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Art of teaching lies in being fascinating

They are, perhaps, an odd pairing, but the recent demise of Bob Crampsey reminded me of Roger McGough or, more precisely, one of his poems. He suggested that art teachers' dreams "lie portfolioed in the attic". In other words, to paraphrase the old saying: Those who teach don't use their talents, they merely pass them on.

The marvellous thing about Crampsey, of course, was that he disproved this suggestion: as well as a heidie, he was, among other accomplishments, historian, sportswriter, radio presenter, journalist, quiz contestant, musician and author. He managed to find the energy to employ his many talents as well as gain success in education.

Rather than sidelining his many interests, subjugating them to his main employment, he used them to enrich his capabilities as an educator. Indeed, in one of the many fulsome and well-deserved tributes he received, it was pointed out that it was, in a sense, his misfortune to have been born a middle class Scot: had he been working class, he would have been thought of as a classic lad o' pairts and, born English, he might well have been considered a Renaissance Man.

All who knew him agreed that to spend time in his company was to be endlessly fascinated and amazed by his encyclopaedic knowledge and his effortless artistry in dispensing it. Inevitably, this gives us food for thought.

As we head back to school, hopefully refreshed from a holiday period which afforded us the time to indulge in our extra-mural talents and interests, we need to hold on to the energy thus created.

The business of education is becoming progressively more complex and complicated, with number crunching, detailed syllabus requirements and multi-course options often in danger of blocking out the original fascination and fun of the subject matter - emotions which presumably were responsible for each teacher's original desire to teach.

For all the words expounded on training courses and in-service programmes, in reports, research and documents, at its roots, the art of teaching is remarkably simple: successful teachers need well-developed interests themselves so they can achieve effectiveness in the classroom by the simple precept of being interesting. If the pupils can't be persuaded to listen, then they aren't going to learn.

Have a good year using all your talents.

Sean McPartlin, is depute head of St Margaret's Academy in Livingston.

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