Mr Sykes by Greg Rutherford

16th May 2014 at 01:00
Sports-mad and cheeky, the future Olympic athlete had been written off in English until he met a big, gruff teacher who commanded respect

I would like to pay tribute to a man who had an incredible influence on me at school. Mr Sykes taught me English between the ages of 14 and 16. He was a deputy headteacher at Denbigh School in Milton Keynes and he was a big, gruff bear of a man; a huge Northern guy.

I was relatively bright, but I didn't really apply myself at school and I certainly wasn't a huge fan of English. My attention was on sport and I also excelled at history. It took something special to spark my interest in English - and Mr Sykes was it.

He commanded the classroom with his large presence and deep, booming voice, but he was incredibly fair and a nice bloke, too. You could have a chat to him about football. But when he wanted the attention of the class it was easy for him to get it. The students massively respected him. I think some teachers struggle to relate to kids, but despite being much older than us (he's dead now, sadly) Mr Sykes had a way of captivating us and making sure we got involved.

He didn't need to shout - you could feel his authority as soon as you stepped into his classroom. You didn't play up. I was probably one of the kids who had a bit too much of a laugh in other classes, sometimes at the teacher's expense, but never in Mr Sykes' class. That totally came down to respect. Not fear, respect.

When you manage to neutralise daft behaviour in class, people get on. The teacher and the pupils get along, irrelevant of intelligence levels. I liked the man, I liked him a lot.

Don't get me wrong, if you pushed Mr Sykes too far he might raise his voice, but it was so rare that when he did it, you realised instantly that you were at fault.

It comes down to balance, doesn't it? There were chatty moments in his class, he allowed us to have fun, and I think kids felt much less of a need to play up because of that. It's a great way of teaching, the more I think about it. Let students enjoy themselves and they won't feel that they have to play up.

It's something I think about when I'm teaching sport. You're never going to be good at a sport that you don't enjoy and, in my opinion, that also applies in the classroom.

Mr Sykes had a great way of describing whatever it was that we were studying. It's very easy for people to overcomplicate things and he was never guilty of that. For an English teacher that's the biggest hurdle. Don't overcomplicate things and the lesson will go smoothly.

Before being taught by Mr Sykes, I had been completely written off in English. But I ended up with two Cs in GCSE literature and language, which was a big deal for me.

Greg Rutherford was speaking to Tom Cullen. Rutherford's new clothing range, GRavity, can be seen on Twitter and Instagram at @GRavityGR

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Greg Rutherford

Born 17 November 1986, Milton Keynes, England

Education Two Mile Ash Primary School and Denbigh School, both in Milton Keynes

Career Champion long jumper. Winner of a gold medal at the 2012 Olympics, a silver medal at the 2010 Commonwealth Games and a silver medal at the 2006 European Championship. Also competes as a sprinter and was appointed MBE in 2013 for services to athletics


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