A popular teacher found her career in ruins after publishing a story about her pupils on the internet. Robert Sutcliffe meets 'Miss Rusty'
WHEN Leonora Rustamova was begged by teenage boys in her English class to write a novel about them, she never dreamt it would end in her getting sacked, facing possible bankruptcy and becoming a figure of worldwide notoriety.
Now for the first time since the scandal erupted, the popular 40-year-old teacher known as "Miss Rusty", tells the inside story about how the stress almost destroyed her and how she is planning to ''fight for justice'' at a forthcoming employment tribunal.
Her nightmare began in January last year when she was suspended from Calder High School, near Hebden Bridge, where she had taught for more than 11 years, after her risqu novel StoP! DoN't ReAD tHiS! was accidentally published on the internet.
The book, which is peppered with expletives, names several teachers including headteacher Stephen Ball and features five Year 11 pupils – all real students and referred to as Miss Rusty's favourites.
One pupil is referred to as fantasising and flirting with Mrs Rustamova while she says she would do almost anything for a smile from another.
Mr Ball personally approved the first five chapters of the novel and told her she had pulled off "a triumph", saying: "You've done a superb job with this.''
The book also features pupils skipping school, a small amount of gratuitous violence and a chilling encounter with adult reality after the boys discover a criminal drug den.
Following her suspension, police had to be called to the school after hundreds of students held a mass demonstration in support
Mrs Rustamova, who at one time held a senior position at the school as Head of Year responsible for eight staff, also won the backing of many parents who admired her dedication and demanded her reinstatement.
But it was all to no avail as she was sacked in May, leaving her unemployed and with her promising career in tatters.
Her suspension prompted huge media interest with broadcasters across the world intrigued by the story, including American Fox News, contacting her.
While some teachers were in awe of her talents to inspire and teach some of the toughest boys in the school, there were other teachers and officers at Calderdale Council who saw her as a foul-mouthed "loose cannon'' prone to intemperate outbursts and endowed with a potentially dangerous "no boundaries'' philosophy.
Mrs Rustamova, who lives in Salendine Nook, Huddersfield, with her 15-year-old daughter Flora, said: "I found a recent pre-tribunal hearing very encouraging. I love teaching, I love kids and I want to carry on with my career.
"Because of the far reaching ramifications of the sacking – I can't get work without a reference and I have been referred to the independent safeguarding authority to see whether I should be banned from working with children and vulnerable adults – it has not left me with any choice but to go down this path.
"I also firmly believe that what happened to me was a disproportionate response on the part of the school to my mistake of putting the book on the internet. I really want to clear my name.
"At the moment, I am absolutely certain that I am going ahead with this action unless the school is prepared to agree a settlement out of court.
"I want an admission that I was unfairly dismissed and a fair reference so I can carry on with the job I love.''
She said the sacking was a horrible shock and it felt like a bereavement but said one of the worst moments of the saga occurred when Calderdale Council sent her a letter informing her that she would be referred to the safeguarding authority.
In addition, the authority said in a counterclaim it wanted thousands of pounds for the legal expenses incurred over her sacking, the cost of hiring someone else to teach her lessons and other costs.
She said: "That was an awful time and I would have been utterly crushed had it not been for the support of the community, my family and all my friends in Hebden Bridge.
"That was the worst time because I thought these people would stop at nothing but I realised that there was a fight that needed to be fought.
"That is what kept me going and the belief that I had not done anything wrong to merit their reaction. I was a useful, high-profile member of staff - who had just been newly promoted – and this whole situation has been blown up out of all proportion.
"I was cheered the other day when one of my ex-students told me: 'You have to clear your name because I want you to teach my kids.'
"It has been an extremely difficult time for me – at the
start the DSS stopped my benefits, claiming I had deliberately got myself sacked.
"I'm a single parent and one minute I was earning 34,500 and the next I was in very difficult circumstances.
"It's been a very humbling experience.''
She says she still feels bemused by her ordeal and there are inevitably times when it all gets too much.
She said: "The other day I was bending over to help my daughter and her friend with their homework at home and it reminded me of being at school – that is something teachers do all the time – and it just got to me.
"It was my family that school, I loved it. I loved going there, I felt valued and I felt appreciated.''
Asked if it is hard living almost directly opposite her daughter's school, she says that on the contrary she enjoys being close to the ebb and flow of school life outside her door.
But she adds waking up on the first day of a new term with life springing anew for her friends and daughter, but no school bell summoning her to a lively classroom, can be traumatic.