The days of our lives

Gregor Steele

I celebrated two anniversaries this summer: one very important, the other less so. In July, my wife and I celebrated our silver wedding with a party for our relatives and friends in the church hall, which was both great fun and quite moving, especially when my brother and my children gave speeches. The highlights of these tributes were my wife's fortitude in overcoming disability to have a full life teaching music to primary children, and my technique of teaching physics to my son by throwing a slipper at him.

That was the important anniversary. Of less importance is that I started teaching 30 years ago. Armed with a maths and physics teaching certificate, I entered Carluke High School wearing a brown sports jacket, brown trousers, budget brown shoes and an unconvincing brown moustache.

The first day was for in-service training, as O-grades were soon to be replaced by Standard grades. Carluke was piloting the science course. Not everyone liked what "Munn and Dunning" had proposed, and I soon learned that the first rule of the Enthusiasm for Change Club was not to talk too much about Enthusiasm for Change.

Then came the lessons. The sole of one of the budget brown shoes came away and, catching on the lino, made a hugely convincing farting noise. My Standard science class were hellish. In years to come, they would stop me in the street and say it was nothing personal. David, not quite the ringleader, would settle down with a job and family, only to have a back condition wreck everything. Nancy, too, was a smashing kid. Anyone who has had a class with a disruptive element knows the "please make it stop" look in her eyes.

The third-year physicists, however, were wonderful. Aided by the fact that they were new to the subject and didn't have a better teacher with whom to compare me, I got on well. Sitting at the back was a girl who, years later, would help me to get a blood pressure problem fixed.

The smartest thing I did that year was to convince myself that the bad classes weren't going to get worse, and indeed, as I became more skilled, they would tend towards being more like the good ones.

In these 30 years since, I have never known anything but curricular change - often not for the better.

Despite this, you have the freedom to set the physics in any context you choose. I like to think that the concept of marrying the physics to the application is now second nature to physics teachers.

So here I am, more blue, black and occasionally lilac than brown, and with non-farting shoes. No unconvincing moustache; indeed, not much hair on my head at all. And you know what? Even with hindsight, I would make exactly the same decisions that I did to set my life on the course it took, both 25 and 30 years ago this summer.

Gregor Steele is a head of section at the Scottish Schools Education Centre.

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Gregor Steele

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