Pupils I'll never forget

21st November 2003 at 00:00
Deputy head Linda Tempest can't get a beautiful voice out of her head

I taught Joe when I was a music teacher 20 years ago and he made a huge impact on my teaching. He broke the mould in many ways. He was a very quiet lad who had long hair and was into heavy rock; all he wanted to do was play his guitar.

There was no background of music in his family and the only way he could study it was to do O-level music, which at that time was all classical and studied mainly by girls. He was so determined, however, that he signed up for it.

Every year we put on a concert at the school, but it was mainly classical at that time. Joe wanted to perform the Beatles song "Blackbird" and he pestered and pestered me until I gave in. The song goes up really high at the end and for a 15-year-old boy going through puberty it was pretty hard, and during rehearsals he never did manage to hit those high notes.

I tried to dissuade him from carrying on but he assured me that he would be all right on the night, and he was. He sat down on a stool, and all you could see was his long hair, but he sang and played his guitar brilliantly, hitting all the notes.The audience gave him a standing ovation.

I was so pleased that I had let him go through with it. It made me realise what children can achieve if they are motivated. It also made me realise that you have to listen to children and trust them to do the things they say they want to do. Not long after that I went on a counselling course because I wanted to be a better listener.

Joe was not academic, but he got a B in music. I think if I had refused to let him play on that occasion he would have switched off. He made me re-evaluate my music curriculum and we started to look at reggae and pop, which was ahead of its time, and introduce instruments and music from other cultures, as well as electronic keyboards.

We have just moved into an expressive arts block at our school with wonderful music studios and practice rooms set up with drums and guitars for rock groups. Joe would have loved that. An ex-pupil who visited the school last year told me that Joe has made a career for himself playing in bands in gigs around Manchester as a guitarist.

Linda Tempest, 49, is deputy head of Westborough high, Dewsbury, a school with a reputation for excellent multi-ethnic relations. She has taught there for 25 years and was in charge of equal opportunities for 15 years.

She was talking to Elaine Williams. Joe is a pseudonym

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