My best teacher - Jacqueline Wilson

2nd October 2009 at 01:00
A keen, good-looking young teacher brightened the drab world of post- war education for a shy girl who dreamt of becoming a writer

I started at Latchmere infants and junior when I was six. I didn't have many friends at first as they'd all got to know each other a year earlier, so I did a lot of wandering around on my own and sucking my thumb.

Predictably, I liked English. We wrote a short story every week, and on Friday afternoons, if we'd been good, it was story-time. We sat down and listened; we didn't have to analyse anything, just enjoy it.

Two things I hated were maths and PE. It must have been terrible for my father, who worked at the Treasury and for whom maths was second nature. He used to try to help me - and he was quite a scary dad, so those homework sessions weren't much fun. I was the least sporty child you can imagine, and oh, the agony of being picked - invariably last - for rounders, knowing you couldn't catch or do anything useful for your team.

Mr Townsend came into my life in Year 5, so I would have been nine. He wasn't just my favourite teacher, he was everyone's. In the 50s, you got a funny mix of people in teaching - odd-bods who had ended up there after the war, not because they had a vocation. To have a keen, good-looking young man as your teacher was unusual.

Mr Townsend was fun and extremely fair. Nobody played around in his classes, but we all enjoyed being taught by him. He played rugby at the weekends; several times he hurt his ribs, and the naughty children would try to make him laugh on purpose.

One term, he suggested we do a project. That's normal now, but then it was a new concept. We were all given our own green exercise book and told we could do whatever we wanted. I thought long and hard, then asked if I could write a novel. He didn't laugh. He considered it for a moment and said, "Yes Jacqueline, you write a novel."

I still have that exercise book. Reading it back makes me realise how little I've developed in my interests - it's got a problem family, a girl who stays out too late, troubled twins . I knew I wanted to be a writer, but I didn't come from that sort of background. When you left school in my family, you went to work. But in junior school, we were allowed to write creatively in a way that was inspirational. Mr Townsend tried to make all the children who were slightly different feel it was all right to be that way, and that made me more confident.

The most magical thing happened when my autobiography Jacky Daydream came out a few years ago. I was invited on to Blue Peter and reminisced about Mr Townsend. One of his neighbours - and he would have been in his 80s by then - happened to be watching and ran round to get him.

He read the book, in which there's a chapter where I talk to several schoolfriends who all remember how fantastic he was. He then wrote to me saying he remembered me. Of course he may just have been being kind, but how glad I was that he could see from that chapter how much all those kids had adored him.


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