Mr Bunting by Ben Cohen

17th October 2014 at 01:00
The former rugby union player and member of England's 2003 World Cup-winning team remembers the scary teacher (but wonderful person) who played a huge part in his sporting success

I went to a state school called Kingsthorpe Upper. They didn't play rugby at Kingsthorpe - it was an "elitist" sport mainly for private schools and wasn't on my school's radar.

I was the kind of student who would always get the "doesn't quite have the attention span" comments on his report. Truthfully, I was an awful student. I wish I had done better. I haven't turned out bad, but it's one of my biggest regrets that I didn't achieve more in school. It was rugby that educated me in every way, shape and form. But one thing I did learn through school was that the teacher is not the person.

There was an English teacher called Bob Bunting, who has sadly passed away now. He had been at the school for many years and he had a reputation for being, to be blunt, a harsh teacher. Very hard-nosed. Really stuck to the rules. He was a teacher that I wasn't at all fond of, but I had no basis for that other than reputation.

As I mentioned, Kingsthorpe wasn't a rugby-playing school, so I asked my headmaster to put me through to county trials. Unbeknown to me, Bob was the selector and chairman of East Midlands Rugby, which was the next step up from county. Here was this frightening teacher - who had never taught me and never did - who was about to play an integral part in my career. How? He selected me, took a chance on me, believed in my ability, then nurtured me and drove me on.

Bob set me on the trajectory for rugby success and what was really interesting was that, outside school, in the rugby sphere, I got to see behind the curtain. Bob was actually such a lovely guy, one of the kindest chaps you could ever meet, and I'm so glad our paths crossed. He was a friend to me.

What this taught me was that sometimes students' perception of teachers can be so far from the truth. Teachers have to put on a persona and Bob was putting on a persona at Kingsthorpe. Once I had left that school and moved on I totally understood why he did that. Kids can't be allowed to think a teacher is a pushover, it's that simple.

It was intriguing to realise that what you see in front of you in a classroom or in a school corridor isn't the man or woman they are outside that school. Teachers like Bob hold students accountable for their behaviour and that's a life lesson, is it not? An important life lesson, because after school that's what it's all about - being held accountable. And what's really telling, of course, is that he got results. He really got students the grades they needed.

Me? I left school, worked in a factory, became a white-van driver. But thanks to many cogs in the machine, none bigger than Bob, I eventually got to do something I was good at as a career. And I became, without wanting to sound arrogant, great at it. In a roundabout way I owe that to a teacher at my school, but more so, to a man outside of it.

Ben Cohen was talking to Tom Cullen. Cohen is supporting O2's Guru Bytes workshops, designed to help parents and young people get the most from digital technology. O2 is launching the free sessions in stores across the UK to teach parents the basics

Born to try

Ben Cohen

Born 14 September 1978, Northampton

Education Kingsthorpe Upper School, Northampton, now Kingsthorpe College

Career Former Northampton Saints and Sale Sharks rugby union player, and member of England's 2003 World Cup-winning team. Appointed MBE in 2003. Founder of the Ben Cohen StandUp Foundation, which raises awareness of the damaging effects of bullying

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