TES I'll never forget - Mrs Jones by Beth Tweddle

14th June 2013 at 01:00
A biology teacher's philosophy of perseverance provided a springboard to success for the British Olympic gymnast

Even from the age of 12, I felt sure that my future would involve gymnastics. I had started when I was 7 and was on the national team by the time I moved to secondary school, at 11. I often spent time away from the classroom as I needed weeks off at a time for competitions.

My favourite teacher, and a very important influence on my life, was Mornie - Mrs Jones. She taught me biology from Year 7 to Year 10 (ages 11-15). She loved her subject and taught it with great passion. She was very caring; she was encouraging to every student and made the subject a lot easier to comprehend. Mrs Jones would use rhymes to help us remember things, and if we didn't understand she would try an experiment. She never gave up until the whole class had got it.

She always had time for you if you had a problem, subject-related or otherwise. She took an interest in my gymnastics and was very supportive when I had to spend time away from school, preparing work for me to do while I was away or spending extra time with me on my return. She provided tuition in lunch hours for anyone who needed it. If I was away competing or at national camp, she would give me time to complete coursework so that I never fell behind.

Mrs Jones didn't just teach the subject: she found fun and novel ways to help us remember things. I'll never forget when she taught us about the respiratory system, using diagrams and experiments to make it clear and fun. One day, she even asked me to do a handstand to prove that you could swallow water when you were upside down.

In Years 7 and 8, she used cute stickers or stamps to mark our work. If you had done well you got a smiley face, but you knew your work was excellent if you got a cat sticker: she loved cats. It was a great way to motivate the class because we would ask each other what stickers we had been given.

Mrs Jones and her attitudes had a long-term effect on me: she instilled in us that if we didn't get it right the first time, we should go back and try again. That philosophy of always keeping at it is something I have used throughout my career as an athlete. I have had good times, but I have also had disappointments and injuries, times when I have had to get back up and have another go.

I'll never forget my disappointment at the Beijing Olympics in 2008. I took a step back on my dismount from the parallel bars in the final and that small error turned a bronze medal into fourth place. Despite this, the philosophy of never giving up pushed me to compete at the 2012 Games in London and get the Olympic medal that I was determined to win.

My parents and Mrs Jones supported not only my academic aspirations but also my dreams about gymnastics. They let me see that those ambitions could coexist: one didn't have to take precedence over the other. As long as I worked hard, I could achieve whatever I wanted.

I did keep in contact with Mrs Jones, initially, after she left when I was in Year 10. But I haven't spoken to her recently, which is sad. I would love to hear from her now.

British gymnast Beth Tweddle is a three-time world champion, six-time European champion and an Olympic bronze medallist. She was speaking to David Harrison.

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