During my first year of teacher training, I went on a two-week placement in a Cumbrian village school. Initially I was petrified; I was given a mixed class of 22 reception and key stage 1 children, but I was training to work with older children and didn't think I would manage. "They just say what they think and that scares me rotten," I admitted to more than one fellow student.
Their teacher soon reassured me; her enthusiasm was infectious and I became totally immersed, so much so that I decided to write a story to read to the children on my last day. I stayed up late writing about friendship and the importance of everyone feeling valued. I'd bought star-shaped gift tags in a post-Christmas sale and attached them to little packets of sweets, one for each child.
The next day I read my story, "The Special Star", and the children seemed to hang on every word. I thought how I would miss everyone in this special class.
Then it was time to hand out the stars; inside each of the labels I had written: "You are a real star. Thank you from Mrs Hall." The children lined up and everything was going like clockwork until a five-year-old came up.
Before taking the gift he delved into his front trouser pocket and handed me something brown and shiny. I smiled and thought "I don't deserve this, whatever it is. Please go away!"
The boy then said something I'll never forget. "I found this outside in the field, beside the tree, and it's a present for you." It was a pine cone, wet and very tightly shut. It was then I realised I'd forgotten his name; worse than that, I'd spent the past 10 days with a child in my class whom I hadn't even noticed. He'd fitted in so well he'd been invisible to me.
At home I showed the pine cone to my four-year-old son and explained that another little boy had given it to me. "What was his name?" he said instantly, and I told him. We put the cone on the mantelpiece. Later I noticed that the tightly closed cone had opened wide and become much bigger; each of the individual parts had divided and stood out.
From that day I've remembered Ben and the pine cone and promised myself that no child shall be invisible in my classroom.
Jacqui Hall is about to graduate with a BA Hons with QTS from Saint Martin's College, Carlisle, Cumbria. Do you have special memories of unforgettable pupils? Write to Sarah Bayliss at the address on page 3 or email firstname.lastname@example.org