Mr Connell by Helen Skelton

24th January 2014 at 00:00
The TV presenter remembers a teacher with the `cool factor' who showed her how to captivate an audience

At school, I was terrible at maths and science but loved biology, because I was quite into getting cockroaches out of the cage and playing with them.

I also loved physical education and was in every team - hockey, netball, cross-country running - even though I wasn't good at any of those sports. Hockey was my favourite, but I used to take it a bit too seriously: I once got thrown off the pitch for hurling a hockey stick at someone on my team. I got annoyed because I didn't think she was trying hard enough.

I loved history and had a brilliant history teacher, Andy Connell, who was my form tutor, too. Mr Connell was definitely my best teacher at Appleby Grammar School in Cumbria, England, which is also where my brother, cousins, aunts, uncles and parents went. In fact, my parents met at the school.

Mr Connell taught me to make everything fun and relevant. He didn't begin history classes by standing in front of the class and telling us what happened during a particular period in the past. Instead, he would set the scene and make it relevant by playing music, showing film clips and displaying fashion images from that time.

For example, when we did American history he showed clips from Dances with Wolves, and when we had a lesson on the Cold War he showed us scenes from JFK. He was very into films and would always use clips to start lessons. The walls in our history class were covered with LP covers and romantic movie posters from the 1940s and 50s, which he would refer to during lessons. They made the history of the time real for us, and this is what I do in my work now - make facts relevant to the audience.

Mr Connell is probably in his sixties now. A thin 5ft 11in (1.8m), with a crop of floppy hair and a bit of stubble, he used to sing in school plays and get other teachers to be his backing dancers. He was very relatable because he could talk about football with the boys and get the girls excited by putting on an early Elvis record. He had the "cool factor".

Mr Connell didn't want us to learn about history just to pass exams, he wanted us to get excited about the past. Everyone I know loved him, loved to be in his class and did very well in their history GCSE.

He thought I would go to a redbrick university and study history and languages, but I really wanted to earn some money, so I started volunteering at my local newspaper when I was 17. I eventually studied for a degree in journalism at Cumbria Institute of the Arts. I never wanted to be a television presenter. That came when someone went on maternity leave while I was working in radio. I was asked to take over her role and that's how my presenting career began.

Sometimes I see Mr Connell around Appleby because he is now quite a big cheese - he's mayor of the town. I live in London so I don't see him often, but my brother Gavin (a professional footballer) sees him a lot.

I think teaching is a great job. If I hadn't become a TV presenter I would have loved to teach. My mum has been teaching at a preschool for more than 20 years and she is brilliant. She works with children aged 3-5 who are so badly behaved that no one can control them, but they hang off her every word. She hasn't got a degree in teaching, but is passionate about kids and wants to help them develop skills and move forward. My mum's a champion in my eyes.

Helen Skelton is one of the faces of BT Sport and the co-presenter of BBC One's Holiday Hit Squad. She was speaking to Adeline Iziren

Badge of honour

Helen Skelton

Born: 19 July 1983, Cumbria, England

Education: Appleby Grammar School and Cumbria Institute of the Arts

Career: Presenter of television shows including Blue Peter and Holiday Hit Squad.

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