The strictest teacher I ever had is also the one I recall as the gentlest. For most of the time she taught us mathematics, and she tolerated no nonsense, no lapses of concentration, and no bungled homework. She looked the part: severe, almost to the point of ferocity, with her silver hair impeccably pinned back. But she had another side. Her second passion was the garden. Occasionally she would walk into class with shining eyes and an expression that could only be called a look of love. “Have you seen the snowdrops peeping through, down in the spring gardens?” she would ask us, as if with God’s own voice, coaxing the thoughtless to stop and wonder.
We would encourage her of course. Every minute spent with the snowdrops was a minute less of mathematics. We might exchange conspiratorial smiles, but we would nevertheless find a moment to go down to the spring gardens and check out the snowdrops.
She was called Miss Woodland. She was a perfect blend of left-brain logic and right-brain intuition, of discipline and joy. She taught us that the elegance of a perfectly balanced equation and the beauty of a wild flower are just two of the countless faces of the same awesome universe. She died before we left school, and there wasn’t a pupil who didn’t mourn her passing.
—Excerpted from Compass Points by Margaret Silf