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Pupils I'll never forget

Hilary McKendrick remembers a late learner who gave her all in the classroom and on stage

While I was teaching at a small village primary in Kent, a headteacher was appointed with "new ideas". I was the experienced Year 6 teacher, but he made us all move round, so I became the very inexperienced Year 2 teacher.

I quickly found my feet with the bulk of the class. But then, on the special needs table, there was Ellen.

Ellen was so poor academically that everything I tried to teach evaded her.

She was a pretty girl, tiny, with enormous eyes. I felt cruel even suggesting there were such things as triangles, or that clocks were useful for telling the time. Science was a confusing collection of unnecessary facts, and geography books were for colouring.

No matter how hard I tried, I couldn't teach Ellen to read. We tried look-and-say, phonics, contextual clues, and just about everything else the experts suggested. Ellen just looked at me with her enormous eyes. Needless to say, at key stage1 Sats she was nowhere near where the Government thought she ought to be. I was obviously an ineffective special needs teacher.

I spent two years teaching Year 2, then returned to Year 6. Two years later, along came Ellen. But she was now reading. She seemed delighted to have me as her teacher, and was in turn a delight to teach. She stayed after school for extra lessons, and whatever she was asked to do, she made a huge effort to do it.

Then came our Year 6 musical - Carrots, about the work of Dr Barnardo. In auditions Ellen sang her heart out and read the lines in a loud cockney accent. She became Nobby, the leader of the street children and she was superb. She brought the house down.

Where had that little girl from Year 2 gone? She had grown in confidence, become a talented actress - and reached all the levels demanded at key stage 2.

I will always remember her for her enthusiasm and determination to overcome her problems. A super girl. And living proof that you never know how any child is going to turn out.

Hilary McKendrick now teaches English at Marlborough House preparatory school in Hawkhurst, Kent. She was talking to Hilary Wilce. Do you have special memories of unforgettable pupils? Write to Sarah Bayliss at the address on page 3 or email sarah.bayliss

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