Personally speaking - 'Deputy head told me to get my hair cut'

8th October 2010 at 01:00
Richard Wallace taught at the Barclay School in Stevenage for 39 years until his retirement this summer. His posts included head of English and assistant headteacher

Who has been your biggest influence?

Don Monk, deputy headteacher at this school (Barclay) for more than 40 years until 1992. He came into the school when it was a secondary modern and refused to accept that pupils who were not selected for grammar school were somehow second best. He and a few others like him promoted O-levels, started A-levels in a sixth form and organised a range of extra-curricular activities. He made a difference to the lives of thousands of young people and was an inspiration to a generation of teachers. He is now 82 and a much-revered figure in the town. A wonderful man. He told me on my first day to get my hair cut.

What was your career high?

In my last lesson, Francesca, one of my Year 11 students whose aunt was in my very first lesson, came back after the others had gone and said: "Thank you, Sir. You're my best teacher." It was the best epitaph to my career I could have asked for.

What was your worst moment in teaching?

When Michael Gove became Education Secretary. Straight away it felt like it did in the barren, dispiriting years under the previous Conservative government.

Which pupil are you most proud of?

One I remember particularly was Ronnie West, who was a victim of Thalidomide: he had no arms. When I gave out paper, I used to put his on the floor because he wrote with his feet. He was enormously positive and courageous. He once said to me that being born with no arms was the best thing that had ever happened to him.

What is the best advice you have been given?

Follow the golden rule - always stay cool.

What was the most outrageous thing you saw a colleague do?

I went to observe the head of art's lesson. There was a young woman in the class I did not know. I assumed that she was a student from another school. As the lesson was introduced, she took all her clothes off. It was a life-drawing lesson. I didn't know where to put my clipboard. Within five minutes under (the teacher) Helen's guidance, everyone had got over their embarrassment and it turned into the most brilliant lesson.

What would you be if you hadn't become a teacher?

Right side of midfield for Man United. Failing that, I would have liked to have been a doctor.

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