Personally speaking - 'I really loved having two jobs at once'

20th August 2010 at 01:00

Who has been your biggest influence?

Probably my husband. We've been together a long time (we were sweethearts in the sixth form in the 1970s) and he has kept me grounded while being supportive and encouraging.

What is your career high so far?

Being simultaneously head of Dame Alice Harpur School and president of the Girls' Schools Association (GSA) in 2009 - I really loved it. Doing two demanding jobs was a challenge and the GSA presidency took me out of my comfort zone, but that's a good thing.

What was your worst moment in teaching?

The sudden death of a pupil in the school where I was deputy head, and the girl who died was an identical twin. School deaths must be the worst thing any of us have to deal with. It puts everything else into perspective.

Which pupil are you most proud of?

The more modest achievers who don't find academic work easy but never give up, work hard and achieve the best they can. On results days, they're the ones whose grades have the teachers turning cartwheels in the staffroom.

What is the best piece of advice you have been given?

The head spoke in assembly on my first day in the school where I had just become head of English, and I remember she said that everyone had a handle, and you just had to find it - a way in to see the best in (and get the best from) them. I've thought of this when staff and pupils have been difficult to get through to. Keep looking - it's there.

What is the most outrageous thing a colleague has done?

A senior member of staff hitting a boy - he slapped him in the corridor and I was shocked. I've seen staff dressing up to entertain the children in pantomimes - the sort of outrageous behaviour I love, and I always join in.

What is the worst excuse you've heard?

A pupil in my first school admitted she was smoking in bed and allegedly the bed caught fire and destroyed all her English coursework which was in a box underneath it. It seemed such an extreme measure to take rather than just writing the assignments like everyone else.

What do you do on a Friday evening?

Ideally, relax with my husband and friends over an excellent meal and a good bottle of red wine - or more, depending on how many of us there are ...

Jill Berry is headteacher of Dame Alice Harpur School in Bedford and is a former president of the Girls' Schools Association.

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