My best teacher

1st December 2006 at 00:00
An hero of a man introduced his pupils to a world of adventure and made primary school a magical place

I have so many teachers to thank for so many things, but the most crucial one was Paddy O'Hanlon. He taught me for three years at Holy Family Primary in Belfast when I was nine, 10 and 11. He was a man of tremendous enthusiasm, with a mop of red hair and a red beard. We knew when we joined Mr O'Hanlon's class in primary 5 that we were grown up - he was our first male teacher and we were expected to be big boys.

He made science interesting and sports enjoyable but most of all, Paddy O'Hanlon introduced me to books. He would read to us in class, putting on voices to bring the stories alive. Once a month, there was a pound;1 book token prize for the best essay (and I'm sure this came out of his own pocket). But the biggest treat was that Mr O'Hanlon would drive the winner to the bookshop in his car (I'll never forget, it was a red Volkswagen Beetle) to choose their prize. I remember winning at least twice - I chose Mary Poppins and Stig Of The Dump.

Walking into Mr O'Hanlon's class was like setting out on an adventure; there were stories about Marco Polo, Portuguese explorer Magellan, Oliver Cromwell, the Egyptians or the Romans. It was magical and exciting.

And this was not a school without social problems - there were 44 boys in that class and only about eight of us passed the 11-plus. There were disruptive children, scuffles in the classroom and attacks on the teacher.

Paddy O'Hanlon didn't shirk from using the leather strap to maintain discipline - indeed I felt it myself on a number of occasions, usually for talking or being late. I'm sure he didn't take any pleasure in doing that.

I never doubted it was a caring discipline and many of my classmates felt the same. The world outside our classroom was tough and Mr O'Hanlon gave us a belief that if we knuckled down, there could be a different place out there for us.

I remember my primary school years with such affection; I really did love school. I had a fantastic time at grammar school, too, but primary school for me was just such a world of learning.

I'm a very big fan of what teachers do. One of the greatest pleasures of my career was to host the BBC's National Teaching Awards. But I do believe there is more to life than textbooks, graphs and computers. Some of my most lovely memories are of walks with Mr O'Hanlon along the tree-lined driveway of our school, by the chapel, collecting leaves to press and put in books so we could learn about nature.

It wasn't about targets or charts, it wasn't sophisticated, but there was something honourable about it. Paddy O'Hanlon will always remain one of the most valued people in my life - in fact, a hero Eamonn Holmes is a TV presenter and the anchor of Sunrise for Sky News. He is best known as the host of GMTV, the National Lottery Jet Set and Sudo-Q.

He launched Eamonn Holmes Spell, an interactive DVD quiz this month. He was talking to Mary McCarney

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