My best teacher

30th July 2004 at 01:00
Ken Evans was one in a series of good English teachers I had, but he was special mainly because he loved literature of all kinds, particularly poetry, and this shone through. Sometimes he would spend a whole lesson reading aloud to us. Once, he walked into the classroom and didn't even say hello. He just began to read; he read the whole of Matthew Arnold's Sohrab and Rustum.

A lot of kids in the class thought they didn't like poetry, but he read so well he caught everybody up in it. He loved Shakespeare and would read great chunks to us, very animatedly. He was a good actor and was in local productions. I saw him playing Brutus in Julius Caesar. I must have been about 10 years old when I went to a production in the school hall when Ken ran on stage with a pig's heart and sprayed the front row with drops of blood.

In the classroom he would walk up and down as he read. I think he sometimes forgot we were there. He was quite unworldly. He'd make his way around the school corridors with a distant expression in his eyes, drifting along in another world. He was a gentle man, and quite shy. He was tall and thin and wore glasses.

I joined Wulfric comprehensive soon after it had been formed by the merger of the local grammar and secondary modern schools. Ken had taught at the grammar school. There was a chaotic atmosphere and a lot of fighting, but I never heard Ken tell anyone off. He wasn't a great disciplinarian; some kids could run rings round him. One boy once spent the whole English lesson in a cupboard. When he burst out noisily, Ken pushed his glasses to the end of his nose, looked at him, tut-tutted and left.

Because he commanded our affection, no one ever pushed him to the limit. He was liked because he was likeable and treated us humanely. He didn't shout or whack us over the head with a textbook or throw things, as some teachers did. Even kids who weren't turned on by poetry were seduced by his enthusiasm; there would be silence when he read.

I had a difficult time at school. I joined late, after everybody else had arranged themselves into friendship groups, and I found it hard to fit in.

I wasn't sporty and although I did all right academically, I was under-achieving. English lessons were my escape. I loved poetry, especially Ted Hughes, Sylvia Plath and TS Eliot, and wrote dire poetry myself, typical adolescent stuff full of angst. Occasionally I would show it to Ken and he encouraged me. He wrote poetry too and he would show me his work - though I often couldn't understand it.

I knew him outside school because I was good friends with his daughter and when I went round to see her he would come out of his study with a glass of red wine in his hand and show me the latest book he had bought. He was the same at home as at school. We had some great discussions, although I was very opinionated. On one of my reports he wrote: "Jean could do well next year, but only if she is prepared to learn her texts and to accept the possible validity of insight other than her own."

When I became a teacher, I read a lot of poetry in class. I had the same evangelic feeling about it Ken had. I nervously sent him my first collection of poems and he wrote to me saying how pleased he was. I wrote back and told him that being taught by him was one of the reasons I became a writer. I'm glad I did because he died soon afterwards.

Poet Jean Sprackland was talking to Pamela Coleman

The story so far

1962 Born Burton-on-Trent, Staffordshire

1969-73 Alderbrook junior school

1973-75 Forest of Needwood high school

1975-80 Wulfric high school, Burton-on-Trent

1980 University of Kent (philosophy and English)

1985-86 PGCE at Oxford Polytechnic

1986-88 First job, class teacher at Berrynarbor primary school, Devon 1992 Residential creative writing course at Arvon Foundation Centre

1997 First collection of poems, Tattoos for Mother's Day, published

1998 Shortlisted for Forward Poetry Prize

2004 Shortlisted for TS Eliot prize and Whitbread book awards, judge for Arvon international poetry competition (closing date for entries: August 12)

2005 Contributing to launch of Poetry Archive project led by Andrew Motion

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