Experience counts but attitude is everything

15th September 2006 at 01:00
Talking to one of his newer teachers recently, headteacher Gordon Mackenzie was chuffed when the young man said he considered himself a teacher first and foremost and then a teacher of his subject.

"Good teaching has a lot to do with enthusiasm and a determination to have a positive impact on pupils," says Mr Mackenzie, a past president of the Headteachers' Association of Scotland and head at Balwearie High in Kirkcaldy for 18 years.

Mr Mackenzie will present the TES Scotland lecture at this year's Scottish Learning Festival on what makes a good teacher and the pitfalls to avoid.

Sharing the platform will be Jane Harrison, a newly qualified teacher from Denbeath Primary in Buckhaven, Fife.

Fife has some of the largest secondary schools in the country, with Balwearie High numbering 1,700 pupils and 120 teaching staff. It means Mr Mackenzie has interviewed many new teachers over the years. Some of them have come straight out of university; others have come to teaching late, after, perhaps, decades in another profession. His experience has taught him that age has little bearing on whether someone will be a good teacher or not.

"I've known young teachers who have been outstanding and more mature ones that have been equally outstanding," he says. "What has marked them out is their attitude to the job.

"Of course, experience counts for a lot, but a really enthusiastic new teacher can be excellent."

Keeping an open mind as a prospective employer is important, but Mr Mackenzie knows what he is looking for in a candidate. "I always look for someone who is interested in the profession and sees it as a good job with good prospects, a job where they can make a difference. And I want someone who looks at each child individually, recognising that it is not a level playing field.

"We are all learners. The belief that there is this learning curve at the beginning and then you know your job is long gone now," he says. "That has been one of the successes of the teachers' agreement. It has created an awareness that we must all keep learning."

Further attributes in good teachers are being able to work within a team and be reflective. He doesn't expect such skills overnight - being able to make a contribution may take experience - but he does expect his teachers to be willing to learn. "Self-evaluation is strong in Scotland, and teachers need to be willing to look at what they do and ask if they could do it better," he says.

But Mr Mackenzie's wish list comes with a caveat for all new teachers; besides enthusiasm, sympathy and a determination to keep learning, they must also be prepared to graft.

Su Clark


TES Scotland lecture, by Gordon Mackenzie and Jane Harrison, Wednesday, 9.30am

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