Angela Constance: My best teacher

18th March 2011 at 00:00
A Higher history teacher gave the education minister some vital lessons for political life

I probably didn't really engage with education fully until I was about 14. Prior to that, I was a little disengaged. Not problematic, but disengaged. When I went into third year, I made a conscious decision to apply myself to school. It was that dawning and realisation that I would have to make the most of this and get something out of it if I wanted to go and do things I wanted to do.

My strengths at school were English, history, modern studies and art, and I was competent at things like maths and accounting and good at arithmetic. I didn't have a natural aptitude for science and languages, I have to say. By the age of 14, they certainly weren't encouraging me to continue with them.

Out of all the good English and social studies teachers I had, I would opt for my Higher history teacher, Mr Fletcher, who taught me at Bo'ness Academy. I was in fifth year, so I would have been 16. He was fair, firm, clearly a teacher who enjoyed the company of young people.

He was very good, because he taught me a lot of skills that I continue to use daily, like how to put together an argument, both in writing and verbally. You need that schematic, structured approach; it is not just a blizzard of facts and figures and what you know. You have to be able to weave an argument and link things together.

Obviously, part of a politician's daily life is about communicating, about presenting an argument, about using facts or figures and arguing in a compelling way. You try to structure your thoughts, your arguments, and I have to say those practical presentation skills and skills about how to learn were things I used as a social worker as well.

Mr Fletcher had a good sense of humour. I think humour is a good way to engage with people. I think it's underused, or wrongly used, in a lot of professions.

I never heard from him again and I have absolutely no idea what he would make of my career. If I spoke to him again, I would give him a big thanks. He was an inspirational character and I just hope, whatever he is doing, that he has enjoyed his life as a teacher, because he was certainly very good and very accomplished.

I'm a former social worker and people would often ask me if that wasn't hard, but I enjoyed every minute of it. I hope that's the same for Mr Fletcher as a teacher, because I have no doubt that teaching, in the 80s or today, is not without its challenges.

I have very mixed memories about school. Senior school I have good memories of. I just wouldn't want to be a teenager and go through all that again. My recollection of being a teenager is a time of great uncertainty, not really knowing who you are. As a teenager, and particularly a young woman, you could be quite hung up on things like your size or your appearance. I would have been the same size as I am now, a little bit taller than average, probably a wee bit fuller-figured than average, which isn't an issue in an adult, but at 13 it is.

I changed schools a lot, but I certainly had friends. Probably, as I got older, I learned how to make friends and keep them, and how to socialise better. While I would have had friends in primary school, and maybe this is just the norm for everyone, as teenagers you develop closer relationships.

Up to 14, I was quite interested in physical education and sport. But then I got far more into my studies and tried to find all sorts of ways to get out of physical education. I never really got back into exercise until I was in my 30s. I believe that's not uncommon in girls.

Angela Constance was speaking to Julia Belgutay

Personal profile

Born: 1970 in Blackburn, West Lothian

Education: West Calder High, Bo'ness Academy, Glasgow University and Stirling University

Career: Social worker, mental health officer, local councillor, MSP for Livingston since 2007, Minister for Skills and Lifelong Learning since December 2010.

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