Ms Stenzhorn and Mr Bird by Jameela Jamil

27th June 2014 at 01:00
Bullying and chronic hearing difficulties meant the presenter, model and self-confessed nerd had a tough time at school. But she found allies in two supportive teachers

I was partially deaf as a child but Yvonne Stenzhorn, who taught me maths between the ages of 6 and 11, never made me feel as if I had a disability. She built me up to believe that I could do anything. She made me feel special because I lip-read, saying that I could see the world in a different way from others.

My school, Heathside Preparatory School in Hampstead, North London, had a large proportion of children with special needs. It was a lovely, safe, supportive place and I have fond memories of it.

Yvonne was patient and never patronising. Whenever I made a mistake in maths she would draw a circle on my hand, and at the end of the lesson I would count them up. When I started to collect fewer circles I knew that I was making progress.

And she was very caring. To look after children with special needs, you have to be.

I missed a lot of school as I was in and out of hospital with my hearing. I had grommets and my eardrum would burst easily. If I got water in my ear, I would be deaf for months. Then some hearing would come back.

Yvonne and the other teachers helped me to catch up with work. I remember the headmistress coming to my house to tutor me for the 11-plus exam. It paid off: I passed and won a scholarship to Queen's College on Harley Street. Unfortunately, I hated it there. I was bullied because I was nerdy; I didn't drink, I didn't smoke and I was a poor kid in a posh school.

But this was where I met my second influential teacher. Mr Bird taught ICT and he let me spend my breaks hiding out in the computer room. I wouldn't call him a friend but it was like having an ally. He understood that I found school very lonely.

He was in his forties and skinny. He was quite bird-like. In fact, a lot of people used to draw his face on pictures of birds - affectionately, of course.

Mr Bird taught me everything I know about computers. The internet was like the Wild West to us. It was a whole new world and he opened that door in a way that was exciting and safe. I looked forward to his class; he used a lot of comedy and that's a great way to engage teenagers. And he once helped me to play a prank on all my other teachers by showing me how to use Photoshop. I won't elaborate on what I did, but it was very naughty.

Mr Bird was the teacher you could go to during lunchtime to say you didn't understand something. He would take time out of his break to explain it to you. And he helped me to catch up on the work I missed. I had operations on my ears until I was 13; I'm not sure what the doctors did, but after that I recovered 50 per cent of my hearing.

I was academic but I never completed my A-levels because I had a car accident that put me out of action for two years. Then I taught English as a foreign language for a while.

I'm still in touch with Yvonne as she's a family friend. She's very proud of me, especially as she saw what I went through. I didn't stay in contact with Mr Bird and that's why I wanted to do this piece - to say thanks for keeping me company at such a lonely time.

I do feel blessed to have had these wonderful teachers. They made my life easier.

Jameela Jamil was talking to Kate Bohdanowicz. She will present the Pearson National BTEC Awards on 3 July. For more information, visit www.edexcel.combtecprogress

Radio star

Jameela Jamil

Born 25 February 1986, London

Education Heathside Preparatory School, Hampstead, London; Queen's College, Harley Street, London

Career Television presenter, model and host of BBC Radio 1's The Official Chart

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