Steve McQueen: ‘Miss Collins gave a shit’

The award-winning director behind ‘12 Years a Slave’ and ‘Widows’ pays tribute to his teacher, Miss Collins

Tes Reporter

Steve McQueen, Director Steve McQueen

My favourite teacher? She lived across the street from me! No seriously. Wait, I’ll ring my mum…what was her name? 

[Rings his mum]

“Mum, I’m in the middle of the interview but you know my teacher who lived across the street from us, you know she won the lottery? Mrs...was it Sullivan? You don’t know? You can’t remember?”

Well, she taught English anyway, she had dark hair, in a bob. She was great, she was feisty. She won the lottery, she told the headmaster where to go and pissed off to Ireland. The school was shit and she knew it. 

She told the truth, she was on our side. She cared in a real way, she had humour and you could just tell she cared and she told the truth. She wasn’t patronising at all, she treated us as young adults and we respected that. 

When she came to school I was 13- or 14-years-old. She taught us great, great books as well. We did some great stuff with her. We watched films like East of Eden and read great literature. She was one of those people who was interested and interesting.

Mrs…er Miss...Collins! Her name was Miss Collins. I did O level with her. She was beautiful. Why the Cage Bird Sings – that was heaven. And they tried to take it off the curriculum, didn’t they? They only wanted English books. She was Irish. 

I was dyslexic at school but no one detected it then. I think what’s interesting with dyslexia is how you sort of you, you erm, enable yourself and deal with it. Because no one is helping you, so you have to deal with things as they happen. So you develop a technique on how to deal with things. 

I was interested in the subject and how it was taught, I was engaged with it, but if you aren’t you just lose interest when you approach school. I was a normally behaved child, but some of the teachers weren’t great. That’s a fact.

When you’ve got a good teacher, you just focus, because they are there, in it with you. I mean, there were terrible teachers who had mental health issues, and what were they doing there? I mean they knew that they didn’t care, and we knew. 

You should have the best teachers with the worst kids. A lot of teachers didn’t give a shit. But Miss Collins did. I knew that she cared.

Steve McQueen was talking to Dave Speck


Born: 1969, London.

Education: Drayton Manor High School, Hanwell.

Career: Steve McQueen is an award-winning director and screenwriter. He won an academy award for 12 Years a Slave and was the first black filmmaker to do so. Other films include, Widows, Shame and Hunger. 

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