, to write against your name, He marks not that you lost or won but how you played the game’

It’s a quote that sums up my father’s approach to life and one I aspire to fulfil as I continue to do the best that I can in my own daily life. The end never justifies the means, the means is an end in itself.

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