My best teacher

24th August 2007 at 01:00
A dynamic English master once cast the gravel-voiced Norwegian broadcaster as a prostitute in a Greek comedy, he also gave her a lifelong love of language

I went to about 10 schools because my parents kept moving house. Although I was not a Catholic, most were convent schools. The standard of state education in Ireland then (the 1970s) was high, but also very old-fashioned. There was a lot of learning by rote, an awful lot of corporal punishment and large chunks of the school day were devoted to religion.

But St Laurence's College in Dublin, although affiliated to the church, was radical and enlightened. It was co-educational and we had a mixture of lay teachers and Brothers, although none of the Brothers wore robes. I was only there for two years, but during that time I encountered the two teachers who had the biggest influence on my entire school career.

The teacher who influenced me most, and who inspired my lifelong love of language, was Mr Murtagh, the English master. He was small and dynamic and I met him at a time in my life when, although I was quite precocious, I was also quite confused. My parents had recently split up and I was going through an archetypal teenage rebellion. Mr Murtagh's inspirational teaching and constant emphasis on encouraging me to explain what I was feeling and write about it gave me confidence that writing was something I could do well. I thought he was fantastic.

I was really committed to academia. I found school a place where I could escape to another world. Mr Murtagh encouraged debate and had a unique ability to find each pupil's strength and turn an English class into a forum for expression. We read what was on the syllabus, but he took things further. If you said you'd enjoyed a book he would suggest other books by the same author. He even brought Greek plays to life and made them vivid. He once cast me as a prostitute in some Greek comedy that was really funny. He encouraged me to write poetry and I won a prize. I owe him a huge debt also for encouraging me to read literature that was perhaps slightly beyond my understanding at the time. Mr Murtagh taught me to read properly, not skip a sentence though professionally what I need now is a speed reading course.

My other special teacher was Brother Jim, who taught maths. I was madly in love with him. I don't know why although it may have been because of his twinkly blue eyes. He was an inspirational teacher and made clear a subject I never excelled in before or since. When I was in his class, I tried extra hard and got an A grade, but that year was a one-off.

I got an email from him recently out of the blue. He said he had this terrible memory of a pupil who he'd once made sit with a piece of chalk in her mouth because she wouldn't stop talking and he'd never been able to forgive himself for it. That was me and I've never been able to forget the humiliation. But I deserved the punishment. My way of getting him to notice me was to talk incessantly

Mariella Frostrup, 44, the broadcaster, writer and critic, was born in Oslo and brought up mainly in Ireland where her father was a journalist. She was talking to Pamela Coleman

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