Brings a tear to the eye

Elizabeth Buie

Pupils at St Ninian's High in East Dunbartonshire think their English teacher, David Miller, is "the best".

This week, judges of the UK Teaching Awards agreed, voting him Secondary School Teacher of the Year at a glittering, televised ceremony at the London Palladium.

Sharing the limelight were representatives of Shawlands Academy in Glasgow, which won the Sustainable Schools category.

It was a strong showing from Scotland, with entrants competing in five of the 11 categories.

David Miller, 46, has been teaching English, film and media for only six years, having worked in computer software and arts organisations in the past. He moved into teaching after being affected by cases of truancy and domestic abuse he encountered while sitting as a Children's Panel member. He felt he wanted to make a difference.

According to "Team Miller" - a group of pupils who accompanied their teacher to the awards ceremony - he has done just that.

Hannah Terrance said: "He makes lessons unforgettable, purely by conveying his passion for the subject, and the strength of feeling and warmth that he imparts makes his lessons stand out above the rest."

Another pupil, Andrew Boyle, said: "He brings an enthusiasm and dynamic energy to the classroom, which inspires us all to achieve and develop our academic capabilities, and it is just brilliant that he has been recognised for it. His lessons will remain with me for a long time."

Mr Miller confessed to The TESS, when he won the award of Teacher of the Year in the Scottish Education Awards in June, that it was not uncommon for him to break down in tears in front of his class during emotionally taut moments in great literature. He also uses photographs and movie clips to stimulate debate.

However, his headteacher, Paul McLaughlin, pays tribute to his innovative teaching practices, which encourage self-reliance and ambition. Mr Miller has piloted a fast-track course for high achievers, resulting in 90 per cent of pupils achieving A or B grades at the end of S4.

In 2006, he took pupils on a five-week World Challenge expedition to Tanzania where Masai tribesmen slaughtered a goat in his honour.

For Shawlands Academy, the prize recognising its efforts to become a sustainable school is the latest in a string of awards for its citizenship and eco-work.

Headteacher Ann Grant praised the pupils' leadership in making the school more sustainable. They see themselves as the "the next generation of pollution fighters".

The school's long list of achievements includes the establishment of an Eco Club which encourages pupils to cycle to and from school and the construction of a cycle shed; setting up a bicycle-hire scheme; the creation of a garden area with lottery money; refurbishment of nearby Pollok Park; and writing and performing a play, called Litterhitters, in French, to celebrate their achievement.

Significantly, the whole school has changed its thinking on waste and sustainability - not just a small band of activists. Last year, it recycled 885 kgs of paper and plastic bottles, as well as ink cartridges and mobile phones. Staff and pupils also send old shoes to Africa.

See interviews with the winners of the UK Teaching Awards 2008 here

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Elizabeth Buie

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