Teacher shocked to be poet's muse

14th November 2003 at 00:00
Jez Alborough's new collection is inspired by a woman who taught him way back in 1967. Adi Bloom reports

Whatever the adverts might say, Sue Lusted was never convinced that everyone remembers a good teacher. So she was surprised to discover that one former pupil not only remembered her, but had used her as inspiration for a new collection of poems.

Guess what happened at school today is the new picture book by Jez Alborough, the children's writer best known for his Duck in the truck series. His new series of poems describes the pleasures and frustrations of school, as seen through the eyes of pupils of a "Miss Chadwick", the maiden name of Mrs Lusted, now deputy head of Underhill infants in Hertfordshire.

The book has also inspired a TES competition for funny poems about school life (details below).

Many of Mr Alborough's poems focus on Miss Chadwick. "Miss Chadwick's In A Mood Today" asks: "Has she had a sleepless night? Are her underpants too tight?" And "Ten Minutes To Go" describes her end-of-day restlessness: "Now every so often Miss Chadwick sighs She's developed that faraway look in her eyes."

The poems are based on Mr Alborough's experiences as a Year 4 pupil at Clarence Avenue primary in Surrey. In 1967 his teacher was 21-year-old newly-qualified graduate Sue Chadwick. "I had a boy called Jeremy in my class, who was very artistic," said Mrs Lusted, now 57. "When we did an assembly about the United Nations, I got him to draw the UN symbol.

"I love Jez Alborough's books, and read them to my class all the time. But I didn't realise that Jez was Jeremy."

It was only after her sister Jennifer Harris, deputy head at Linton village college in Cambridgeshire, read an interview with Mr Alborough in The TES's Friday magazine that she made the connection.

Before marrying David Lusted and moving away, Miss Chadwick taught at Clarence Avenue school for three years. "As a teacher, you get so little feedback," she said. "I've had hundreds of pupils go through my hands. It's nice to think I've made an impression on one."

Mr Alborough said that he was inspired to base his fictional character on Miss Chadwick, because her name had remained in his head over the decades.

Mrs Lusted is slightly baffled: "Maybe I stood out because I was young, and the other teachers were quite old."

But she does recognise many of the characteristics described in the poems.

As an NQT, she found that tension and nerves would occasionally put her in a bad mood. And, newly-engaged, she often gazed dreamily out of the window, with a faraway look in her eyes.

The TES and HarperCollins, Mr Alborough's publishers, have invited Mrs Lusted to join Mr Alborough on the judging panel for the poetry competition. They will meet for the first time in 35 years later this month when they select the winner.

Meanwhile Mrs Lusted says that her new-found fame is unlikely to impress her current pupils: "They all like the books, but they won't think I'm famous. If you're not a footballer, you're not well-known."

But the discovery has changed the way that she views them. She now wonders whether any of the four-year-olds in her class are likely to write about her in years to come. "But it would be pushing it a bit to ask them to write poetry at the moment. If they can write anything at all, I'm happy."

This week is your last chance to enter the "Guess what happened at school today" competition (first prize: books worth pound;100 for the poet and pound;400 of books for their school). Entries must be posted (not emailed) in time to arrive by 2pm Wednesday November 19. See page 2 of Friday magazine for full details and entry form

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