My best teacher

13th October 2000 at 01:00
In my teens, I was a boarder at King's College, in Taunton, Somerset. Two of my elder brothers had been there and done really well, but I struggled. I wondered why I wasn't matching up to my brothers and it got increasingly strained, with other boys saying things like: "So you're the thick one in the family." It hit me hard, because nobody could find out what the problem was.

Luckily, around the time of my GCSEs, my mum and dad took me to a special needs teacher in Exeter. She diagnosed my dyslexia and I decided to leave the college. It wasn't really my cup of tea. I like to get out and do things, and Taunton was like being in a posh prison. Besides, it didn't offer media studies and theatre studies, the two A-levels I wanted to take.

So I moved back to my parents' home in Exeter and got into Exeter College. It was the best thing I ever did.

When I mentioned I was dyslexic to one of my lecturers, he suggested I work with a woman called Jean Rush. She had taught in the media studies department but had been forced to give up because her eyesight was fading. I took his advice and found that Jean was heaven-sent. Jean's an albino, about my height, which is fairly short, with grey-white hair and a lovely smile. She's one of those very rare, nice people. There's nothing bad you can say about her and there's nothing she wouldn't do for you.

Whenever the rest of my set went off to do their third A-level subject, I went for a one-on-one class with Jean, about one-and-a-half or two hours a day. She'd really crack the whip, which was great because I've got the concentration span of a goldfish.

We didn't do specific exercises to help my dyslexia. Instead she'd take the work I was already doing with the other students and we'd try to get it word-perfect. With theatre studies, for example, she really helped with my essays on Stanislavsky and Ibsen. If I had to analyse a chunk of a book, we'd read it together and she'd help me make notes. Then we'd form the notes into an essay, block by block.

Doing the work one-on-one meant I couln't hide at the back of the class and dodge certain situations. Jean was incredible, because she knew when my mind was wandering. If I was reading aloud she could always tell if I was thinking about something else. She'd stop me and ask: "What have you just read?" She was almost telepathic.

She'd sometimes work in the evenings, without getting paid, to mark my work. She let me phone or call on her any time - she lived down the road from my parents' house, which was very useful. She was more of a friend than a teacher.

Thanks to her, I was suddenly getting better grades, having always been bottom of the class at Taunton. I ended up with a grade B for media and a D for theatre at A-level. That gave me a huge confidence boost. Without Jean I think I would have got an E and an F and felt totally low again.

When the grades came through, I bought a massive bunch of flowers and took them round to her house. When she opened the door all she could see was a pair of legs beneath the bouquet.

I still speak to her, and I felt awful when I realised I'd forgotten to thank her in the acknowledgements for the magic book I've just written. She's the first person I should have thanked, so the second edition will have to be dedicated to her.

Dominic Wood, 22, magician and television presenter, was talking to Daniel Rosenthal

THE STORY SO FAR

1978: Born in Exeter

1984: Does first magic act at his sixth birthday party

1991: Learns disappearing stick trick from his drum teacher, Sam Anstis-Brown

1995: Admitted as member of the Magic Circle. Named Young Magician of the Year

1996: Makes TV debut as presenter of Children's BBC show, Friday Zone

1998: Wins title of British Magical Champion; presents BBC series, Animal

Magic. Sets world record for most card tricks performed in a minute

2000: Children's guide to magic, Simply Magic (The Bodley Head, Pounds

6.99), and video (Visual Entertainment pound;12.99) published.

From December 14: plays Buttons in Cinderella at the Theatre Royal, Bath


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