Give me a fast car with the top down;Opinion

22nd January 1999 at 00:00
DURING THE festive season I read, yet again, of the shortage of teachers in Scotland. It is always gratifying to be reminded of this. Why? Well, human nature being what it is, we like to hear that we are a precious commodity. All right, maybe that is a touch excessive, but let me enlarge.

In my school most of the teachers are middle-aged. In fact, within recent memory, a goodly percentage of us reached our 40th birthdays in the same year. We were born in 1954 - a right good vintage, incidentally - Michael Forsyth (come back, Michael, all is forgiven!) hit middle age in the same year.

It was, frankly, rather embarrassing. Our teaching colleagues organised a surprise birthday celebration for us. Imagine the scene. We entered the staffroom to find baby photos festooning the walls and "Happy Birthday To You" being belted out at full volume.

Actually, I was lucky. The glorious shot of my infancy had failed to arrive - it had been sent by my husband via the council's internal mail system and, for once, the gods were on my side. But the pi ce de resistance was the lovely bambina cut-out of a Mothercare catalogue as a substitute for my lost photo. No one wanted me to feel left out.

However, speaking of "glossy" and soft focus, the majority of Scottish teachers are telling themselves that age is only skin-deep. It's commonplace now to hear folk talk about pensions AVCs and reduced fares on the buses. You know what I mean.

The truth, though, is genuinely disturbing. Retirement is within hailing distance for many of the current teaching workforce. If you don't believe me, cast a cautious glance round the nooks and crannies of your establishment. Many under-30s? Under-25s? A soupcon of youth maybe? Please don't write and say that I am ageist. I'm just stating a fact: the teaching profession in Scotland is becoming as ancient as the country's monuments.

In my school we have one young man under 30 on the permanent staff and I feel sorry for him because he is overworked. He is the obvious contender for the sexy Santa Claus at the Christmas frolics and he is the winning candidate to bestow goodbye kisses on retiring pensionable females.

Lucky for him, some might observe, to be in such demand but he does have his teaching job as well.

And that is the important matter - we need young people to come into the profession. It is not just desirable but essential. Young enthusiasts might inspire the hopeless among us.

Remember what is said about drowning: after you have ceased to struggle, it can become a delightful sensation. Likewise, the battle-fatigued cynics might realise that it is time to worry when they are enjoying their own cynicism. If there is any chance of youth splashing monochrome with colour, let's go for it.

Then there is simple need. In many areas, it is almost impossible to find enough supply teachers to cover illness and essential development work. Admirable as is the advance of technology, earthlings will always need to be taught by a real flesh and blood being.

Recently, when speaking about the intricacies of the Reformation in the context of church history, I became aware that some expressions were glazed and I asked my pupils if they were bored. They replied that the opposite was true; they were amazed to hear someone talk with enthusiasm, but without worksheets and overheads, on their own subject. The pupils will benefit from the training of more teachers.

But I have to confess that my conscience will not allow me to finish without offering some small comfort to the over-35s.

As a schoolgirl, my most inspiring teacher was a wonderful lady of almost retiring age. Her comments on literature have remained with me for quarter of a century but I also recall her brilliantly dyed hair, her fashionable clothes and, the most wonderful thing of all, her sports car in which she drove to school - with the top down.

I want the Scottish parliament to tackle these issues but, when that time comes in my life, I, too, want the sports car with the top down.

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