Aspects: Supplying the Breath of Life to an Ailing School; A Relentless Flood of Statistics Highlighting Cracks in the Education System Paint a Depressing Picture, but a Few Teachers Have Been Singled out for Providing Exceptional Teaching. Jenny O'Connor, a Relative Newcomer in the Classroom Is One of Those Super Teachers, as Mel Hunter Discovers
Hunter, Mel, The Birmingham Post (England)
'Where's my drink?' demands Jenny O'Connor, bringing an almost tangible gust of energy into the room.
'I bet you've cleared it away,' she laughingly accuses Howard Martin, acting head teacher of Yew Tree Primary School in West Bromwich.
Jenny returns with a can of Tango and plonks her slim frame down on a chair, clearly welcome in the head teacher's study.
And so she should be, for Jenny is the 27-year-old teacher who many - including Mr Martin - credit with reversing Yew Tree's ailing fortunes.
She qualified just two years ago and first came to the school as a supply teacher.
It was an inauspicious start to her career as Yew Tree had just been deemed a 'failing school' with inspectors taking the most draconian course of action, putting the school under special measures.
When the primary came out of special measures three weeks ago the head teacher and governors were quick to attribute much of the change in its fortunes to Miss O'Connor.
Two weeks later her talent was confirmed when she was named most outstanding new teacher in a primary school in the regional heats of the Teaching Awards 2000.
Mr Martin - who incidentally Jenny credits as the school's saviour - describes her with varying degrees of admiration.
From 'the best teacher I have ever seen' to 'the shining light of the school' he makes it quite clear that in teaching terms Jenny is very special.
The pair started work together at Yew Tree at almost the same time. Mr Martin saw Jenny's talent and singled her out to help him reverse the school's fortunes.
He immediately recognised the energy and vitality which inspired children and other teachers alike - and which if you could bottle would be worth a small fortune.
Although she was new to the profession, she was put in charge of helping children with special needs and the school's information technology, as well as joining the senior management team.
It was a lot of responsibility, but Mr Martin recognised that Jenny was up to the job.
She was a late-comer to teaching. Her first priority was her son Tom, now nine, born when she was 18.
When he was a year old she took A-levels at Sutton College, and a year later decided being a stay at home mum would render her 'bored stiff'. A teacher friend of her mother's took her into school one day and Jenny decided it was the job for her.
She took an Access to Teaching course before scrimping and saving for her son's nursery fees and enrolling at the University of Central England on a four-year BA Honours degree. Her first day as a supply teacher at Yew Tree Primary was not the greatest start. The school was blighted by a massively high turnover of staff (she was her class's tenth supply teacher), extremely low morale and was under the constant eye of visiting inspectors.
'I thought I am never coming here again. I came out crying,' admits Jenny.
'Now I can go into the same class and have them eating out of the palm of my hand. They are now my class and I love them to bits.'
But she worked very hard to win them over. …