Pupils I'll never forget

4th February 2005 at 00:00
Clare Salkeld remembers a girl who never let difficult domestic circumstances stand in her way

I've been teaching for 20 years, and occasionally a pupil comes along who reminds you why teaching is so important. Sami was a prime example. In Year 5, at the age of nine, she decided that the way out of a very difficult domestic situation was through education. She sat the 11-plus at her primary school, which is next door to Devonport, where I work, determined to be part of the school she saw over the wall, full of lively girls looking purposeful and engaged. Even the brown uniform seemed desirable.

But she found the first year difficult. While trying to adjust to the demands of an academic curriculum, she was also forced to sit through frequent and extremely lengthy social service meetings attended by herself, and a total of 28 adults, including me as her form teacher. No one could ever come to an agreement.

Finally, in Year 8, she was put into foster care, where she found that the restrictions imposed on her were conducive to hard work. She was given space and encouraged to do her school work. A bright girl, she soon worked out that maximum effort brought consistently high marks.

Particularly remarkable was her list of short, mid and long-term targets.

She called it her "diary of goals" and achieving them, over time, increased her sense of self as a thoughtful and committed student. She soon began to thrive on praise and develop a passion for study. She mixed with many sheltered and privileged middle-class girls, but Sami was never resentful.

She may sometimes have been intimidated by their extensive wardrobes on mufti days, or their exotic holidays and innate confidence, but she felt anxious about their lack of awareness when they went into the real world.

That's the sort of person she was.

When I lie awake having doubts about our education system, I remember Sami and others like her who have been given the opportunities to excel and have grasped them. I feel very privileged to have taught her.

Clare Salkeld teaches English at Devonport high school for girls in Plymouth. She was talking to Su Clark

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