Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

Ms Stenzhorn and Mr Bird by Jameela Jamil

Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

Ms Stenzhorn and Mr Bird by Jameela Jamil

Article excerpt

Bullying and chronic hearing difficulties meant the presenter, model and self-confessed nerd had a tough time at school. But she found allies in two supportive teachers

I was partially deaf as a child but Yvonne Stenzhorn, who taught me maths between the ages of 6 and 11, never made me feel as if I had a disability. She built me up to believe that I could do anything. She made me feel special because I lip-read, saying that I could see the world in a different way from others.

My school, Heathside Preparatory School in Hampstead, North London, had a large proportion of children with special needs. It was a lovely, safe, supportive place and I have fond memories of it.

Yvonne was patient and never patronising. Whenever I made a mistake in maths she would draw a circle on my hand, and at the end of the lesson I would count them up. When I started to collect fewer circles I knew that I was making progress.

And she was very caring. To look after children with special needs, you have to be.

I missed a lot of school as I was in and out of hospital with my hearing. I had grommets and my eardrum would burst easily. If I got water in my ear, I would be deaf for months. Then some hearing would come back.

Yvonne and the other teachers helped me to catch up with work. I remember the headmistress coming to my house to tutor me for the 11-plus exam. It paid off: I passed and won a scholarship to Queen's College on Harley Street. Unfortunately, I hated it there. I was bullied because I was nerdy; I didn't drink, I didn't smoke and I was a poor kid in a posh school.

But this was where I met my second influential teacher. Mr Bird taught ICT and he let me spend my breaks hiding out in the computer room. I wouldn't call him a friend but it was like having an ally. He understood that I found school very lonely.

He was in his forties and skinny. …

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