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Jacqueline Wilson – Everybody has one special teacher they remember fondly

Beloved author, Jacqueline Wilson, recalls how good teaching and a love of stories helped her get over the shock of the primary school dinner hall...

  • Jacqueline Wilson – Everybody has one special teacher they remember fondly

My worst memory of primary school was having to stay for school dinners.

My very first school was in Lewisham, south London. I was only there for about 18 months. This was way back in 1950.

My mother was not a cook; we really had the most bland, repetitive meals. So I was completely taken aback by school dinners.

I’d never eaten mince before, I’d never eaten stew, I’d never eaten salad.

All of these things I would think fine now, but as a child I was frightened by some of the food and just sat there, totally alarmed.

On the other hand, I enjoyed the books.

I do remember some of the learning-to-read books we had and while they weren’t particularly inspiring, I liked the pictures of the children and I got the concept that those little black lines across the page were actually the words.

If you could learn to read you were on the top table, if you couldn’t read very well you were on the middle table, and then you were on the bottom table if you couldn’t attempt it at all.

I was on the middle table and I thought to myself, “Actually, I want to be on the top table!”

I don’t know whether it was a competitive streak even at that age, but certainly by the time I left the school, I was on the top table and I was the one who read aloud to the other children.

Although I was pretty useless at arithmetic and everything else, I could read well.

I had a slightly rough first term when we moved to Kingston upon Thames and I went to Latchmere Primary School.

When you’re six, everyone makes their best friends and are in a little gang and you are the new girl.

I do remember hanging round the playground rather pathetically by myself or creeping indoors and sitting on the radiator. But quite soon I did make friends and everything perked up.

The four teachers I had for what’s now called KS2 were all excellent.

The teacher who took us for Y6 was also frightening and yelled at us a lot. But I remember his lessons very well.

This was in the days when teachers could pick and choose what they wanted to teach children and he was very keen on increasing our vocabulary.

We had a lesson where we had to learn the definition of 20 words, rather like a quiz. And then he would tell a funny story, incorporating all 20 new words. It was the most brilliant performance and we all looked forward to it.

Also, if we’d been very good all week, after lunch on Friday he would read us a story, not to analyse or discuss but just for the sheer joy of it.

Nobody needed to prod us or tell us to be quiet; we were just absorbed in whichever story it was on the day.

So although we were all frightened of him and he would call us nasty nicknames and do things teachers would never do these days, he was a charismatic teacher.

My favourite teacher was Mr Townsend, in the equivalent of Y5. He had that gift of singling out the most unpromising child and making them feel special, as if they alone had a wonderful gift or talent.

My talents were few, but he liked the way I wrote my stories and didn’t laugh when I shyly told him I wanted to be a writer.

He even had me read some stories out to the rest of the class, and that was just so wonderful for me because my mum and dad and everyone where I lived would have thought it mad to want to be a writer; I lived on a council estate and people like us weren’t writers.

I was so pleased because quite a while ago now I was on Blue Peter and Mr Townsend, who must have been way into his 80s then, was watching and actually managed to get in touch with me via the programme to say he’d been charmed to hear me talking about him.

That gave me the opportunity to write back and tell him just how much he meant to me.

Sadly he died a few months later but I’m so glad I had that opportunity because I think everyone has got one teacher they remember fondly from the way they encouraged them in some way.

Probably, a lot of teachers never get the feedback from the adults on what influence they had. Mr Townsend was a shining example of that type of teacher.

Jacqueline Wilson’s latest book in the Tracy Beaker series, We are the Beaker Girls, is available in hardback (£12.99, Doubleday Childrens).

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