“Really, Watson, you excel yourself,” said Holmes, pushing back his chair and lighting a cigarette. “I am bound to say that in all the accounts which you have been so good as to give of my own small achievements you have habitually underrated your own abilities. It may be that you are not yourself luminous, but you are a conductor of light. Some people without possessing genius have a remarkable power of stimulating it. I confess, my dear fellow, that I am very much in your debt.”
He had never said as much before, and I must admit that his words gave me keen pleasure, for I had often been piqued by his indifference to my admiration and to the attempts which I had made to give publicity to his methods. I was proud, too, to think that I had so far mastered his system as to apply it in a way which earned his approval. He now took the stick from my hands and examined it for a few minutes with his naked eyes. Then with an expression of interest he laid down his cigarette, and carrying the cane to the window, he looked over it again with a convex lens.
“Has anything escaped me?” I asked with some self-importance. “I trust that there is nothing of consequence which I have overlooked?”
“I am afraid, my dear Watson, that most of your conclusions were erroneous. When I said that you stimulated me I meant, to be frank, that in noting your fallacies I was occasionally guided towards the truth. Not that you are entirely wrong in this instance.”
Holmes is a fine example of a successful type of teacher: he possesses the most extraordinary amount of knowledge and in the novel shows his mind to be filled with such esoterica as women’s perfumes, paper types and newsprint. He is proud of his professional reputation, and believes in fact and logic over myth and legend. Holmes’s ability is remarkable: he cares about reason and honesty and seeks justice because it reveals the truth. He stands against dishonesty and corruption but also against lazy thinking and prejudice. I would argue that every school needs a few Holmeses on their staff or as part of their research team. He possesses intelligence and the ability to coordinate his resources effectively. He may seem cold and lacking in empathy in the extract above, but his relationship with Watson is clearly one based on mutual respect. I would say that most of the really good teachers I have met possess a strong touch of self-belief that is nicely balanced with humility and a desire to listen to the points of view of their students. Holmes also knows when to seek help and support from specialists depending on the situations: he can call on his brother, use the Baker Street boys or use the willing support of Lestrade. Teachers who try to deal with complex challenges on their own may well fail; leaders who fail to use all the resources at their disposal are likely to demotivate large numbers of their school communities.
Fortunately Watson possesses the sort of character beloved of those who have leapt onto the bandwagon marked ‘resilience and grit’. He takes his damning with faint praise in his stride, licks his wounds and then carries on trying to be the model student. He does what Holmes asks of him, heads into significant danger in Devon, and fills in his reports and entries as instructed. What I love is the fact that Watson waxes lyrical about the Devonshire countryside and comes over all Romantic in his style now that he is free to express himself. One can imagine Holmes tutting over the embellishments and flourishes, but he also knows that these are what make the stories so accessible to the wide readership. Too much Holmes and not enough Watson makes for a rather dry read. And schools and those who dabble in education from their blogs or offices in Whitehall need to remember this.
What is so impressive about these two characters is how they show the sort of intelligence that is so crucial to successful teaching: they have clear moral boundaries, they care about social order, they understand the need to collaborate and to blend their natures and talents. They are different but capable of combining to make a powerful team. At the start of each adventure they have to use what they already know and apply it to new and complex situations; they have to review their understanding and reach new conclusions on the basis of new evidence; and when they get things wrong they do not give up. They do take risks, especially with Sir Henry out on the Moor when the Hound attacks; there are times when a little more courage in schools would lead to more success.
Holmes is not perfect; nor is Watson; neither would necessarily be rated Outstanding but that is why they are such Good characters.