A good man to have on your side

I MET Jim on my first day of teaching in 1975. As assistant head, with Zapata moustache, he looked a bit scary, but a lunchtime drink was the first of many pints over the years, and a close friendship followed. We have suffered together for our beloved Hibs, and are bound by that hallucinatory routine of self-delusion that is the Thursday night five-a-sides.

Now Jim is retiring and I find myself reflecting on a personal and professional relationship that has lasted all my adult life. Such an exercise is, of course, better performed in conversation - in print, it's bound to read like an obituary. However, let's get real: we are Scots males, after all.

In fact, it's easy to identify what I learnt from Jim. So many buzz-words have flown from the hive of educational policy over the past decades that it would make your head spin, but, underlying all the reports and recommendations, is the certainty that, without a basic humanity in our approach to the job, we are doomed to fail.

As a probationer, I learnt from watching Jim with pupils across the range of abilities and attitudes. Every pupil was important; even the most recalcitrant had the right to a hearing, and an explanation of why their action was unacceptable. Humour was an integral part of his approach; an invaluable reminder that we should never get too pompous or full of ourselves, and that there are few situations that can't be moved on in some way by seeing the funny side.

His appearances in staff pantos were legendary. Pupils responded because they knew, whatever they had done, that he liked them and would treat them with integrity. His flexible vision of education, encompassing residentials, art work and community and inter-agency involvement, was ahead of its time.

I moved into guidance, and watched him with parents. The same warmth and approachability generally won the day. He recognised their concerns and uncertainties; he was understanding in his manner and, like their children, they felt valued by his response. This seems simple, but only succeeds when supported by a wealth of expertise and commitment.

Many across this city will look to the inspiration they received from the unassuming guy who left Edinburgh College of Art in the 1960s, with a denim Beatle cap and a red tie, and devoted his career to a city centre school, fostering its reputation for caring and nurturing.

He's earned his early retirement, and he has much more to offer. I'm just concerned that, with more time on his hands, his game on a Thursday night will improve.

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