Mrs Breech by Lizzy Yarnold

12th December 2014 at 00:00
Two days before she discovers whether she has won BBC Sports Personality of the Year, the gold medal-winning British skeleton racer recalls a teacher who taught her the power of perseverance

I had plenty of good teachers to choose from for this article, but Mrs Breech just about had the edge. She taught me geography while I was at St Michael's Preparatory, a private prep school in Otford, Kent. She was also my classroom teacher in Year 2 - the year I joined the school.

Mrs Breech was a strict teacher but not in a frightening sense. You knew that you had to do an awful lot to impress her. You really had to work hard, but that wasn't at the expense of encouragement. She managed to find a wonderful balance between commanding respect and making you want to improve, building your confidence.

Mrs Breech would test the class by asking us to name the capital cities of 10 countries. I struggled with memorising those sorts of things and I'd get only two or three out of 10, but she never made me feel bad about that. That just wasn't one of her methods.

There wasn't any negativity to her - she'd simply ensure that you looked to do better next time. Every week I'd want to improve, not through fear but out of genuine desire. And I did. When I starting hitting eight or nine out of 10 I'd feel so thrilled and I always imagined that Mrs Breech was proud of me. That's a strong tool for teachers. Much stronger than fear, surely.

She was wonderful at ensuring that you knew her expectations were high but not overly so. They weren't daunting but always achievable.

Every lesson Mrs Breech taught generally followed the same pattern. Although some people react well to left-field lessons, I actually like having structure. It helps me to learn.

It was a great school, actually. Across the board, the teachers at St Michael's expected a lot of us. I vividly remember waiting to go into a German class and desperately trying to cram in more knowledge before a test. It was a nice environment, though. You weren't cramming because you were frightened of a bad result but to better yourself.

We'd burn off energy doing sport at break times and the teachers would ensure that all the students knew there was one thing they were good at. If maths wasn't your thing, perhaps you were more into art. If it wasn't art, it was something else.

But Mrs Breech was superb. She never once had to raise her voice. Honestly, not once. She had an evil stare if you were misbehaving. Total silence in class and she would just hold your gaze. No need for shouting - the respect was there.

I haven't been in touch with her for well over 10 years. Hopefully she reads TES because I'd like her to know that the respect is still there.

Lizzy Yarnold has been shortlisted for BBC Sports Personality of the Year 2014; the winner will be announced on 14 December. She has been visiting schools in Kent to inspire young people and is ambassador for school expedition company World Challenge. She was talking to Tom Cullen

Dicing with danger

Lizzy Yarnold

Born 31 October 1988 in Sevenoaks, Kent

Education St Michael's Preparatory School, Otford, Kent; Maidstone Grammar School for Girls, Kent; University of Gloucestershire

Career Won four golds during the 2013-14 skeleton season and ended the year as World Cup champion; Olympic gold medallist at Sochi 2014


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