Former Apprentice star urges Milton Keynes families to support 'Thank a Teacher Day'

Jaz Ampaw-Farr says a teacher 'saved her life' during her tormented childhood

Tuesday, 22nd June 2021, 11:46 am

Former Apprentice star and international speaker Jaz Ampaw-Farr is calling for families in her home town of Milton Keynes to pledge their support for national ‘Thank a Teacher Day’ tomorrow.

The campaign, led by The Teaching Awards Trust and is backed by The Department of Education, gives communities across the UK the chance to say a huge thank you to the nation’s teaching heroes.

For local ambassador and former teacher Jaz, teachers played a particularly important role in her troubled childhood - and saved her from a life on the streets.

Jaz Ampaw-Farr

"There’s no doubt that I owe my life to five special teachers, so this campaign is very close to my heart," said the mum of three.

"Growing up in an abusive household, where I was in and out of foster care and living in the kind of deprivation that saw me stealing food in order to survive, my teachers took the time to make a series of vital human connections with me which disrupted an almost inevitable path of drugs, crime and exploitation. Their impact actually led me to turn my life around and become a teacher myself - I wanted to be the ‘everyday hero’ to others that they had been to me.”

Jaz has navigated an incredible journey from being a ‘disadvantaged’ child to advising governments on education policy. For the last 25 years, she’s been motivating educators as a teacher, leader, government advisor and now travels the world as an international keynote speaker. 

At the age of 11, Jaz fled a life of abuse from her stepfather and was living on the streets with a pimp.

“I was convinced I’d be dead before I started secondary school," she said. " What I knew is that my step-dad would eventually kill me. We were beaten within an inch of our lives, whipped and locked away in dark cellars without food."

Turning up to school hungry and frightened, her teachers understood that this needed to be acknowledged before Jaz was able to learn. When one teacher, Mr Williams, asked about her bruises and she did what she always did – she lied.

“I think you’re protecting someone," Mr Williams told her. "And what I want you to know is that I’m here to protect you.”

Jaz was taken into foster care at aged eight, but subsequently returned home and at 11 she found herself living on the streets, being controlled a pimp. It wasn’t until this point that Jaz had a moment of realisation and things began to change:

“He (the pimp) took me shopping for clothes, which I now know is as part of the grooming process. I held up this outfit and all I could think of was ‘Mrs Cook wouldn’t like this.’ She was my year one teacher and she did everything she could to humanise a connection with me.

“So there I am seven years later, seeing her face, hearing her voice, imagining her clothes and smelling her perfume. I dropped the costume and ran. I handed myself in to social services. Mrs Cook literally saved my life. School meant everything to me and that human connection was what I craved.

“They saved my life and took me away from an inevitable path of drugs, crime and child sexual exploitation. Their kindness actually led me to become a teacher myself as I wanted to help people the same way they’d helped me.”

Jaz has also supported Marcus Rashford’s school meals campaign, saying it would have made all the difference to her.

"At age 12, I was just four stone and malnourished. You could see my ribs through my skin – I was so ill. But aside from nutrition, let's talk about value and self-worth…When you are so used to being hungry all the time, it gets tied in with poor performance and achievement. You’re told that you’re not working hard enough, or you can’t do the work because you’re measured on grades. Now imagine being asked to believe in the delayed gratification that education will bring you. "

Jaz, now 50, regularly works with schools and businesses to help with the challenges they face around people-leadership, diversity and resilience.

She moved to MK just before she had her first child - so all three of her children have been educated in Milton Keynes schools.

She has provided literacy training in Milton Keynes schools, including Glastonbury Thorn, Two Mile Ash, Whitehouse, Ashbrook, and every school in the city has seen her TEDx talk.

Jaz is also a governor on the board of governor at Hazeley Academy.

“National Thank a Teacher Day is a great way to praise our school superstars, particularly after the year we’ve had!” said Jaz, “This is the ideal opportunity to show that really special teacher, teaching assistant, or playground helper how much they mean to you. By sharing your appreciation at www.thankateacher.co.uk, they will receive a special card letting them know just how thankful you are. A selection will be read out by some surprise celebrity guests on Wednesday June 23," she said.

Joining the campaign is easy. Simply write a song, or a poem or draw a picture, then use the hashtags #ThankATeacherDay and #HowWillYouSayThankYou when posting on social media.

Mary Palmer, CEO of The Teaching Awards Trust, said: “We’re so excited by the plans for Thank a Teacher Day this year and can’t wait to see all the brilliant ‘Thank You’ videos come flooding in. We’ve had thousands of thank you messages come in over the course of the year and we know how much these mean to our fantastic teachers and school support staff. It’s great to see so much support for our school staff across the country, and I’d encourage everyone to get involved with an absolutely brilliant cause.”