Telly teachers

2nd March 2007 at 00:00
It's tempting to claim your 15 minutes of fame, but for teachers, the repercussions of appearing on television need to be carefully considered. Nick Morrison report

Appearing on television is fraught with danger for teachers. Reality TV offers almost unmatched potential for embarrassment; even respectable documentaries can derail a promising career through an ill-judged remark; and failure in a quiz show offers the opportunity for merciless teasing - and that's just from other members of staff.

But while there may be more at stake for teachers appearing on TV than for those in many other professions, there are still those who are willing to take that risk, sometimes with unfortunate, but rather predictable, consequences.

Emma Wright, for instance, was the subject of unfavourable headlines after her appearance in the Channel 4 programme How to Look Good Naked last year.

The 37-year-old teacher from the Streatham and Clapham High School, which has termly fees of up to pound;3,270, was criticised by some parents after posing nude and discussing her sex life on the programme.

Penny Ellis was one of the housemates in the second series of Big Brother, but footage of her towel falling off as she left the shower helped ensure she did not return to her London school after her eviction.

But there are still those willing to run the gauntlet, putting either their careers or their pride - and sometimes both - at stake. Jasminder "Jazz"

Virdee (pictured on the previous page) had long been a fan of the BBC's The Weakest Link and applied to take part, "for the fun of it".

The prospect of being ridiculed by Anne Robinson only became real when she was called for audition and told she had been chosen to take part.

"I knew she was going to pick up on the fact that I'm a teacher; whenever she has one on, she always likes to make it known she's not impressed,"

says Jazz, 28, a Year 2 teacher. "It was terrifying to be in the studio so close to Anne, but I don't think I embarrassed myself."

In the end, Jazz got off quite lightly, which she puts down to Ms Robinson having an off-day. She got through to the fourth round before her fellow contestants agreed she was the weakest link, but, unusually, she had the chance to get her own back on the host.

"She asked how I would discipline her if she was a really naughty child, so I told her to turn around and pay attention.

"Then she poked her tongue out, so I said, 'There's no need to be rude.'

Apparently, I used exactly the same voice as I use with the children in my class."

Jazz told her class at Grange Park Infants' School in Hayes, Middlesex, that she was taking a day off to record a TV show, but they had to wait almost a month before they could watch it.

"The school was in a frenzy beforehand. As soon as I went out to receive the children the following day, I had hordes of them surrounding me. It was like being famous.

"One of the mums said her son got really upset when they voted me off. But one said he was glad I lost because I would have left if I'd got all that money. I'm not sure how far he thought pound;2,500 would go," she says.

"And all day they said that lady was really naughty for poking her tongue out."

Mockery from Anne Robinson is one thing; appearing on Strictly Lady Sumo would appear to present a whole new level of risk. But an item on the Richard Judy show about female sumo wrestlers was just too tempting for Katy Hathaway. "I just thought it would be something different," she says.

When Katy got in touch, she learned that Channel 4 cameras would be following a group of women trying out to compete for Britain in the World Sumo Championships in Japan in October last year. After checking with her school - she was about to start her new teacher year at Hawkedon Primary in Lower Earley, near Reading, when filming started - she put herself forward.

"It was always more about the sport than the programme," says Katy, 31. "I was really aware of the cameras on the first day and they interviewed us all, but after the first sessions I didn't notice them so much.

"Generally, they were just filming what we were doing. I knew I would have to forge an identity in school so I was careful about what I said. I wanted to represent my profession as well as I could and I did not want it to be any more controversial than me being a sumo wrestler," she says.

Katy was one of four women chosen to represent Britain in Japan, winning one and losing two of her bouts to help her country finish a creditable fifth.

Although her Year 5 class had known about her sumo wrestling, they only found out about the documentary, which was broadcast in January, when they saw Katy's face on the posters.

"I have an established relationship with the children and I knew I could deal with them, it was the parents I was worried about," she says. "But the programme was positive and I had parents come into school and say how impressed they had been."

Katy brought back information on Japan for the children, as well as pictures of the school bear mascot at the ringside.

She has taken a break from sumo since her return, although she says she wants to return to it at some point. But she doesn't harbour a desire to appear on television again.

"I got a lot from the experience, but I don't want to be famous," she says.

"The kids were excited about it, but I don't think it's changed my relationship with them.

"One boy was in awe of me for about a day, but the next day you're back to being their teacher who is nagging them about homework."

'I was like a rabbit frozen in the headlights'

Yvette Campbell had been a fan of Countdown since it launched in 1982. Last year she became a contestant. As a secondary maths teacher, she was confident in her ability when it came to the numbers round, but that didn't stop her nerves.

"The first round they said 'Go', I heard the clock and I went white. I was like a rabbit frozen in the headlights and my hands were sweaty. I could hardly hold the pencil. Despite her success in the number rounds she lost to the then reigning champion.

Yvette got a mixed reaction from her pupils at Holy Trinity School, in Crawley, West Sussex, when it was broadcast a month later.

While some revelled in the fact she had lost, others congratulated her on coming so close. The 43-year-old adds: "We had a parents' evening shortly afterwards and one parent said 'I don't know whether to shake your hand or ask for your autograph'."

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