My best teacher

8th September 2006 at 01:00
My favourite teacher was Angela Makepeace, who taught me theology at my secondary school. She sometimes took younger classes for RE and I chose theology as an A-level because of her terrific teaching style. I wasn't particularly interested in the subject, but from the lessons I had with her I knew she would take me on a really interesting journey with it.

She was the first teacher I ever had who encouraged adult debate in the classroom. Other teachers would ask us to talk about books we were reading or a certain period in history, but I always felt they were being slightly patronising or dictatorial. She seemed genuinely to want to know our opinions and that was a revelation to me.

She treated us like adults - I never felt like a pupil - and her enthusiasm made all the difference. Even when we were talking about stories within the Bible, which is a subject most people would assume is boring, she made it interesting.

I also took English literature and general studies at A-level and we debated in those classes too, but there was never the same emotion. In theology we would talk about controversial subjects such as abortion and euthanasia - it really got people talking about their values. For the first time I felt I could see the personalities of the people in my class; how they felt about life as opposed to what they thought about A Midsummer Night's Dream.

Mrs Makepeace was very small, only about 4ft 10in, and she used to wear 4in stilettos to make up for her lack of height. The stilettos always matched whatever colour clothes she had on that day, so if she was wearing a pink jacket she would have pink shoes. I used to think that was dead sweet.

She was very clever about her height and rather than let people say, "Miss you're dead little," she'd be the one to get there first and say, "What I lack in height I make up for in personality." She was one step ahead of us the whole time.

She was quite fiery and she made us respect her, but as a person rather than in fear of any detentions she might hand out. With other teachers we listened to avoid getting into trouble, but with Mrs Makepeace I wanted to listen.

If anybody crossed the line or gave her gip then she could be very stern.

At GCSE pupils sometimes tried to get out of lessons by putting their hands up and asking to go to the toilet. If they tried that with her she would certainly let them go but she'd say something like, "Yeah, because obviously you couldn't go to the toilet in your dinner break because that would be stupid, wouldn't it?" She encouraged us to think like adults.

I think when she taught me she must have been in her mid-30s. Now she teaches teachers how to teach. She still keeps in touch with me and every so often she rings me up or writes me a card to tell me that she came to see me in something or that she's proud of what I have achieved. We have a chat on the phone or my mum will say, "Oh I bumped into Angela and she sends her good wishes." It's quite lovely.

I haven't kept up with any other teacher and I think it's because we clicked and I could tell she believed in me. Some teachers heard about my ambitions to act and used to say, "Oh acting, well that's not going to get you very far - have you ever thought about a proper job?" But with Mrs Makepeace I always felt she would wholeheartedly support me whatever I wanted to do. She was like that with everyone - she really invested time and her effort into her students.

I was a swot at school, I always did my work and brought it in on time and never gave the teachers any trouble. But at the same time I could be a bit of a loudmouth so I was frequently told off for talking too much. It wasn't that my teachers got sick of me or anything - it was just that they had to keep reminding me to settle down.

There was one teacher I had for French who was so stern and so much of a disciplinarian that she generated a fear that blocked me from learning anything. No one wanted to put up their hands to answer questions in case they got it wrong. She would be sarcastic and say, "No that's wrong - has anyone here actually done the homework?" and really belittle you. Whereas if someone suggested a wrong answer to Mrs Makepeace she would welcome the contribution and offer an alternative so you could compare what you had said with her informed perspective.

Jill Halfpenny was talking to Mark Anstead

THE STORY SO FAR

1975 Born and raised in Newcastle

1980 St Augustine's primary school, Leam Lane

1987 St Edmund Campion RC secondary school, Wrekenton, Gateshead

1989 Lands her first TV role in Byker Grove

1992 Sixth form at St Edmund Campion

1994 Starts three-year course at Webber Douglas Academy of Dramatic Art, London.

1999 Rebecca Hopkins in Coronation Street

2003 Kate Mitchell in EastEnders

2004 Wins second series of Strictly Come Dancing with Darren Bennett

2005 Stars as Roxie Hart in West End production of Chicago

2006 Izzie Redpath in BBC1 school drama Waterloo Road. Next series starts in 2007

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