The Sad Death of a Great Teacher


On Wednesday I was quoting my old Maths teacher, Mike Bullen (always known as Mr. Bullen to us while we were at school). “If you’d just get the easy questions right you’d all pass the exams.” When I got home late on the following day it was to a letter containing the sad news that he had passed away.




What made him such a great teacher?




Our first day with Mr Bullen



We were not happy to be informed that we had to sit alphabetically in alternating rows of boys and girls. Not only that, but Mr Bullen made us move our desks apart so that they were all equidistant from each other.



We had not experienced this kind of draconian behaviour before. But it did not take us long to identify that we now had a brilliant maths (“math” if you are in the US) teacher.




Some of his skills


One of his many skills was to be able to explain things in a way that seemed to make them easy in spite of some odd quirks like his unbelievably inaccurate diagrams.  He would draw with a huge, sweeping windmill actions on the board. A strangely shaped roundish outline (usually the ends didn’t even meet) would appear along with a few lines that were meant to be a triangle contained within it. But that never mattered.



The unconventional seating arrangements became insignificant; we loved his

English Doughnuts just like the ones Mr Bullen bought for us all those years ago

English Doughnuts just like the ones Mr Bullen bought for us all those years ago

lessons. How do I know he was such a great teacher? Not just because he got us all through our “O” level a year early. (In fact he managed to finish the syllabus a term early on top of that.) But because he inspired us.

At the end of our first term with Mr Bullen, he brought us a huge bag of doughnuts, one for each of us. I was amazed. And very pleased.




The personal connection


But if you didn’t put in the effort you knew you had personally let him down. It was as though you had caused him physical pain and you felt ashamed of yourself. He had the ability to inspire you to do better.




Being told off


I remember one day when he told me off.  With a flourish he brandished my exercise book and flicked it open in the way only a teacher who has done this many times before can, to display my latest homework. He was clearly very unhappy.



He pointed to a silly mistake. I cringed. But there was worse to come. He pointed to the very same mistake in the homework of one of the other girls in the class. He told me not to copy my homework. I was mortified.  But I also was trying not to laugh.



Unfortunately the truth was that she had copied from me (oh dear, I know this is probably illegal now, but in those days it used to go on). I had made the mistake, not her. But I realised that in his mind it must have been the other way round.



I was stuck in an awkward moral dilemma. I didn’t want to get her into trouble too, so decided that discretion was the better part of valour and didn’t say anything. I can’t remember if I stopped the dreadful copying practice but I know I was a lot more careful after that.



I felt awful. I’d let him down. He looked so much more completely disappointed than cross or angry. Which, as I’m sure you know, is much worse than anger.




So many lives


In her letter to me, his wife Liz said that she had been overwhelmed by the number of cards and letters she had received. There were many people at the service who had travelled considerable distances to be there.



She said he was always delighted to receive Christmas cards from old pupils and colleagues. And that she didn’t think that he ever realised how many lives he touched, and I’m sure she’s right. He was the kind of person who was probably unaware of what a difference was making – it was just what he did every day.




Make sure you let them know


So, I know you’ve heard this suggestion before and probably from someone other than me, but here it is again anyway.



Remember those great teachers you had, the ones that really made a difference to you, and let them know. Drop them a line and tell them just what a difference they have made to your life.


Hot Chocolate For Your Memory (yes really)


How’s your memory? A while back, I touched on an issue that plagues a lot of people as they get older – memory loss and difficulty forming and keeping new memories.



A big part of memory difficulties have to do with the sheer amount of memories we accumulate by the time we reach an older age.
There are many ways to help keep your brain nimble as you get older, but a lot people still experience problems as they reach the 70-75 year mark (though this age range varies from person to person). These problems can include slower working memory times, difficulty recalling new memories, and “general cognitive deterioration.”



If you have read many of my blogs you will know I am a great lover of chocolate. So I was particularly pleased to hear about this new study.




A welcome new study on memory



One study, though, suggests a much sweeter method for boosting memory health: hot chocolate.



In a study published in the August 2013 edition of Neurology, researchers say that drinking two cups of hot cocoa a day (over a period of 30 days) showed improvements for participants who reported “memory issues” prior to the tests.



The study involved 60 people, all roughly 73 years of age. One third of them reported some problems with their memory.



Of that third, all of them saw improvements in their memory tests after regularly drinking hot cocoa. Scores of working memory improved from a time of 167 seconds to 116 seconds, and people reporting “cognitive deterioration” saw an 8.3% increase in blood flow, as shown by ultrasound.




Increased blood flow



These results tell us that the blood flow stimulated by drinking hot chocolate can improve memory for the elderly people who experience difficulty in those areas.



As I mentioned in my previous post, cardiovascular health makes a big difference to memory, and so does actively using your brain’s memory centers. These findings, though, are a welcome method for people looking to improve their memories in any way they can.



After all, difficulty with memory and cognitive function is terribly frustrating – and for some, it can be damaging to confidence. As you may recall from other previous blogs, self-esteem and memory are very closely linked.



Maintaining strong memory capacity is more important than ever for people reaching their 70s. Even post-retirement, many people still want to work.



If memory has become an ongoing problem, though, it can be very difficult to take on new responsibilities or navigate new technology.




Take on new challenges



By making an effort to keep your memory sharp, you don’t need to shy away from new challenges and new opportunities when you approach your 70’s – and tackling those challenges will only serve to further strengthen your memory capacity!




But drink chocolate as well

If you look closely you'll see one of these packets is empty...I couldn't resist, but at least my memory has improved

If you look closely you’ll see one of these packets is empty…I couldn’t resist, but at least my memory has improved



So, why not give your memory a boost with some chocolate? (I know that’s what I’ll be doing.)



I recently had the pleasure of attending the Salon Du Chocolat exhibition in London

(which was fantastic), and got to sample some of the finest chocolate in the world. If you have the option, I highly recommend Benoit Nihant, wonderful chocolate I had not tried before.  Enjoy!