'Oscars for teachers' ceremony to honour classroom heroes

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The Independent Online

The cream of Britain's teachers were due to win recognition last night at the second annual national Teaching Awards.

The cream of Britain's teachers were due to win recognition last night at the second annual national Teaching Awards.

Fourteen outstanding teachers were to receive their national awards - known as Platos - at a televised ceremony at the Millennium Dome in Greenwich, south-east London.

Categories in the teaching profession's "Oscars" included awards for lifetime achievement, newly qualified teacher, primary and secondary teachers and classroom assistants.

Typical of the inspirational stories behind the winners is Mike Smith, who abandoned his business career and found his true vocation in teaching because of his wife's death.

Mr Smith, aged 39 and this year's regional winner of the teaching awards in the north of England, is earning half his previous salary but says his job satisfaction as a teacher at Victoria Dock Primary School in Hull has more than doubled.

He gave up his job as a partner in a firm selling children's toiletries when his wife died of breast cancer and wanted to look after his five-year-old daughter, Emma. He started helping as a parent volunteer at Emma's school. "There weren't many men so the head asked me to do some sport. I loved it. The head said I had a natural way with children and suggested a career in teaching," he said.

But Mr Smith, who represented Hull as a 15-year-old and wanted to be a professional footballer, had no qualifications. He went on to read history at Hull university, followed by a one-year postgraduate teacher training course.

His newly qualified teacher's salary of £17,000 is about half of his former salary, but he said he had no regrets. "I get more buzz from teaching than I used to get from an order from one of the big retailers. You can't beat seeing a child understand something you are trying to put across," he said.

Sue Roach, the head at Victoria Dock primary, said: "We need to have positive male role models for boys. I would like to think that his story will inspire other men to join the profession. He is so enthusiastic and always ready to listen to advice. Parents, teachers and governors all respect him."

The awards were due to be presented by celebrities including Michael Palin, John Peel, Richard Wilson and Simon Callow. David Blunkett, the Secretary of State for Education, was also expected to attend to present awards in the national categories.