No way, James Singleterry used to say, would he ever be a teacher. His father was one and, even as a boy, he was conscious of the pressures of the job. But work experience at his dad's school changed his outlook. By the time he was in the sixth form he was spending a day a week in a local primary school. He was, he says, hooked. Now, seven years later, he's back in his native Norfolk, teaching key stage 1 at Swaffham first and nursery school. Everybody knows him - and the cast of classroom helpers he's created. There are lots of them: Roger the Rhino, Marvin the Monkey - and Little Leonard, the much-travelled classroom mascot.
Little Leonard - a creature that "lives on apples, hates dogs and changes colour at will" - is no ordinary mascot. He's the hero of the reading scheme James has written and illustrated: 50 titles and counting. He's also the central feature of the reward scheme James uses - Little Leonard cards which, like Pokemon cards, can be traded. Improbably, he finds his way into two of James's passions, the ukulele (Little Leonard classroom songs) and (as a sponsor of the new stand at Carrow Road) Norwich City Football Club.
It's no surprise that the children do well. Behind the fun and the flair is a fund of hard work and careful planning and, James cheerfully admits, "lots and lots of testing". One day, perhaps, he'll find time to publish his stories and become "a proper children's writer". There is room in the market, he says, for a reading scheme that is linked not just to the learning targets but to home and school rewards as well. In the meantime, he's more than happy writing lesson plans on the Norwich City supporters'
bus or working on more Little Leonard songs on the way to the annual gatherings at Blackpool of the George Formby Society. You learn with no surprise that the children are bringing out a CD this year.
So has he any other plans? "Survival!" But it's only a reference to this year's football season. This is a teacher whose priorities are clear.
The final of the Teaching Awards will be held in London on October 24 and will be broadcast on BBC2 the same day at 7pm. Nominations for next year's awards are open at: www.teachingawards.com