Gerry was our pace maker

23rd April 2004 at 01:00
Spring is undeniably in the air, but the end of a long hard term leaves this 52-year-old feeling more than a little autumnal. I realise I have reached the stage of inhabiting a world of cliched phrases; it's a bit like being trapped in Webster's Dictionary of Quotations and Famous Phrases.

Happily, I've never yet heard the lamentable: "You taught my grandfather!"

But for the first time last week I was tempted to use the equally familiar:

"You remind me of myself when I was younger."

The occasion was the departure of Gerry, one of our English teachers. Just 30, he has earned a merited promotion to principal teacher in a large Edinburgh secondary. We'll miss him greatly, but everyone is delighted by the recognition he has received for his hard work, talent and commitment, in the English classroom, as an administrator and as part of the school as a whole.

Popular with pupils and staff alike, Gerry is, for want of a better expression, "a natural". Scottish education is blessed with thankfully large numbers of such teachers; you only have to see them in action for the briefest time to recognise that they bring something inspirational to the job and infect those around them, colleagues and pupils, with the virus of positivity.

For Gerry and his kind, education is about progress, energy and making things happen. Nothing is too much trouble if it is in the interests of school or pupils. The extra mile is willingly travelled, and the word vocation will always be far more important than vacation. In short, Gerry was a welcome antidote to those who see it as their mission to hoist the flag of cynicism and ensure that it flutters bravely.

As we bade Gerry farewell, I mused on what it was that singled out teachers like him, teachers who make a difference and aren't afraid to broadcast their love of, and commitment to, the job. I realised that, very simply, it is a question of attitude.

A positive attitude that brings the confidence to listen and learn, to gain self-esteem from the respect and affection of others, and the energy to put in the hours uncomplainingly in pursuit of the best deal for the pupils.

Working beside Gerry rejuvenated me as a teacher and challenged me to redouble my efforts as a manager. As a Hibee, I hate making the comparison, but I know Gerry would enjoy it: he was akin to Bertie Auld in the Lisbon Lions: talented and inspirational, capable of silky touches, but with an iron determination laced with a good dollop of Glaswegian steel.

His new department should treasure him, and we should all nurture the next generation of teacher leaders. It's the least our pupils deserve.

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