Pupils I'll never forget

17th September 2004 at 01:00
It was music to Tom Prunty's ears when he finally connected with his Year 10 pupils - especially Anthea

My probationary year in the London borough of Hackney was a baptism of fire. I left college full of ideas and ideals, but nothing could prepare me for my Year 10 class at Clapton girls, in a notorious area of east London.

My predecessor, Dr Kwami, apart from being a doctor of music, was an extraordinary man: tall, dark and handsome, he dressed in immaculate robes and was adored by the students. His loyal fans were a group of 14-year-olds who played in the steel band, and had chosen music for GCSE so they could be in the same class for three hours a week. The leader of this formidable gang was Anthea.

Throughout the first term I tried everything to get Year 10 on my side: I was young, energetic, trendy and determined. Anthea and her friends regarded me with contempt and made it clear I could never fill Dr Kwami's shoes. I begged, threatened and reasoned, but was met with cutting eyes and refusal to comply.

In the second term I had all but given up, and lessons became less of a battleground, more of a wasteground. I was beaten. Then one day I managed, miraculously, to get the class together and told them we couldn't go on like this. Anthea stood up, strode to the piano and commanded: "Show us what you can do." I sat down and nervously played a concert study by Liszt.

They listened, murmured approval, and clapped. It was a turning point.

After that I looked forward to those lessons. I had learned to draw out the skills the students had, rather than to expect them to complete rigid tasks: Anthea was a brilliant drummer, pan player and pianist and it was wonderful to see and hear her shine. It is thanks to her that I stayed in teaching.

One of my best moments happened a few years later in Camden Town. Anthea appeared, gave me a hug and announced to her friends: "It's my old music teacher." She went on to do a degree in psychology. I am very grateful, and so proud of her.

Tom Prunty has taught music in secondary schools in London, Essex, the south-east and the Midlands. After working as a supply teacher in Wiltshire, he has returned to a full-time post in London this term. Do you have special memories of unforgettable pupils? Write to Sarah Bayliss at the address on page 3 or email sarah.bayliss@tes.co.uk


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