I had two special teachers at Challney High School for Girls in Luton and each made an impact on me for different reasons. Mrs Marshall introduced me to baking and Dr Jabbar supported me at a time when I was being subjected to racist bullying.
I was slightly introverted as a child and I was probably the darkest Asian kid at my school. As a consequence, lots of horrible things happened to me. There was pushing, shoving and name-calling, and I was physically attacked [Nadiya was once smothered in white chalk dust]. My response was not to respond – instead, I turned to Dr Jabbar.
'He understood why I was upset'
He taught maths but he was my form tutor, so he was the teacher I saw the most of. It’s not easy being a male teacher in a girls’ school but he was such a gentle person and a nice guy; I found it easy to speak to him.
Fifteen years ago, schools didn’t act on bullying as quickly as they do now. Dr Jabbar – who I think may have been from Saudi Arabia – always dealt with the kids so they would back off. He never made me feel as if I was moaning and complaining. He understood why I was upset and he took it seriously.
Then, when I was in Year 9, he died of a heart attack. It was my first real experience of grief and he was the first person I’d lost who was part of my everyday life. The whole of our tutor class went to his funeral, which again was my first. It was tough.
When he died, I thought, “Who do I turn to now?” When you’re young, you look for strength in other people; you don’t think you have the strength to deal with it yourself. So I leaned on my friends and my sisters. And there were other teachers who helped me get through it. I haven’t seen any of these bullies since school, but I know two of them are in prison.
'She showed me what an oven does'
The other teacher who meant a lot to me was the home economics teacher, Mrs Marshall. She was the first person to show me what an oven does. I thought it was for storage, as my mum put her frying pans in there.
I’d never seen anything being baked before so when I saw her turn egg, flour, butter and sugar into a cake, I thought she was a magician. I could cook curry and rice quite comfortably, but we never baked at home.
When I saw her go into the classroom with boxes of ingredients to prepare for class, I’d ask if I could come in during my lunch break and watch her prepare. She said no until I added, “I’ll do the washing up.”
When I saw her turn egg, flour, butter and sugar into a cake, I thought she was a magician
The first thing I baked with her was scones. She seemed to think that I was very good at it. I don’t know if I was but I was definitely interested. We made puff pastry, pizzas and fruit tart. She even taught us how to make proper sandwiches.
After I won The Great British Bake Off, ITV’s This Morning reunited me with Mrs Marshall. I told her that she was responsible for my love of baking and I asked her what she’d made recently. She told me that she hated baking and that she hadn’t made a thing since she stopped working at the school. It was like a punch in the gut, as I’d had this dream that we would cook something together. It dawned on me that she must have been a good teacher as she made us believe that baking was her passion.
Nadiya Hussain was talking to Kate Bohdanowicz. Nadiya’s children’s book, Nadiya’s Bake Me a Story, is out in hardback, priced £14.99, from Hodder Children’s Books
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