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Fiona Hyslop

He may not have given her a love of biology, but an impressive science teacher helped set the Scottish Education Secretary on her future career path.There weren't many teachers that you had heard of before you got them but Dr Jack Jackson was one. He was a biology teacher at Ayr Academy, where I went from 1976-81. He had the reputation of being a very impressive teacher.

I did languages and all three sciences but I didn't take any social sciences - history was all full of wars and the empire and I just wasn't interested. Besides, the science block had the best classrooms in the school. Dr Jackson's room was on the corner of the building, which meant it had two sets of windows that made it lovely and light. On a clear day you could look out across the sea to Arran.

He was a tall, quiet man with dark hair and a dark beard. He had corduroy patches on his jacket - I think all science teachers did back then. His passion and enthusiasm for science were evident. But, ultimately, he managed to influence me not to do science.

We went on a five-day trip to Culzean Castle, which is a fantastic facility. We were there to do biology. Everybody had to do a project: some folk did plants, some did beetles and others birds. I was the only person in the whole class whose project was to do a study of the visitors. I did a questionnaire for the people coming in: what they liked, what they didn't like, how long they were spending there.

Later on in life, I ended up in market research after doing a degree in economic history and sociology at Glasgow University. Dr Jackson identified my interest and my talent and steered me in that direction - people were far more interesting to me than bugs and slugs. He also introduced me to Desmond Morris's Manwatching.

I have no idea how he knew that was the right direction for me. But he was a quiet man who asked a lot of questions, which meant discussion in the classroom wasn't narrowly focused.

One definition of education comes from the Latin "educere", which means to draw out. He was good at that. He gave attention to not just the obviously bright and most able, he was also able to reach in and draw out the ability of the ones who were a bit more shy or sensitive.

I wasn't shy. I would say I was a positive contributor but probably challenging. I was engaged in the life of the school. I performed as Olivia in Twelfth Night - I spent more time learning my lines than learning Latin.

I played in the hockey and the netball teams, even though there was a bit of a class distinction: middle-class girls played hockey and working-class girls played netball. I was discursive and argumentative. My religious education teacher once described me as a "Philadelphia lawyer" - someone that would argue black was white and white was black.

I saw Dr Jackson a few years ago when I was in opposition. It was at Dynamic Earth and I had just made a speech. I don't know who was more shocked, me or him. But I was pleased to see him. I expected him to give me marks out of 10

- Fiona Hyslop has been a Member of the Scottish Parliament since 1999 and is Cabinet Secretary for Education and Lifelong Learning in the Scottish Executive. She was talking to Emma Seith.

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