Teaching awards

More than 100 teachers, heads and classroom assistants won regional awards last term in the run-up to the national finals in October. Roisin McVeigh is outstanding new teacher (secondary), North-east region. She talks to Michael Duffy

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

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