Was I a good student? Hmm, not really…I didn’t work hard in anything I didn’t find interesting. Subjects like geography, science, maths, languages – obviously I regret it all now, but I didn’t try in any of those. I knew from a very early stage, from before secondary school, that it was books and theatre and film that I loved. In English and drama, I was like a straight A student, I never really dipped beneath that, and that was because I was genuinely interested. In my belligerent head I was like I don’t care, I’m just doing this cause that’s all I’m ever going to do.
History was another subject that I thought, I’m not interested in this, I just want to do the arts. But Mr Lyle taught history, and he was my only black male teacher. He was very much like…you know, it was in the days where there was the curriculum but there were teachers bringing their own character and interest to the curriculum, it was still a bit more loose.
Mr Lyle would teach us about black history in the UK, not just in America, and he was really passionate and young, and that was really striking. There were two history teachers and Mr Lyle was a black man and Miss Daulphin was a black women. So that was a big dose of black history and consciousness and education that I don’t know if I would have got otherwise. Now one of my favourite types of books to read is historical nonfiction – that’s definitely down to what they instilled in me.
They were both strict, but were both very cool so you didn’t mind as much. You know when there’s no rapport and the teacher is still strict, it’s like well, I hate you, but these guys made you love them. They were very passionate, they both had a youthful energy and they both recognised that a lot black boys were, like working-class white boys today, falling by the wayside. Educationally they weren’t going to let it happen.
There were kids that would normally misbehave that would behave in those classes. That was a special skill both of them had. They just had a technique that was like look, there’s two ways you can go – it was real stark you know – you can keep messing about, or you can work hard. You can’t demand respect without being respectful. They had a holistic approach to teaching which was new to me at the time.
My English teacher, Miss Jonas, was super tough on me, super strict, super hard, but it was because she knew I was good. I excelled at literacy, reading and writing and you know, that understanding of subtext and what literature was really about. She knew that I got it but I was a bit of clown, so whenever I flopped in that class she was on me like a rash. There were other kids who didn’t care about English, she’d just be like well, you know, you clearly don’t care about this so I don’t care about you. She was my sister’s teacher and we all know what happened to Zadie [Brown’s older sister, who is an award-winning author] so she must have been doing something right. I have a lot of time for her.
Miss Johnson was my drama teacher, and she was a huge influence. She was super young, super hip, she felt like a sixth former, so she had a really fresh touch. You think of some teachers, and they’re really musty and old, and they’ve lost all passion for the job, they’re a year away from retirement. Looking back she was in her early twenties, she was really on the ball, exciting, really involved. She’s the kind of person you wanted to come to your house party.
Between those four, they inspired me and put things in me that helped mould me into the person I am now, both personally and professionally. I hope they’re all well, and if they're retired are enjoying their retirement.
Doc Brown was talking to Kate Parker
Doc Brown is featured in a new BBC Bitesize campaign called Starting Secondary School which provides resources for teachers to help support transition as well as content for 10 to 12 year olds and parents. Click here to find out more.
Born: Kilburn, 1977
Education: Malorees Junior School, Kilburn, Hampstead School, Cricklewood
Career: Doc Brown, whose real name is Ben Bailey Smith, is an English rapper, comedian, actor, screenwriter, radio presenter and voiceover artist.