My best teacher

14th April 2006 at 01:00
The things I remember best are things that happened outside the classroom. I made some good friends who are still my friends

Mr Upton was really cool. He had charisma and presence. He was kind of one of the lads, but he also had an air of authority and there was no mucking about in his lessons. We were quite an unruly class and if anyone tried it on he stamped on bad behaviour quickly - but always with a smile. He got a lot of respect for that.

He was my GCSE biology teacher. He loved his subject and so did I, though on the whole I was more interested in the extra-curricular activities than normal lessons. Sport and PE were my favourites. I don't think I was an easy pupil to teach because I spent a lot of time in class chattering. The classic remarks on my reports were "Has a lackadaisical attitude towards this subject" or "Has intelligence, but doesn't seem to use it".

Mr Upton was a tall, handsome man and was quite young. He wore a blue blazer, bright red tie and a pair of cords. I remember he had huge feet, as I suppose all tall men do. Somehow he seemed to manage to keep even the worst behaved pupils in check, and they learned something too.

My other favourite teacher at secondary school was Miss James. She was also cool. She was young and pretty and very enthusiastic and several people in the class had a crush on her. She taught geography, which was the only other subject I enjoyed. She took us on field trips, which were a good giggle. I remember going to the Isle of Wight and getting up to the usual pranks -drinking and smoking and general naughty behaviour. We were 16 or 17, and she wasn't much older than us so she laughed at the same things.

But, like Mr Upton, if she caught us doing anything wrong, she'd stamp on it. We couldn't get away with much.

Although we lived only a five-minute walk away from the local comprehensive, Greenshaw high school, my younger brother, Tom, and I were late most days. We weren't reprobates; we just couldn't get up in time. Dad was a school governor and would occasionally write to explain why we rarely seemed to make it in time for registration, but I was regularly in detention for being late. The main trouble was that I channelled all my energy into girls and music. A group of us formed a rock band and the music teacher, Mrs Holyhead, used to let us have a room to practise in. We called ourselves The Colours and got quite a lot of gigs.

Everyone thought Mrs Holyhead was eccentric because she shouted a lot and would dance around the classroom. She reminded me of my mother, who was a bit of a hippy and wore bright colours and flowing dresses. I'm surprised Mrs Holyhead and I got on because I tried to learn the trumpet and failed.

I didn't play any musical instrument, but I could sing.

My parents were pushy about school work, but not too pushy. They were keen that my brother and I should achieve our potential. But once I hit 16 and left school and started a national diploma in horticulture I didn't need any prodding. I loved that. I was fortunate that I found what I wanted to do early. My mother was a keen gardener and she encouraged me to train, as did the mother of my girlfriend, Ellie, who was in my class at school and is still my girlfriend.

The things I remember best are things that happened outside the classroom.

I made some good friends who are still my friends. It was a good school and I don't think I got as much out of it as I should have done. I managed to get 14 GCSEs because I kept re-sitting them, but they weren't very good grades.

When I became a teacher myself at horticultural college I could understand the frustration some of my teachers must have felt with pupils like me. I loved teaching and was lucky enough to have some cracking students who were full of enthusiasm.

Television presenter and horticulturalist Matt James was talking to Pamela Coleman


1975 Born Basildon, Essex

1980-87 Westbourne primary, Sutton, Surrey

1987-91 Greenshaw high school, London borough of Sutton

1992 Day release course at North-east Surrey technology college, Epsom; works in market garden

1993-96 National diploma at Merrist Wood horticultural college, Surrey (Nescot)

1996-99 Studies for degree in horticulture at Writtle agricultural college, Essex

2000 Named Londoner of the Year for helping to establish circuit of farmers' markets

2001-04 Teaches at Nescot

2002 Presents first series of The City Gardener on Channel 4

2005 Publication of The City Garden Bible (HarperCollins)

Spring 2006 Presents new series of Channel 4's Selling Homes and The City Gardener

Log-in as an existing print or digital subscriber

Forgotten your subscriber ID?


To access this content and the full TES archive, subscribe now.

View subscriber offers


Get TES online and delivered to your door – for less than the price of a coffee

Save 33% off the cover price with this great subscription offer. Every copy delivered to your door by first-class post, plus full access to TES online and the TES app for just £1.90 per week.
Subscribers also enjoy a range of fantastic offers and benefits worth over £270:

  • Discounts off TES Institute courses
  • Access over 200,000 articles in the TES online archive
  • Free Tastecard membership worth £79.99
  • Discounts with Zipcar,, Virgin Wines and other partners
Order your low-cost subscription today