Outstanding for being one of us

Nerys Lloyd-Pierce

"To Miss Johnson. Hope you have a nice time at your new school. We love you loads."

How many teachers would give their eye teeth to inspire this kind of devotion in their pupils? And there are many more messages of support posted on the Teaching Awards website by Michelle Johnson's students at John Summers high school in Deeside.

Indeed her nomination, as new teacher of the year in Wales, came from 16-year-old Joanne Austin, who has been taught science by Miss Johnson for two years.

"She's great with everyone and treats everybody the same, even the ones who misbehave," she says. "If you've got a problem, she notices and she's always there for you. She also goes out of her way to make the lessons interesting."

Michelle Johnson, 25, says: "I worked at a private health club while I was at university and I carry that customer service attitude into the classroom. I respect my pupils and they respond to that.

"They also feel that I'm one of them because I come from a similar background.

"I was brought up on an estate which had a bad reputation (the Blacon estate, Chester, in Cheshire), and that carries some weight at this school where many pupils are disadvantaged.

"I never thought I could get to university, I thought I wasn't worthy, but my science teacher encouraged me. I hope I can do the same for my pupils."

Michelle's ethos is to make science accessible for all levels - she finds teaching students with special needs especially rewarding. But for all ages and aptitudes, the key is to bring the subject to life.

"I relate science to daily events," she says. "If we're talking about diabetes I relate it to clubbing and what happens to your blood sugar levels after a lot of dancing.

"I also feel that it's important to create a forum for debate, especially among older pupils. We discuss subjects that have been in the news recently, such as why people from deprived areas are more likely to go ahead and have the child rather than have an abortion. That makes science real."

Her head of department, Steve Webster, says: "If you could bottle her qualities and sell them, you would make a fortune."

This term she is starting work in a new school, the Bankfield in Widnes, Cheshire, which has been accorded specialist science status. But some things do not change - within her new role she will still be applying her teaching skills to pupils from a deprived catchment area.

"That's where I feel I can make the most difference," she says.

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Nerys Lloyd-Pierce

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