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Personally speaking - 'My mum was adopted by deputy head'

Who has been your biggest influence?

My mother was a ward of court as a young student, and her deputy head adopted her as a means of keeping her safe and well. Mrs Ponting, now in her 80s, still lives in Kent and is known by everyone. My sons call her PG (Pretend Grandma).

What has been your career high so far?

Being nominated for a Teaching Award in 2008. It is as close to hearing what people might say at my funeral as I will ever get.

What was your worst moment in teaching?

The worst part of the job for many of us is when a parent is aggressive or threatening. This has thankfully happened very rarely over 23 years. On one occasion, the local police were so concerned that I was given support over Christmas, with my phone on an alert list in case of further threats.

Which pupil are you most proud of?

A young man who left the school some years ago with excellent Sats results and a Child of Courage Award, despite being in care, will always remind me what is possible if we reach for the stars.

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

Sleep on it before tackling an emotive meeting. Distance can give new insight and stops molehills turning into mountains.

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

I wanted to be a Blue Peter presenter. I did once apply, and had a possible opportunity to work for the BBC, but I was pregnant with my eldest son, so the timing wasn't right. A Year 6 class wrote to Blue Peter and got me a badge, however.

What do you do on a Friday evening?

Drink wine, eat crisps, watch items on TV I don't need to think too deeply about.

Are you tech savvy or a Luddite?

I love technology but get frustrated when it doesn't work. I still like a paper diary.

What is the worst excuse you have ever heard?

Probably me coming home on a Friday and blaming my lack of charm on it being "one of those days". My then 14-year-old son said: "Just because you have been Mother Teresa to other people's children, don't come home and take it out on us!" A great leveller.

Debra Massey is head of Howe Dell Primary, in Hatfield, Hertfordshire. She was named primary headteacher of the year at the 2008 Teaching Awards.

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