My best teacher - Jamelia

8th May 2009 at 01:00
The singer learnt to adopt a positive state of mind from her bubbly and encouraging teacher

Mrs Smith was a bit like Ma Larkin from The Darling Buds of May - a lovely, rosy-cheeked, motherly character. Weirdly, I remember she always smelled nice, like flowers.

She was the first white person I developed a relationship with, not for any reason other than that my area wasn't very integrated at the time.

I grew up in an area called Hockley in Birmingham and lived directly opposite my school, Brookfields Primary - a normal state primary school with way too many kids and pink custard. But I absolutely loved it.

We did lots of singing. Most of the children were from Jamaican or black backgrounds. My mum was probably more forward thinking than most Jamaican parents. Jamaican households are often quite refined - children are meant to be seen and not heard. So performing arts was a real outlet for us.

But if someone had told me when I was seven that I'd be a pop star when I grew up, I would have laughed my head off.

I didn't start Brookfields until I was seven. Before that I'd attended three different schools. My mum always wanted to better herself - at the age of 21 she was a single parent with three very young children - so we moved around quite a lot. I wasn't damaged by that, but Mrs Smith was the first teacher I had for a long period of time - she taught me from the age of seven to 11.

She was an absolutely lovely woman. She always greeted you with a smile and was a lovely, bubbly character. We had between 25 and 30 kids in the class covering three year groups, so it could get a bit rowdy, but she was a calming influence.

Her main subject was English, which she used to give me great reports for, but she taught us most subjects. I'm going to sound like the most boring person ever, but I always loved doing comprehension with her. I was a bit of a people pleaser at that age, as my daughter is now, so I glowed with pride when she challenged me with a reading book that wasn't on the set programme and when she sent my mum shining reports.

Mrs Smith was definitely part of the reason I got into my secondary school, the City Technology College in Birmingham. I had to sit an exam and attend two interviews. She gave me extra tuition after school and didn't charge my mum. About 1,000 children applied and I was one of the 120 accepted.

Even though it was predominantly white - I was one of three black kids out of 120 in the year - I felt I belonged there. I didn't have one problem there where race was concerned, and I think my relationship with Mrs Smith helped. I was happy even though I was a minority. And that taught me some important lessons that have equipped me for the industry that I'm in now.

I think what I learnt from her has mostly been on a subconscious level. She was such a lovely, spirited person, it rubbed off on people, and having that kind of disposition really helps you. It helps you get through anything. I've definitely adopted the attitude that there's nothing a smile can't fix.

My biggest regret is that I did not keep in contact with her. I saw her in passing when I was at secondary school, but would only really say hello.

When I was 14 she died of breast cancer and I was absolutely gutted. I cried so much. I wish I'd contacted her and gone back to tell her how I was doing. Because of that, I visit my old secondary school regularly and sometimes Brookfields.

It wasn't until I was 15 that I got a record deal. I thanked her on the sleeve of my first album. She didn't have to show so much faith and pride in me, but she did. Having an outsider look at me as someone special made me feel I was capable of anything.

Jamelia is a Mobo award-winning singer-songwriter who supports the School Food Trust's Really Good School Dinner campaign. She home schools her two children. She was talking to Vicki Shiel.

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