My magic teaching moment happened backstage in December 2001 after an end-of-term Performing Arts showcase at Park View School in West Green Road, Tottenham. I was a newly qualified teacher and had chosen to work in a school where the 5 A*-C GCSE results were just 14% because I wanted to make a difference where it was needed most. 14 year old Fiston Barekabavuge, a looked after child who always had a smile on his face, came up to me after our performance of Scrooge looking very serious.
“Sir, I think I want to become an actor,” he said, his eyes full of hope and excitement.
I paused for a moment. The life of an actor is often a hard one. There can be many rejections and disappointments, and there is no guarantee of success. But there was a steely determination about Fiston.
“We’ll see what we can do to help you with that,” I said.
Cue the dazzling smile. We shook hands and hugged, and I set about thinking how we could make his dream come true. My job is to awaken possibility in people. I can give them a map to help them get to their destination, but the hard work will be all theirs.
Over the next few years we slowly began to improve the school. Fiston somehow managed to keep his head down and out of trouble, while taking every opportunity we were able to offer. He played a big role in our 2003 production of West Side Story. I remember telling him that West Side would bring the West End to West Green. His eyes lit up and I knew that he wanted to perform in the West End himself one day.
At 16, he moved into his own accommodation, and learnt to cook, shop and look after himself. In 2004 he excelled in our AS Level production of Teechers. From there, he went on to college before graduating in Acting at ALRA Drama School.
Fast forward to May 2010, when Fiston let me know that he would be playing a lead role in ‘Love the Sinner’ at the National Theatre. I was so excited and proud of him for working diligently to create this opportunity.
I went to watch the play with four other colleagues who had also helped Fiston on his journey to becoming an actor (see picture). While sat in the theatre, my mind went back to that golden moment in December 2001. As teachers, we are privileged to have the opportunity to make a difference in young people’s lives. I’m so grateful to have been able to help Fiston on his journey.
Since 2010, Fiston Barek, as he’s now known, has performed more lead roles at the Oval House Theatre and the Royal Court. Whenever I’m having a hard day at work, I look at that picture and am reminded of why I love teaching and why it’s such a great profession.