Mrs Berry and Mr Barbrook by Naga Munchetty

16th February 2018 at 00:00
A supportive, energetic head of music and an engaging history teacher who still keeps in touch both taught the BBC Breakfast presenter to believe in herself

Until I was 9, I attended Peckham Rye Primary School before finishing my junior years at Woodmansterne Primary in Streatham, South London.

At 11, I moved to Graveney School, a secondary in Tooting, where I met two fantastic teachers who had a big influence on not only my education but also on my life in general.

Diane Berry, head of music, was an unstoppable force who supported my musical ambitions while also keeping me in line – becoming, in the process, something of a mother figure.

I played the trumpet in the school orchestra, which she organised, so I was forever in her classroom. I have great affection for Mrs Berry, who was a relentless bundle of energy with a big, infectious smile and a booming voice.

If she wanted us to achieve something, she found a way of motivating us all to achieve that goal. I don’t know anyone who wasn’t committed to pleasing her.

She was always pushing me, encouraging me in so many ways, but something else I admired was her understanding of families’ financial commitments. Choir trips, for example, cost money but she was always aware that some kids came from families experiencing money problems. She’d always find a way to ensure those students could take part, too.

Despite being incredibly supportive, she wouldn’t hesitate in telling me off if necessary, but I always respected her – and knew she was someone who I could turn to if I had a problem.

She retired from Graveney about four years ago. I attended her retirement evening and she was still bouncing around, full of energy.

 

The other teacher at Graveney who would always encourage me was Keith Barbrook, who taught history.

He was supportive and would tell me that I could be anyone I wanted to be. He had a very attentive manner and would listen in a gentle way, although wasn’t shy telling me if I’d done something wrong. At school, I was a bit of a hot-head with a real temper, but he knew how to calm me down while allowing me to express my frustrations.

Although history wasn’t one of my favourite lessons, I enjoyed the way Mr Barbrook taught it, always making it as exciting as possible. We studied history post-1945 and I found it fascinating, partly because he was animated and would engage his students, getting them involved in discussing how agreements were made. You ended up understanding the decisions rather than just being told what they were. Just like Mrs Berry, he was someone who threw himself into the life of the school.

He was tall with blond, spiky hair. His hair style hadn’t changed much when, about a year ago, I was invited back to the school to present some awards.

This year, he retired from the post of head at Graveney, but we still keep in touch: he’ll often send me an email after seeing me on BBC Breakfast, perhaps telling me how much he enjoyed a particular interview of mine.

When I think about Mrs Berry and Mr Barbrook, I realise that here were two teachers who were always fair. They were no pushovers and could be as scary as hell, but they were always kind. I never once doubted that they had my interests at heart, even if I appeared to be railing against the world. They wanted the best for me and for me to do well. Knowing that people like that believed in me was amazing and invaluable.

Naga Munchetty is a presenter on BBC Breakfast, which is on BBC One every morning from 6am. She was speaking to Richard Webber

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