The importance of teachers

Vincent Jerome, who plays the stern deputy head in Waterloo Road, recalls some of the most influential figures in his own life

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I wouldn’t be where I am today without teachers. Not just because I’m playing one in Waterloo Road, the BBC drama set in a fictional Manchester high school but more specifically, I would have never become an actor in the first place. So it goes without saying that I have a certain amount of appreciation for those who have answered the call to educate the nation’s young people. 

I’d like to point that I am not an expert on education, nor am I a real teacher. This is a personal essay about actual teachers who have had a profound effect on my life.

 In researching the role of Lindon King, Waterloo Road’s stern new deputy head, I learned that most teachers have to fill a multitude of roles – a fact most people are unaware of, as I was before I got the job. Aside from the obvious one in the job title you also need to add mentor, friend, counsellor and sometimes even parent to their long list of responsibilities. Although not every teacher is an academic magician, when I cast my mind back to those who really made an impression on me, the good always outweighs the bad. 

I was lucky to have university lecturers like Tony Gardner, who knew exactly what to do when I came to him during my first semester absolutely exhausted. He recommended I buy a copy of Uta Hagen’s Respect for Acting and take up swimming to relax. 

Colin Counsell was a warm, intelligent, dignified man who you couldn’t help but admire

He was also the person who reminded me, upon leaving university, that most actors don’t work the majority of the time and if I was lucky enough to be in the small percentage that did, I should be grateful. Not sure how much of that my twemtysomething self took in, but in the years since, I’ve come to appreciate those words of wisdom. 

Along with Tony, there was Thomas Kampe – my slightly eccentric dance and movement teacher, who forced me out of my comfort zone and allowed me to explore different qualities of performance that I came to love. 

Dr Colin Counsell was a warm, intelligent, dignified man who you couldn’t help but admire. He was also the person I went to for advice after a break-up. He probably had an abundance of paperwork to mark and various other things that needed his attention but he made time for me and, as a result, earned my undying respect. 

To fully grasp how invaluable teachers were to my life, I need to go back to my time at college, to two people without whom I would have never made it to uni. Firstly, Graham Hulme, a college teacher who became something of a mentor, who I loved and respected deeply – but it didn’t start out that way.  

After my first semester, he told me to quit college and go do something else. Yes, you read that right. I was told to drop out because apparently I was loud, disruptive, didn’t take anything seriously and was wasting everyone’s time. On reflection, I can definitely see where he was coming from and in a strange act of defiance, I stuck with the course, passed and moved on to a two-year advanced media course. 

Staying in college allowed Graham and I to form an unlikely but meaningful bond. Before I began the advanced course, I was offered the opportunity to do an A-level to go along side my course. I chose drama and this is where I met Dan. 

Dan asked for a private word. That’s when he gave me the talk that changed my entire life

One of my biggest regrets is never staying in touch with Dan (I can’t even remember his surname). All I know is he was a tall, dark and handsome man from Liverpool who was in a few episodes of Brookside and came in to cover my second year of A level drama and theatre Studies. We got on well and he was someone I admired greatly. 

In my final weeks of college, after being accepted onto a degree course studying photography, Dan asked for a private word. That’s when he gave me the talk that changed my entire life. He told me he thought I was good and that I should consider becoming an actor. To put this into perspective: I was a working-class black kid with no artists in my family, who never (openly) thought about pursuing an acting career. Regardless, Dan laid out everything he knew about being a professional actor – the good, the bad and the ugly. The conversation ended and I was left with a feeling of empowerment that would eventually manifest into me quitting my photography course and re-applying to universities that offered drama. 

Not only did Dan believe in me but he also provided knowledge that would allow me to make an informed decision about what I wanted to do with my life. This is the power of teachers! The best ones have the ability to see the specific needs of a student and apply the right amount of discipline, compassion and guidance necessary to allow people to flourish. It is a position that requires a level of patience and understanding, while instilling information and inspiration. 

Education professionals aside, I’ve been fortunate to learn from a wide variety of “teachers”. Some were family members, others are people I’ve worked with, some are people I’ve never even met. Regardless, there are lessons to be learned at all stages of life and we should never underestimate the importance of the people who give them. 

Vincent Jerome plays Lindon King in Waterloo Road, which returns to BBC on 3 Jan (photo credit: Chris W Cox)

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