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Opinion

Adele inspired me to thank my teachers. You should too

Teachers inspire and enrich us, and show us great care and empathy. Adele is right to thank her favourite teacher.

I didn’t have the easiest of childhoods. I grew up in the poorest borough in London, Tower Hamlets, the youngest of five children, raised by two migrant parents from Bangladesh who largely relied on benefits. When I was 10, my mum became ill and from that point on, until she died four years ago, the roles of parent and child were generally reversed.

Despite the challenges I faced, and the dim prospects for Bangladeshis in Britain — 53 per cent of whom were found to be working in low-skilled occupations in the 2011 Census — I have been fortunate to pursue a career in my chosen field, journalism, for a decade. I will soon be an author, too.

I could have gone down a very different path, but I was lucky to have my talent for reading and writing encouraged and nurtured from an early age by my teachers. That’s why Adele thanking her secondary school English teacher, Ms. McDonald, during her An Audience With… special on ITV over the weekend resonated so much with me.

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In a clip that has gone viral, Adele remembered Ms. McDonald fondly and was genuinely moved by their reunion at the London Palladium — even if she is now one of the biggest stars on the planet and has rubbed shoulders with everyone from royals to Beyoncé.

“She got me really into literature. I’ve always been obsessed with English, and obviously now I write lyrics,” said Adele, who added that McDonald was “so bloody cool, so engaging” and “relatable and likeable that I really looked forward to my English lessons”.

We all have a teacher, or teachers, that inspired us, who helped mould who we are. For me, that teacher was Helen, one of my first ever teachers, who passionately encouraged me to read when I was four or five. I was a precocious child. Although English wasn’t the first language in my household, from the earliest age, I constantly picked up new words from my older siblings or television shows, and had developed a somewhat sophisticated vocabulary by the time I came into Helen’s classroom.

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Helen actively encouraged my loquaciousness, and would allow me to take home picture books written in dual English and Bengali so I could read them with my mum. We weren’t allowed to take hardbacks home, but she bent this rule for me, understanding the importance of reading at home and having a parent or guardian read with you.

Later, in my final year of primary school, I had Helen again for Year 6. Now 11, I was reading and writing English at a more advanced level than the national average. Helen again nurtured my knack for words by letting me write weekly newsletters for my classmates. It was my first taste of journalism and that love of news has never left me.

In secondary school, my form tutor, Ms. Maru — yes, she will always be Ms. Maru to me — picked up where Helen left off. In Year 7, I wrote a poem in R.E. that, though the contents of which escape me, moved my then-R.E. teacher enough to have it published in the school newsletter. Ms. Maru clipped it from the newsletter and proudly put it up on her wall for the next five years I was at Morpeth school — and for years after.

The belief they both had in my words steered me towards the path I walk now. I’m a journalist and lecturer in journalism, too. I am about to publish my first book, something I never dared dream about as a child. It all started in inner-city schools, in a poor part of town, with teachers like Helen and Ms. Maru. So, thank you.

Like our NHS staff, state school teachers are often underpaid and overworked. And yet, as well as hitting all their curriculum criteria, they still inspire us, enrich us and show us great care and empathy. So, thank the teacher who has changed your life, just like Adele. They deserve it.

Tufayel Ahmed leads The Big Issue‘s Breakthrough talent and training programme. His debut novel, This Way Out, is published on July 1, 2022.

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