Back in the fold again

4th August 2006 at 01:00
The hardest job in education is probably that of the classroom teacher, but Frank Cooney does not regret his decision to return

his time last year, I was on holiday in Florida, wondering if I had made the right decision to turn my back on secure employment in teacher education and to accept a voluntary severance package from Aberdeen University. A year on, I am wishing my pupils and fellow teachers at St Ninian's High, Kirkintilloch, an enjoyable summer break. The last time I had done that was in the summer of 1991.

I left the classroom in September 1991 to become adviser in history and modern studies in Grampian Region in the halcyon days of subject support.

In 1996, the post disappeared as the Conservatives destroyed the large, cost-efficient and effective authorities, such as Strathclyde and Grampian, leading to the Balkanisation of local government.

From 1996 to 2005, I was head of social studies, first at Northern College and then at Aberdeen, following the merger between the two. The world of research was not for me and when the offer of redundancy came up I decided to take it. I would have more time to devote to writing school textbooks and to build up consultancy work, and also do some teaching.

At the end of September last year, I left the security of paid employment which had existed since 1974. It was a strange feeling knowing that if I fell ill there would be no generous employer paying my salary. I was lucky: I applied for a job share principal teacher post at St Ninian's and was appointed to begin my teaching career again in November.

I share the post with an old friend. The pupils have enjoyed the opportunity of having two different teachers. However, they are confused about one matter: we both claim that we were taught by the other.

So have I coped with the real world of education? I had taught a Higher modern studies topic in a secondary school as part of my professional development for the past few years, so I knew at least what to expect. I would say that the hardest job in education is as a classroom teacher.

Yes, you might work longer hours in the directorate and have greater responsibilities, but rank and status cut no ice with children. I was fortunate to be supported by hard-working and enthusiastic departmental colleagues who work hard to create a culture of respect and achievement.

At this time of year, I only wish to comment on the positive: every school has its challenging pupils. What I missed most as an "educational nomad"

was the family community of a school and the opportunity to share once again the ethos of a Christian school. Pupils collecting for aid and attending lunchtime mass during Lent, as well as being present at parents'

nights, were new beginnings of old experiences.

Like all schools, the majority of pupils at St Ninian's are well-behaved and enjoy school. What is different is the planned programme of action to encourage pupils to achieve their best. My departmental colleague, Paul Creaney, is principal teacher of ethos. His "Reach for the Stars" programme encourages and rewards behaviour and effort in S1 and S2, and helps to create the school's positive ethos.

The relationship between senior management and staff is excellent. In my short time at the school, I have been impressed with the openness and clear vision of the headteacher and his willingness to work in partnership with staff to achieve the goals of a School of Ambition and an ethos of achievement.

One massive change is the paper-trail demand placed on departments, whether it be departmental audits on the curriculum and assessment, recording of national test results and, above all, the self-evaluation work resulting from How Good Is Our School? It has been a new experience once again to fill in reports, prepare lesson plans and courses - and deal with class management (you forget how hilarious pupils find it when you mispronounce a fellow pupil's name).

I have also been fortunate in maintaining my profile in delivering CPD courses for modern studies and social subject teachers, and being a teacher once again provides the extra insight needed for that. School visits for Jordanhill have enabled me to continue some involvement in teacher education.

And so I survived my first year back at the chalkface. As the holidays near their end, I feel refreshed now to face the new challenge. We will have an Advanced Higher class and I have spent part of the summer preparing for the new course.

But on holiday in Italy I was able to relax in the knowledge that giving up my post in Aberdeen was the best educational decision I have ever made.

Frank Cooney is a job share principal teacher of modern studies at St Ninian's High in Kirkintilloch.

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