My best teacher

7th January 2005 at 00:00
My parents wanted me to be a doctor - because there aren't enough Asian doctors in Britain, are there? So I always tried hard in science even though I hated it

I went to Lordswood girls school in Birmingham, where my favourite teacher was Mrs Byrd, who taught biology. I was obsessed with her. She used to wear clothes from Marks and Spencer, so I started wearing clothes from Marks and Spencer. We knew they were from Marks and Spencer because she used to wear these long cardigans, and when it was hot she would hang them up so we used to look at the labels. She had her hair permed, so I had my hair permed.

She used to wear these really grotesque big earrings, so I started wearing them too - and I don't usually wear earrings.

It was really bizarre. Mrs Byrd must have suspected she had an influence on me but I don't think she realised the extent of it. I think she just thought I was lonely or deranged.

Now I wouldn't be seen dead looking like that, but at the time there were no other role models. When you are 12 or 13, teachers have such an influence on your life and she was intelligent and she seemed like a nice woman. But when I look back on it I think, "Oh God", because she was so Sixties.

My parents always wanted me to be a doctor - because there aren't enough Asian doctors in Britain, are there? So I always tried especially hard in science even though I hated it. I thought biology was the most boring thing on earth. But I tried hard in it because of my parents. And if you like a teacher, it makes you try harder in that subject.

I remember testing a leaf for starch with Mrs Byrd when we were doing photosynthesis. To test a leaf for starch you boil the leaf in ethanol to get rid of the chlorophyll. Because biology used to bore me to death I used to mess up on purpose. I remember putting so much ethanol in that it boiled over and because ethanol is flammable there was a huge fire in the lab. It was fantastic.

Mrs Byrd was really serious, really academic and never cracked jokes, but she was passionate about her subject. I got good grades at biology and it was all because of her.

I also loved my drama teacher, Mrs Fisher Jones. She had a huge impact on me. I always knew I wanted to be on the stage and Mrs Fisher Jones always encouraged me to be whatever I wanted to be and do whatever I wanted to do.

She used to say to my parents, "your daughter's talent lies in comedy" and my mum would say "what's comedy?" It was a really hard concept for her to get hold of at that time. Now I'm a comedian I think Mrs Fisher Jones had great intuition and was great at developing talent.

Drama came naturally to me, and I got straight As. People use to say, "drama's not important, drama's not a proper subject, drama will never get you anywhere". But Mrs Fisher Jones would say, "that's what you're really good at so why don't you forget everybody else and do what you are good at?" She made me see value in it.

I went to university and did biochemistry, but it was boring. All I did was copy people's assignments and essays. I went to drama school for three years but my parents didn't know. They thought I was teaching, and I was teaching initially but then I did supply while I went to drama school part-time.

I taught at Langdon Park school in the East End. With teaching you have to love what you do 100 per cent. You don't do it for the money, you don't do it for the status, you do it because you love it. The thing is, you may initially start off loving it but eventually sometimes you lose that passion. I've seen that with a lot of teachers. With me, I would go into the classroom everyday and perform. I used to crack jokes all the time and the kids would say, "Miss, you're not funny" and I'd think, "yes, I am!"

Everything I ever did was a journey to becoming a comedian.

Comedian Shazia Mirza was talking to

The story so far

1976 Born Birmingham

1981 Our Lady of Fatima RC primary

1987 Lordswood girls school, Birmingham

1992 Studies biochemistry at Manchester University

1995 PGCE at Goldsmiths college, London

1996 First teaching post at Langdon Park comprehensive, Tower Hamlets, London

2001 Becomes professional comedian. Wins best new act at London Comedy Festival

2002 Named Jongleurs comedy club female comedian of the year

2004 Takes show to Edinburgh Festival

2005 Features in Self Portrait UK, art exhibition at the Sunderland Museum and Winter Gardens until February 27, then touring across UK.

See www.channel4.comselfportraituk

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