Pupils I'll never forget

30th January 2004 at 00:00
Indrani Khanna recalls the gentleness and enthusiasm of a young Vietnamese refugee

Some children you never forget because they bring out the best in you as a teacher. They may be the ones whose individuality touches you the most and for whom you can make a difference.

That's why I remember Fong, a petite, fragile-looking girl who came to me in Year 6 at Reay primary school in Brixton, in the London borough of Lambeth, where I worked for many years.

Fong was a Vietnamese refugee, the eldest of four children, yet small for her age. She had a background of trauma. She was quiet, shy and self-disciplined, with a great sense of responsibility for her siblings, yet she didn't seek much attention for herself, even when she might have needed it.

I was immediately aware of her shy smile and kind face. She was self-conscious and unsure of herself, but keen to belong.

The first time I touched her hand, it was dry and flaky with severe eczema.

I felt her embarrassment but tried not to react with shock. She seemed a gentle, soft and beautiful child beneath a hard surface. She looked at me and seemed to feel accepted and relaxed. From that day she was my shadow, coming early and offering to help me in the classroom. She worked hard and made excellent progress. She became a model pupil: friendly, amiable, always modest and loved by all.

The highlight of her time with me was when I asked her to play the lead in Oliver, the end-of-year play. With moist eyes, she asked: "Do you think I can do it, Miss?" I said: "I know you can do anything you put your mind to." On the day, she delighted and moved the audience with her excellent acting and singing. Her parents were not in the audience.

Fong went to a nearby secondary school and maintained her disciplined approach and hard work, untouched by some rowdy elements around her.

I have long since moved away from that area. I hope she has done well. I wish her well, wherever she is.

Indrani Khanni retired from Reay primary school, Lambeth and spent a year in Warsaw teaching English. She is currently training home tutors at Acton and Hammersmith college in West London. Do you have special memories of a pupil? Write to Sarah Bayliss at the address on page 3 or email sarah.bayliss@tes.co.uk

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