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Personally speaking - Be polite to lab techs and secretaries'

Who has been your biggest influence?

My physics teacher at school, Dr Showan. It was because of him that I decided to study physics and space science.

When I wrote my first referenced science paper I sent it to him, unsure if he still remembered me. He wrote back saying he knew exactly who the letter was from as he could recognise the terrible handwriting on the envelope.

What has been your career high so far?

One of my students had been struggling to understand electromagnetic waves and photons, and I had been struggling finding ways of teaching it to him. Finally, the day before his physics exam, I came up with an analogy that worked. After that, the subject suddenly made sense.

What has been your worst moment in teaching?

About 20 minutes into my training, I was in assembly and two students were discussing buying a gun. I knew it was simply bravado, but I couldn't take the risk, so I had to involve the head and the police.

What is the best piece of advice you have been given?

Be polite to lab techs, secretaries and print-room people.

What is the most outrageous thing a colleague has done?

I had a GCSE class who were simply unteachable. I asked the head of the department what to do. She simply brought in white paper and crayons and gave them to the class. They were as quiet as mice, happy to scribble away for the lesson.

What would you be if you hadn't become a teacher?

A scientist. I have always been torn between my two loves. My first job was on a scheme at Imperial College where I spent half my time teaching and the other half researching. I was in heaven.

What do you do on a Friday evening?

Usually collapse with a bottle of beer in front of the TV and then head to the cinema to try to forget things.

Where did you last go on holiday - and why?

Israel, for a pilgrimage. My girlfriend's father is a vicar and he conducted his last pilgrimage this year so we decided to go with him.

What is the worst excuse you have ever heard?

I set up extra lessons for a pupil during my free periods and he didn't turn up. Eventually he arrived, saying: "It's not my fault I'm late - I was asleep."

Simon Foster teaches science at Wentworth College in north London. He has a PhD in solar-terrestrial physics and is giving a talk on rocket science at the Cheltenham Science Festival, which runs this week (7-12 June). www.cheltenhamfestivals.comscience.

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