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My best teacher - Sarah Beeny

Features | Published in TES Newspaper on 7 November, 2008 | By: Pamela Coleman

A vivacious and slightly scatty English teacher found ways of making lessons inspiring for this property wheeler dealer

I think I was probably quite difficult to educate. I wasn’t good at being told what to do and could be obnoxious. I didn’t see the point in half the stuff I was being taught at school. Now I do, but at the time I couldn’t see how geography or history was relevant to my life and I remember tormenting the science teachers in particular.

But Mrs Evans was great and I found her inspiring. Rather than tell me what to do, she suggested what might be a good idea and they were always positive suggestions. She encouraged me in directions in which I was interested, which I think is the sign of a clever teacher.

She taught English at Luckley-Oakfield School in Wokingham, where I was a weekly boarder. I didn’t get particularly good grades, but I enjoyed English lessons and Mrs Evans planted a seed of interest. I was always a bit lazy and slapdash and when writing an essay I would begin with gusto and get carried away and then give up and the essay would peter out. Instead of saying: “This is too short, you haven’t put in any effort,” Mrs Evans would say: “The start is good, if you continue like this you’ll have a great essay.”

She also encouraged me in drama. At the time we didn’t put on school plays, but we had a stage that was full of old chairs. With one or two friends I decided to clear out the stage and put on a production.

Mrs Evans was encouraging and the school started putting on plays again. I had a leading role in Brecht’s Caucasian Chalk Circle and liked the idea of becoming a professional actress. My classmates were heading for university, but it was clear I wasn’t going to get the grades. Mrs Evans inspired me to believe I could do something different from the careers that were traditionally expected. With her encouragement I went on to Queen Mary’s College in Basingstoke, which had a fantastic drama course.

I planned to go on to drama school, but I didn’t get in, so ended up travelling around the world for a while and then did lots of jobs including window cleaning, sandwich making and door-to-door vacuum cleaner selling. I assumed I’d be self-employed. At weekends I used to look at property that was for sale, despite having no money to buy anything. That gave me a good idea of the market. It took me a few years to get off the ground and set up my own property business.

After I left school I had no further contact with Mrs Evans and I often wonder what happened to her. When she was teaching me she was probably only about 30 or 35. She was glamorous and sexy with long blonde hair. She wore high heels and nice dresses. She had a vivacious charm and was slightly scatty in an energetic way. I think it was her energy that I found so inspiring. I had a bit of a crush on her and wanted to be like her.

Apart from Mrs Evans’s lessons, I hated school pretty much right through. It began badly. I remember being pulled out of the house screaming and kicking at four and being forced into the car to go to school. None of the children or the teachers liked me - apart from one kind woman called Mrs Prince. It probably didn’t help that my parents were a bit alternative, leading a self-sufficient “good life” and would come to this city school wearing overalls. My school reports were increasingly poor. I found one recently that said: “Sarah has little knowledge of the world around her and clearly has no intention of finding out any more.”

Sarah Beeny is filming a new series of Property Ladder to be shown on Channel 4 next year. She has launched completingchains.com, a property website aimed at connecting buyers and sellers. She was talking to Pamela Coleman.


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