June Atkins is a late starter. She'd wanted to be a teacher, but it didn't work out at first. "I had secretarial jobs, got married, had my children. And then I began helping out at my daughters' schools, really enjoying it. They moved on to secondary school and I was freer. Things began to happen."
What particularly happened was a vacancy in 1992 for a classroom assistant at St Piers school, the all-age special school in Lingfield, Surrey, part of the National Centre for Young People with Epilepsy. Pupils at St Piers have epilepsy and other disorders; many have complex learning difficulties and the pupil:adult ratio is almost one to one. But it's enthralling and rewarding work - as June says, it's a "very special special school". Then the chance came to study for the certificate for applied professional studies (CAP), which led on to DAPS, the diploma course. It was a tutor on that course, based at St Piers, who encouraged her to consider graduate or registered teacher training.
June had no recognised qualifications, so she went to evening classes to get maths GCSE ("just in case") and then enrolled for a part-time degree course in educational studies. At the same time, she applied for a registered teacher training place. By 2001 she had achieved qualified teacher status and was working as an NQT, still at St Piers. "I didn't plan it," she says.
And when her NQT year was over, she was appointed lower school manager, with responsibility for 30 children and 22 staff. Not bad for a newly qualified teacher.
It is a job she loves, without reservation. "It's wonderful to watch these children develop, to see their communication skills and confidence improving - it means that their parents can begin to be parents again and not just carers. Together, we have fun."
One of the many parents who supported June Atkins's nomination echoes this.
"Though we are heartbroken by our child's illness, we beam with joy at his enthusiasm. Thanks to June he has learned to look forward to going to school. Every day, standing by the window waiting for his escort, he shouts 'School! School!' " "I'm happy," says June. "I love what I do, and I'm very lucky to be where I am, working with such very special people."
The national final of the Teaching Awards is on October 26 and will be broadcast on BBC1 in early November. Nominations for next year's awards open later next month at www.teachingawards.com