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Teachers who made a difference

I heard a fascinating interview today. The guest was a lady called Katharine Birbalsingh CBE, and she is a head teacher at a free school called Michaela Community School in Wembley Park, London, England.

She was talking about education and teachers and made a lot of comments that I agree with, but the comment that really made my ears prick up was about teachers and the effect they have on children.

It got me thinking about my time at school and how it has affected me. I had three particular favourite teachers, although they all had their good points. The ones that stand out are Mrs Maureen Martindale, Sister Joan (my school was a Catholic convent), and Miss Beryl Stephenson.

Let’s start with Mrs Martindale. She was my Year 6 teacher at Holy Rood Junior School in Watford, England. We had maths books, grammar books and English language and comprehension books. But we spent only as much time on them as it took to get through the 11 plus exam that we used to have in England. The rest of the time we listened to Mrs Martindale reading stories or discussing what was happening in the world. One day Mrs Martindale pinned up pictures from the Vietnamese war. One was of a brain clearly visible where the top of head had been blown off; the other was a little girl about the age of my little brother, running down the road with her back on fire. We were shocked to the core, and some people said she shouldn’t have shown us those things. But it gave us a very clear idea of what really happens in wars, and why we should try everything in our power to prevent them. It might sound appalling, but it was tempered by the long discussions we had as a class, and always followed by an amazing book read by Mrs Martindale. We had our thinking seriously provoked, but never went home unhappy.

Then came secondary school and Sister Joan. She really loved books, and she passed that on to us. In year 9 one of the books she recommended was Doctor Zhivago by Boris Pasternak. It sticks in my memory because some of the girls groaned at having to read a classic; I didn’t pass comment because I’d never heard of it, but as she passed my desk she said: ‘I think Susannah (that’s me) is one of the few people who would understand this book. Every other child in the room instantly forgot what she said, but to this day this comment comes back to me every time I feel a bit inadequate, and it makes me feel better more than 45 years later.

The last teacher on my list is Miss Beryl Stephenson who was our Art teacher. She stands out because she clearly loved everyone of us, whether we could do art or not. It didn’t matter that your still life apple resembled a blood clot, or that your soaring dragon looked like a bit of rag in the wind; she always found something positive and encouraging to say. And the miracle was, that even people who started off useless at art blossomed into proper actual artists, just because she encouraged them and made them feel that improvement was just around the corner.

So really, my point is this: if you have a teacher who is kind, be kind back. If you have a teacher who is not always patient, be kind to them anyway, because you will affect them in exactly the same way a brilliant teacher affects you. In years to come to come, that teacher will remember the kind child who made a difficult day that much better, and you will be a hero.

Zanna Maybury

I have the worlds greatest job.

I write books for young readers that are full of the type of adventures I would have if I was still allowed to.

I was born in 1959. And yes, I do realise that makes me much older than your average kid. I remember that time with fondness because I had so much freedom (my parents would kick us out of the house at sunrise and we were not allowed back in until tea-time. this is only a slight exaggeration). Freedom meant adventures, friendships and trips to the library, which was by far my favourite pastime. I grew up in a place called Watford, just north of London, UK. Just down the road was a fabulous park -called Cassiobury-and a wonderful wood called Whippendell. They are still there, and still wonderful, I have checked. These places, and the friends that I knew inspired me. Needless to say there is nothing in the books to give away who I had my adventures with. The probably would not own up to any of it now, in any case. So that is what I write about.. .I want you all to experience that golden time through my stories.

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