Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

Mr Betts by Rachel Riley

Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

Mr Betts by Rachel Riley

Article excerpt

A world of possibility was opened up for the Countdown presenter by a physics teacher who went off on 'glorious tangents'

I didn't really enjoy primary school. But I didn't realise that I hadn't enjoyed it until I got to Southend High School for Girls.

My physics teacher was Mr Betts. He joined when I was studying for my GCSEs and taught me for three years. Physics wasn't necessarily the most popular subject, and I wasn't mad on it either, but Mr Betts had this ability to engage everyone he taught. Such passion. Such enthusiasm.

Here's what he did, and this is what was fundamental: he let us ask questions. Sounds simple, right? He showed me that physics isn't just what's in a textbook. He was the first person to explain that we don't know everything and there are still questions - particularly in physics - that need answering.

He wasn't afraid to go off on a tangent. We once found ourselves discussing quantum universe, stuff about quantum particles, the sort of thing you'd never cover at that age, because we kept asking questions and he kept answering them. And it got to the point where he said: "You know what? I don't know the answer. Actually, no one knows. That's what we're trying to find out."

Thinking about it, that's why I made my degree choice [applied maths with elements of physics] at Oxford. It intrigued me, thanks to Mr Betts. It was him who encouraged me to apply to Oxbridge. He came to the school, saw something in me and pushed me. He encouraged me.

Mr Betts' class was wonderful. There were only eight of us and it was quite a high-flying set. Once he accidentally let slip that a new course we were studying was designed for girls. He had a class full of young women roaring: "We're studying physics for girls? What are you talking about?" But it was really just a course designed to appeal to girls, so I guess he had the right motives. …

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