Master's Blog

Inspirational Teachers

by Mark Damazer on May 21, 2018

For several years now, we have hosted the University’s Inspirational Teachers awards day. It is a highlight. It works like this: 

Towards the end of their first term, first-year students are encouraged to nominate a teacher who went beyond the call of duty, or whose teaching was particularly inspirational, and who helped motivate them to make a successful application to Oxford. A panel of about five of us sift through the scores of testimonials and then pick about 10 teachers for the award, which this year, for the first time in its history, included a teacher nominated by a St Peter’s student (Desmond Asante, Mathematics).

The awards evening at college reunites the nominating student and the inspirational teacher. There are some brief speeches and then a 20-minute video of stunning quality and emotional power, which tells the stories of the student and teacher pair, and is shot on location at the schools and the university. 

It is tremendous stuff, and, of course, demands that all the rest of us reflect on the teacher who changed our lives. Mine is still very much alive: a certain Bernard Barker, who taught me History in the 6th Form and convinced me that I could do well, but, more importantly, whirled around the classroom infusing the whole subject with drama, passion and conviction.

St Peter's student, Desmond Asante, with Danny Brown of Bsix Sixth Form College, London

At the dinner in college afterwards, I sat next to one of the students, who is studying at New College and comes from north Yorkshire, where she was a pupil in a run-down town with very few in her cohort going to universities more than a few miles away, and most not going to higher education at all.

She was motivated by her parents (neither wealthy nor privileged), and by the award-winning teacher to 1) keep going, 2) to do the best you can, and 3) to aim high. It does not sound like a sophisticated formula, but it is palpably the right one. The student, by the by, loves being here, and, like many, was mildly shocked to find that more or less all her peers are, to coin a phrase, ‘normal’. 

The mythology still gets in the way.

Rugby Cuppers Glory – if not in victory

by Mark Damazer on Apr 30, 2018

The headline is that Teddy Hall won the final, 20-17 in extra time, and we did not. But, and please trust me as I was schooled in the virtues of impartial journalism (the BBC), it was St Peter’s who shaped the afternoon. 

We had a larger number of supporters, who made a great deal more noise, played more musical instruments—sometimes even in tune—and sang with a great deal more brio, even if not all of it was entirely without some vigorous Anglo-Saxonisms. But more to the point: we scored three tries to two and we were the better team for most of the match. And we had the whole caboodle won three times. But I congratulate Teddy Hall, and the overall standard of the match was very high, and, to my eye, hugely more entertaining than the Blues match at Twickenham in December.

The first fifteen minutes, it must be admitted, were played within 20 metres of the St Peter’s try line. They were a bit heavier and ploughed forward, but the St Peter’s defence was magnificent – it was so throughout. They couldn’t score and shortly after we arrived in their half we did – a slick exchange through the backs, and bingo. The conversion looked fine but some malign puff of wind led the ball to smack the upright. Which turned out to be quite important. 

They got that try back with an unaesthetic forwards affair, converted, but for the next forty-five minutes we simply ran around them, through them, under them, above them. It was great fun and two more tries came, another one through the backs, and then a tight affair in the far corner which most of us could not fully fathom but could nevertheless greatly enjoy. So 17-7. Only one winner. 

Their fans were (a tad) surprised and upset. Teddy Hall is not supposed to lose at rugby. Some beer was tossed in our direction, with not much affection, and sadly not the Leffe Belgian stuff I like. It was a bit of a pain.

But they manufactured another forwards try and, with the game almost at an end, they were awarded a penalty, which they kicked. There was time enough for us to have a penalty, but that didn’t work out. So 17-17, and then extra time. 

I resisted going on to the pitch to recite Alf Ramsey’s famous 1966 Wembley World Cup speech at full time: “You've won it once. Now you'll have to go out there and win it again”. And it all looked fine. St Peter’s camped just outside their line for the entire first period of extra time, but we couldn’t quite make the penalty work, and then they won it with a dropped goal in the second period of extra time. So, good for them, but we were absolutely terrific.

A few thoughts to end with: Why does Teddy Hall recruit so many college rugby players – in the way Oriel does for college rowers? What is at the root of the rivalry (sic) between Teddy Hall and St Peter’s? 

An almost great afternoon

Spring : a new look and some very sad news

by Mark Damazer on Apr 23, 2018

The building work is now at an end – or almost. We still have the Hall lighting and acoustics to sort out, but the quads are done, and – Hallelujah! – there are no diggers around. The new building (the Hubert Perrodo Building) was opened by the Chancellor in March

The Perrodo family and friends outside the Hubert Perrodo Building (13 Mar 2018)

I have been away for a while and just walked around the Chavasse Quad, and to my delight find that the downstairs room is being used as we had hoped, with small groups of students imbibing coffee and peering at their laptops while chatting. The student bedrooms are occupied, and the top seminar room – with a spectacular view over the college – is now set for use. And the building has been nominated for a RIBA prize

I had hoped that some bulbs would have been showing some life for the March opening, but they were in full protest against the winter. But now, several weeks later than last year, the flower show in Linton Quad has begun, and will last for several months.

Linton Quad beginning to bloom (April 2018)

Would that our great Honorary Fellow had seen it. But Gus Born – at 96 – died last week, having been ill for a while. He was an FRS, a hugely eminent Pharmacologist (having trained as a doctor), a medical inventor, a passionate supporter of the college (he donated to help medical students), and much else. We had several evenings with him and his wife, Faith, at Canal House, where he reminisced about his childhood in Germany (before the Nazis arrived in 1933 and the Born family rapidly departed), his early period in Britain, and his work. 

Prof Gustav Born (1921-2018)

He was the eminent son of an eminent father. Max Born was a Nobel Prize winner for his work on quantum theory, and Gus was hugely proud of him and his entire family – both his antecedents and his children and grandchildren (one of whom studied here). He wrote a lovely family history, rich in anecdote and bathed in affection for scholarship, culture, pre-Nazi Germany, and Britain. 

He wore a duffel coat when he came to college, often to the chapel to listen to student concerts, and there was a bit of Gus that still behaved like a student – full of curiosity, and radiating energy and optimism. I will miss him hugely.