Pupils I'll never forget

4th March 2005 at 00:00
The disappearance of an Argentine student brought the Falklands conflict home to Pauline Bell

My first words to Alex Scheller when he arrived at the school in London where I was teaching in the early Eighties were "Ramon tiene un burro." He had just arrived from Argentina. His family was something to do with the embassy, and he could hardly speak any English.

But his linguistic skills were better than mine, which was just as well, because the only thing I could remember from my Spanish O-level was "Ramon has a donkey." Not very useful in central London, and I could tell Alex wasn't impressed.

I was his form teacher throughout his time at the school and I watched as he quickly mastered English and assimilated into London life. He made friends and was popular. I always found him to be a likeable, normal lad.

But then one day in 1982 he disappeared. Just disappeared without warning.

It was this, rather than reports on the television, that brought it home to me that Britain was at war with Argentina and that Alex was supposed to be my enemy. Before then it seemed to be something happening far away, to people I didn't even know existed. I found out later that he and his family were given four hours to get out of the country.

Time passed and I moved schools, but occasionally I'd think of Alex and Ramon's donkey. When someone just disappears like that you don't forget.

Then about five years later I received a letter, forwarded from my old school, from Alex. He explained that he was moving house and, during the clear-out, had found the address of our school, and so he decided to write to me. I was thrilled. It was good to find out what had happened to him. I wrote back straight away, and we began a correspondence that we still keep up today.

He is 36 now, and over the years I've heard of how he joined the navy and travelled around the world, of his promotions, his marriage and the birth of his two children. He's been back to the UK a few times with his ship, but we've never met up. But I'd like to. I'd like to a lot.

Pauline Bell teaches science at Queen Katherine school in Kendal, Cumbria.

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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