Teachers that inspire us as children are remembered for our whole lives

Former footballer Ian Wright spoke highly of his former teacher on a recent episode of Desert Island

Former footballer Ian Wright spoke highly of his former teacher on a recent episode of Desert Island Discs - Credit: PA Wire/PA Images

Inspired by Ian Wright's celebration of his former teacher, Helen McDermott remembers the good and bad teachers from her younger days

It's fairly widely known that I'm no football fan. I'm not much of a fan of Desert Island Discs either. So I can't think what stroke of fate found me listening to Ian Wright spinning his eight gramophone records and chatting in between them. I must say he sounded like a lovely man, especially when he talked movingly about his junior school days and the teacher who inspired him. He was Mr Pigden, and Ian thought he was "the greatest man in the world", who'd changed his life for the better, giving him "a sense of feeling I had some use".

Several people have been saying lately what a difference certain teachers had made to their lives, making them feel better about themselves. I must say they were lucky. When I was growing up in the 60s, I appeared to have spent most of my time being scared. It wasn't that the teachers were physically cruel; it just seemed to me that if you didn't fit what they wanted they gave up on you, and you might as well give up too. The fact was that as far as my school was concerned, unless you were going to be a ballet dancer that they could brag about you were of no real use.

I went to a stage school from the age of seven in the hopes that one day I would emerge as the next Margot Fonteyn. But I wasn't really cut out for it, so I can't really blame the teachers for my fall from grace. Wrong size, wrong attitude.

We had only two male teachers. One of them was a dance instructor who told my mum that unless I lost several stone (I weighed seven, so I didn't have that many to spare) I stood no chance of succeeding in ballet. Well, I suppose he was right about that, but I can remember thinking at the time that there were more things in life than being a prima ballerina. It's just as well really. My ballet talents were so abundant and obvious that I ended up being a telly presenter.


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The other male teacher's field was art, which I became quite good at. In an all-girls school we used to enjoy the art classes partly because, even though he was not exactly a Robert Redford, he was at least a man.

It being principally a dance school, academic subjects didn't actually count for much, which is a pity because I was reasonably good at them. There were only 10 girls in my class, which was a bit of luck because, with hard work, it was possible between dance classes to get some qualifications.

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One teacher who did provide a spot of inspiration was Mrs Lawrence, who took us for English, French, geography and history. She had an imaginative approach. In one history lesson, she had us crawling about under our desks pretending to be pit ponies; teaching us to parlez Francais she would draw a sandwich on the blackboard, the top slice being "ne", the bottom slice being "pas", and the filling was the verb. Example: je ne comprend pas (I don't understand).

We were very good girls and didn't often misbehave (too scared to), but I'm glad of that. I did learn. A few years ago the tables were turned when I had a taste of teaching. It was a three-day course telling youngsters a bit about radio and TV. Most of them were delightful but one lad in particular was a real pain.

So irritating was he that I gave him a clip round the ear.

I was half expecting the police to turn up to arrest me for abuse.

I was exhausted at the end of the non-stop effort to keep the children engaged. I don't know how teachers do it day after day, week after week. It would have to be a calling of some sort. Teachers, you have my utmost admiration.

SUPER COLIN: Last month our local lad Colin Thackery, famous for his BGT appearance, did a show at the Assembly House in aid of a breast cancer charity. He entered the talent competition only "for a dare", and then he dared to win it. He's enjoyed his success, apart from the reaction of some of his former "friends" who have been busy knocking his achievement. They're consumed by envy. In the wake of Caroline Flack's death we're being asked to be a bit kinder, so those "friends" of Colin should be a little more gracious. Allow the lad his portion of fame and fortune. He's 90 this year. I hope his birthday's a happy one.

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