Pistols, princes and Playboy

23rd December 2005 at 00:00
From the woman who shot at nuisance teens to staffroom reality TV stars, teachers gave the tabloids plenty of fodder this year, reports Adi Bloom

As ever teachers were making the headlines in 2005 for their activities in and out of the classroom.

For Linda Walker, a food technology teacher from Salford, 2005 was the year that she decided to take unilateral action against the teenagers she claimed had been vandalising her home.

She fired an air pistol at them, and was subsequently sentenced to six months in jail. She may have missed the teenagers, but she hit a nerve: sympathetic teachers everywhere rallied in her support.

Size-16 art teacher, Jasmine Votano, also hit the headlines in a big way, this time deliberately when she stripped down to her underwear for a Dove soap advert featuring real, flesh-and-cellulite women. "It was very risky for a teacher," she said. "But I constantly say to pupils, never, ever let an opportunity go past, because you never know what will happen. It's been a positive lesson for them."

Eleanor Kirwan also believes she taught pupils a positive lesson this year.

The south London English teacher launched a protest against WHSmith, after she discovered that the chain was marketing pink, glittery stationery branded with the "Playboy" logo at teenage girls. She has since collected more than 500 signatures for her petition and WHSmith moved the products out of its children's section.

"Big business and branding were riding roughshod over moral standards," Ms Kirwan said. "This was an opportunity to raise people's consciousness and make them aware of a ludicrous situation."

Meanwhile, Hilary Green, a retired drama teacher from the Wirral, deserves some of the credit for the rise of her one-time protege, Daniel Craig, who was this year named the new James Bond. She explained how she launched his acting career, by casting him as the undertaker in a school production of Oliver!

Elsewhere, a history supply teacher was shaken and stirred into taking on a different role. After the bombings in London this year, Dominic Nelder decided to dress up as a city gent and spend his summer holiday travelling back and forth on the London underground, doffing his bowler to passing commuters.

His aim, he said, was to make the tube a friendlier place. "So many people are potentially friendly, if you're friendly to them," he said. "And pupils now ask me to wear my bowler hat into school. But it was rented, so I can't."

He was not the only teacher working in disguise this year. Alex Dolan, a supply teacher with a sideline in undercover reporting, filmed her experiences at four comprehensives, for a Channel 4 documentary. Indeed, subterfuge abounded. Sarah Forsyth, an art teacher at Eton college, secretly taped Prince Harry to support her claims that she had helped him cheat with his A-level art coursework. She was criticised at an employment tribunal for making the recording and the panel said it was not satisfied by her account of events. Prince Harry always denied the allegations.

However, she won her case of unfair dismissal against Eton college.

Other teachers emerged singing and dancing into the spotlight. In 2003, Simon Warr had appeared as the gown-wearing Latin master in Channel 4 series That'll Teach 'Em. This year, clearly experiencing TV withdrawal, he could be seen encouraging his neighbours to turn down their music, in reality-TV programme The Nightmares Next Door. "I'm the school celebrity,"

he said. "It's a standing joke. Everyone says it's my alternative career."

But, for others, 2005 saw a retreat from the unrelenting demands of fame.

Matthew Goodgame, winner of the 2004 search-for-a-star series, Musicality, decided to trade in the trappings of stardom for the relative calm of a classroom in Westgate-on-Sea. "You don't have to be on stage to be a star,"

he said. "At school, you feel like a star because you're inspiring the younger generations to do their best."

* adi.bloom@tes.co.uk

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