My best teacher

11th June 2004 at 01:00
Dickie James was diabetic and occasionally would doze off. If this happened we quickly had to give him something to eat. We'd have to revive him about once a term

I fell in love with my first teacher. She was tall, dark, pretty and kind and I was about two and a half. She was called Miss Hornby then; she's Mrs Forcer now and I had a letter from her only the other day to say she'd enjoyed an article I'd written. "Just think," she said. "It all started at Tyneholme nursery school."

I moved on to Pinner Wood primary where I was fond of Mrs Hurst, an older teacher who was very kind. My friend, James Gray, and I discovered where she lived and one day decided to go and knock on her door. She asked us in and I remember sitting in her little cottage drinking orange juice and eating cakes.

At seven and a half I was transferred to a brand new school called West Lodge middle school in Pinner. Being a founder pupil gave me a feeling of great importance and there was something magical about being taught in a new building. My favourite teacher there was Mr Bagg, who took us for football. I wasn't much good but I got into the school team. Mr Bagg was tall and grey-haired and very approachable. He thought jokes were important and told us stories about his time growing up in Wales. The school seemed obsessed with the 11-plus and there was a lot of pressure. Because Mr Bagg had a more relaxed approach I gravitated towards him. I wrote a poem about him, which was published in one of my recent books.

I passed the 11-plus and went to Weald County grammar school (now Weald College) where Barry Brown was my favourite teacher. He was a new graduate, came from Manchester, and wore suede shoes. He sat with his feet on the desk. He often broke off from whatever we were doing to tell stories and we soon recognised, too, that he had a glad eye for the women teachers. He was active in the local am-dram society and asked me to join. My first performance was in The Merchant of Venice playing a little boy assistant fanning a potentate. I was hooked, and was given the part of an ant in a play called Under the Sycamore Tree he was directing at school. I bumped into Barry Brown on a station a short while ago. I hadn't seen him for 40 years but we recognised each other. He's become a theatrical agent.

When we moved house I went to Watford grammar where, in the sixth form, I had a fantastic Shakespeare teacher in Mike Benton who is now, I believe, professor of education at Southampton University and a writer. He was just out of college then and I was 17 or 18, so I found it easy to relate to him. I was already keen on Shakespeare, having been taken to productions by my parents. My father taught English and then went into teacher training, ending up as a professor at the Institute of Education in London. My mother was a primary teacher and later went into teacher training. The special thing about Mike was that in reading a play he was able to bring it to life and at the same time show the seriousness of it.

The other teacher I remember from Watford is Dickie James, a short, plump man who smoked a pipe. He was diabetic, which meant that occasionally he would doze off and if this happened we quickly had to give him something to eat. We'd have to revive him about once a term. He kept a lump of sugar or a bit of chocolate in his jacket pocket for such emergencies. His subject was chemistry but he also directed the school plays and he cast me as Sir Toby Belch in Twelfth Night. Two days before the opening I got knocked down and ended up in hospital and Mr James had to take my part.

I left school intending to become a doctor. I had this fantasy that studying science would make me a total human being like Jonathan Miller, but I soon switched back to the arts.

Poet, children's author and broadcaster Michael Rosen was talking to Pamela Coleman. He was a judge of this year's TESWrite Away competition (see pages 11-14) and the CLPE Poetry Award, which he writes about in next week's TES Teacher magazine


1946 Born Harrow, Middlesex

1948-62 Attends Tyneholme nursery school, Pinner, Pinner Wood primary, West Lodge middle school, Weald county grammar and Watford grammar schools

1964-65 Studies medicine at Middlesex Hospital

1965-69 Reads English at Wadham College, Oxford

1974 First poetry book for children, Mind Your Own Business, published

1997 Receives Eleanor Farjeon Award for services to children's literature

2004 Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, a retelling of the play in picture book form, published by Walker Books. Poetry collection for adults, This is Not My Nose, published by Penguin

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