Miss Yusuf by Labrinth

The singer-songwriter used to deliberately get himself kicked out of lessons to hide his dyslexia - but one teacher saw through the act

I was a bit of a troublemaker at school. I like to think it was lovable cheekiness, but truthfully I was plain old naughty. I wrote a lot of lines in my time - and I don't mean the musical kind.

I noticed early on in my education that we were getting taught the same thing every year. Then everything got that little bit harder and it wasn't enough for me. Not enough creativity. I was bored and restless. Frustrated. I didn't make the sort of effort that perhaps I could have done and most teachers would drop you like a bad habit for that. Not Miss Yusuf. She didn't give up on the naughty kids.

She was my tutor at Stoke Newington School when I was aged 11-16, and she taught me science through much of that time. I'm dyslexic and it was tough for me to read out loud or to be put on the spot - I would deliberately get kicked out of classes so I didn't embarrass myself. I would try the same kinds of tricks on her that I used on the other teachers, but she gave me that extra bit of time. There was no knee-jerk "Get the hell out".

Her attitude was great: "If you are getting on my nerves, it will not stop me from keeping you here and teaching you what I need to teach you." Pretty soon that commanded respect, the fact that she stuck with me like that. Most teachers seemed to be giving out a message of, "I can't be bothered, I don't get paid enough for this, get out." Not her.

And when I stayed in the classroom, I started paying attention. Photosynthesis, speed, ohms. To this day, I still know how these things work because of her. In fact, her science classes helped me to understand music. Music has science in it. In both you need to become obsessed with the finer details. You've got to get right down into the DNA of how they work to fully understand them. She contributed to my music, no doubt about that.

Miss Yusuf made lessons interesting. She was interested in the subject she was teaching and she was interested in the people she was teaching. That's it, the people. That's what made her stand out.

I remember saying to one teacher: "One day I'm going to make music." And they said: "I don't see that happening." That was so disheartening. But Miss Yusuf was interested in my music, even though it was pretty bad at the time. She was like a big sister who saw my dyslexia and understood it. She would get me in for after-school sessions and be like: "Come on, you know you need to do a bit more work - don't be scared of that."

I'm making her out to be a saint, but when it came to authority she would not mess about. You couldn't beat her in a shouting match, but her shouting never cut you down. It was never a personal attack. It was much more, "Don't mess with me, I'm here to help you."

You don't see your teachers as actual people. You just see them as these bigger things that know more than you. I think, just maybe, I managed to see the person in Miss Yusuf. She taught me that if you're patient with people and you see their flaws along with your own, you'll all get through a lot better.

Labrinth was talking to Tom Cullen. He is backing a campaign by classical pianist James Rhodes to encourage the public to donate unwanted musical instruments to primary schools, in partnership with Oxfam and Yodel. The amnesty is linked to Rhodes' new three-part series for Channel 4 called Don't Stop the Music, starting in September

Finding his way


Born Timothy McKenzie, 4 January 1989, Hackney, North London

Education Stoke Newington School, North London

Career Singer-songwriter and producer; signed to Simon Cowell's Syco record label in 2010; debut album Electronic Earth was released in 2012

Log in or register for FREE to continue reading.

It only takes a moment and you'll get access to more news, plus courses, jobs and teaching resources tailored to you