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Pupils I'll never forget

Loleta Matthews remembers a small boy who finally broke through a self-imposed sound barrier

It was the last day of term, and I'd gone to the playground to meet some of the children I'd be teaching in September. I'd been told about Courtney, who apparently hadn't spoken to an adult since he'd joined the school a year earlier, although there was no medical reason for his silence. I introduced myself, saying I was looking forward to having him in my class.

He looked at me and ran off.

On the first day of term, I welcomed my new class and said: "Let's go round and you can tell me who you are." When I came to Courtney, he said nothing.

Taking the register, I reminded everyone to respond with: "Good morning, Mrs Matthews." Once again Courtney said nothing. Throughout the day, Courtney refused to respond to any questions. I didn't see him speak to any child either.

I hadn't met this problem before and wasn't sure what to do. The next day there was again no response. I rather admired Courtney's silence. I'd have found it impossible to go all day without speaking.

Next morning, I suggested the children should respond with a sentence when I called the register. When it came to Courtney's turn there was a pause...

then a quiet murmur. Excited, I repeated his name and he said: "Yes, Miss."

He began to respond to questions and within days even asked to go to the lavatory. Soon, he was reading his book to me and, by the end of the year, taking parts in class play readings. Courtney moved on and faded from my memory. Years later, a smart, smiling young man delivered my class library books from the LEA loan service. "Hello, Miss," he said. "Remember me?" He told me he was still in touch with many of the pupils who'd been in my class, and how much he'd loved The Pied Piper in group play reading.

I reminded Courtney how he'd worried me by not speaking and asked him why he'd suddenly decided to speak. "I liked being in your class," he said.

"And I knew you wouldn't give me a biscuit unless I said thank you."

Loleta Matthews teaches at Comber Grove primary school, London borough of Southwark. Do you have special memories of unforgettable pupils? Write to Sarah Bayliss at the address on page 3 or email

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