‘Every teacher has the capacity to change a young person’s life’ - Educating Yorkshire’s ‘Mushy’ on the power of education

The stars of the last episode of Educating Yorkshire (Thornhill Communtiy Academy) - Mr Burton and Musharaf. (D523B344)
The stars of the last episode of Educating Yorkshire (Thornhill Communtiy Academy) - Mr Burton and Musharaf. (D523B344)
Have your say

A single teacher has the capacity to radically change a child’s life, the star of Educating Yorkshire has said, given the time and will to invest in young people.

Musharaf Asghar, better known as ‘Mushy’, captured the hearts of the nation nearly six years ago after overcoming a stammer with the support of English teacher Matthew Burton.

Speaking ahead of a two-day conference in Leeds aimed at inspiring the best teachers and leaders into schools facing the greatest challenges, he said the capacity for change is there.

And the rewards for those who go into teaching to change lives are unlimited.

“Teachers do have that impact,” he said. “Teaching is one of the hardest jobs in the world. It’s stressful, and long hours, and the pay isn’t as good as it could be.

“But the impact, on a child’s life, is immense. Anything is possible.”

Today and tomorrow will see the fifth annual Well Met Teach First conference held in Leeds, to be attended by 2,500 trainee and new teachers. Teach First recruits, trains and supports teachers specifically for schools that serve low-income communities within England and Wales.

Now aged 21, Mr Asghar is to be keynote speaker. He’s come a long way from the teenager he was at Thornhill Academy in Dewsbury, struggling with a debilitating stammer. At the age of five, he had suffered an asthma attack and, when he woke, found he could no longer talk.

“When I woke up I could hear but I wasn’t able to get the words out,” he said. “I have vivid memories of the doctor saying I would never be able to speak again.

“At the age of five, to hear a professional telling you that something had been taken away and will never come back – it picked away at me.

“I was struggling to do the most basic things – make a phone call, greeting people. As I grew up, I felt very secluded. Nobody really understood.

“I went into secondary school, and there was one teacher who was able to sit down and listen to me. That was Mr Burton.

“As a kid, we think the teacher is there for education. That we can’t really turn to them for anything outside of that. Mr Burton would just sit with me, he heard every word I said.

“It wasn’t drastic. It was just about letting me get my words out.

“A teacher is not just there to get pupils past exams. They are there to pick you up – and tell you when you can achieve.

“He wasn’t a doctor. He was just an ordinary teacher. He put himself out to help a kid. He gave me that reassurance that anything is possible.”

In the years since the programme was aired, Mr Asghar’s life has radically trained. All his childhood years, he had worked towards going to university to become a pharmacist.

Instead, he is now a motivational speaker, spending his time talking to children, young people and teachers about his journey and how he overcame those challenges.

“It’s been a rollercoaster, that’s the only way to put it,” he said. “I’ve come a long way, and with every speech it gets easier.

“I’ve worked all over, spoken in front of 12,000 people.

“My life was about getting through high school, and becoming a pharmacist. In Year 11, when I found my voice, it turned a new chapter in my life.

“It is possible to change a child’s life, if you put your mind to it. Those teachers that are willing can have an impact.

“Nobody will say teaching is easy, but it’s about those small moments.

“Teachers are changing lives on a daily basis, it’s just not always captured on television.

“I’m just a kid from Yorkshire who had a little luck. I thought I would be a pharmacist with a stammer.”

The Well Met fifth annual Teach First conference is to be held in Leeds today and tomorrow, drawing 2,500 trainee and new teachers from across the country.

Reuben Moore, director of leadership, said: “It’s a stark fact that education in this country remains unfairly divided between the haves and have-nots, so it’s all the more important that we get talented individuals into our schools to raise standards for everyone.”