Josie's mentor named as teacher of the year

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The Independent Online
The school teacher of Josie Russell, the 10-year-old who survived a hammer attack which killed her mother and sister, has been named teacher of the year in recognition of her role in her former pupil's recovery.

After the attack in July last year, Lynda Roberts recorded stories and poems for doctors to play to Josie, whose severe head injuries damaged her ability to communicate.

The teacher's voice was one of the few to which the child responded.

Once Josie had returned to the classroom at tiny Goodnestone Primary School near Canterbury, Kent, Lynda created new lessons to ensure that the injured girl was accepted by her classmates, who were also struggling to come to terms with the tragedy.

Josie and her father Shaun travelled from north Wales, where they moved earlier this year, to a ceremony in London yesterday. Josie presented her former teacher with the award together with an pounds 8,000 bursary for school funds.

Lynda, who was nominated as teacher of the year by head teacher Daryl Peek, had to tell her young pupils about the attack which devastated their village, and then break the news that their classmate was critically ill in hospital. Among the school's pupils were Lynda's own son and daughter.

"It was definitely the worst day of my life," Lynda said yesterday. "I just thought about my own kids. I knew I was going to destroy their lives ... We were looking after young children so we had to contain the pain and fear within ourselves. We had to be strong and try to make the pupils feel our school was still safe."

When Josie left hospital and returned to lessons last November, Lynda used her experience of special needs teaching to "read" her face, recognising distress in her eyes.

She also tried to encourage her pupil to say her name. "On her last day at school, just before moving to Wales, Josie walked up to me and said `Lynda' for the first time. It was the best present anyone could give me. I just hid my tears."

Lynda, who was described by her headmistress as an exceptional teacher, was selected from more than 1,000 nominations for the award by a panel of representatives of all the major teaching unions and organisations in the United Kingdom and Ireland.