Roisin McVeigh was born in Belfast in 1968. She joined Wolsingham school and community college, County Durham, through the graduate teacher scheme in April 2000. She teaches history I was the youngest of seven children. At school in Belfast, I wanted to be an actress but the nuns kicked it out of me. "Ro!sin McVeigh," I remember one of them saying, "you're only fit for scrubbing floors." So I left at 16 with no certificates. I worked in a pizza parlour, then as a chambermaid, a waitress and a bar manager. I followed my big sister to England and worked as a make-up adviser in a beauty parlour and in department stores.
It was my sister, Mara, who persuaded me that I needed qualifications. I did some GCSEs at Bishop Auckland college, then an access course, then I went to Sunderland University to study history and sociology. I loved it, so I went on to do an MA, researching what happened to the Romanies during the Holocaust. By then I was working at an outreach centre for young offenders, and teaching young adults at Frankland jail.
I saw an advertisement for a history teacher at my local school. I kept saying to myself that I couldn't do it, but I applied and got it. I did my PGCE on the job, and to my surprise the Teacher Training Agency asked me to be an adviser to other graduate-entry students.
I love teaching. I love history, too - it brings out the storyteller and the actress in me. I like being able to do things for children out of classroom hours. Some of my pupils have just won a Square Mile Award, for passing on their IT skills to adults. Here in the dale, that could make a real difference to people's lives.
I keep thinking of what that nun said to me. I've never worked so hard, but at last I feel I'm being useful. You touch children's lives as a teacher. I think: "You have such a gift." But so often it's stifled. I worry that we stifle it still. There isn't time, in the present curriculum, to develop children's interests and creativity. We may be doing them a disservice.
Out of school, I love singing, and I'm involved in social issues. On Friday nights, I work with the homeless in Tyneside, and on Sundays I support the street girls of Middlesbrough. I'm a member of Unicef and Amnesty International. If I don't stay in teaching, I'd like to work overseas - it's my background, perhaps. There's so much to learn, so much still to do.
I'm embarrassed to be a teacher of the year. I don't want to be singled out, as though I'm someone very special. I'm not, I promise you.
Visit www.teachingawards.com. The Teaching Awards 2002 national ceremony takes place on October 27 in London