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Pupils I'll never forget

Andrew Langley remembers the courage of an A-grade student who never let illness stand in her way

There are students who make you wonder why you didn't take up lion taming, and there are students like Lucy who remind you that you still enjoy teaching.

Lucy had serious back problems. In Year 10 she had a major operation on her spine, the details of which still make me queasy. For three months she was off school. She returned part-time, tackling the coursework mostly on her own at home.

Lucy spent much of the summer holidays catching up; within a month of coming back full-time she'd submitted an outstanding piece of coursework.

She had a natural flair for writing and the piece was a few nitpicking marks off perfect. Typically , she redrafted it. It's still the only 100 per cent piece I've seen.

Around this time she entered a national writing competition at my insistence. Unbelievably, she wasn't even shortlisted, and in a long-term fit of pique I've boycotted the competition ever since.

Lucy rarely asked questions in class, but would sit quietly at the back, listening, absorbing, reflecting. Then back would come the ideas: perceptive, fresh and original. Her work was a joy to read.

The one time she did talk about her condition was when I'd asked the class to research a charity, and promote it in a small-group discussion. Lucy chose a charity that supported people like her, and hearing her argue with such sensitivity and passion made me realise how courageous she was. I realised how she'd had to deal with physical and psychological trauma, nagging fatigue, the struggle to regain confidence, lengthy periods away from school and looming GCSEs. As if being a teenager wasn't enough.

In Lucy's group was a boy, perhaps less sensitive than some. He bluntly asked why her charity was more important than saving lives in Africa, or helping the homeless. This must have hit hard, but she never wavered. She never tried to make personal capital out of her difficulties.

Lucy would be mortified to read this. Modest and unassuming, she'd find it difficult to understand how she could inspire anybody. She'd have madea pretty good lion tamer herself.

Andrew Langley teaches English at Honiton community college, Devon. 'Lucy'

is a pseudonym

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