Gone, after 33 years and 173 days . . .

2nd May 1997 at 01:00
I was one of the teachers who took advantage of Glasgow City Council's unexpected munificence and yesterday (Thursday) was my last day in school. I approached the announcement of the voluntary severance package with puzzlement ("Does this mean what I think it means?"), then interest ("Let's see what it comes to in hard cash"), rejection ("Thanks but no thanks, I've got a few good years left in me"), reappraisal ("Please am I allowed to think again?") and finally acceptance ("Maybe I do have a contribution to make but all things considered, including this offer, do I want to?").

As a result of my equivocation and aided by the patience of those processing the applications, I had about a week before I eventually ventured across my own personal Rubicon. Slightly more than a week, in fact: I filled in the first form incorrectly and the second one arrived having been all chewed up in transit. Whether the culprit was a rogue Post Office machine or someone out to settle an old score I don't know, though it did lead to some of my colleagues suggesting this was an omen that I was not destined to leave.

Looking back, I can say that I enjoyed teaching. There, I've done it, I've used the past tense for the first time. I'll rephrase that: I enjoyed teaching, and I trust that the emphasis is appreciated.

In a recent article Joseph Kelly praised a colleague who also took the deal and referred to the kind of "alchemy between what comes in at primary 1 and what comes out at primary 3". I share his approval of the "product" model in schools. I enjoyed taking pupils for a block of teaching and at the end of the block observing what we had achieved together, however fraught the process. The same applied many times over to most of the older pupils after four years' secondary education.

I now have some concern that I might miss teaching too much. When that emotion strikes me, I attempt to dispel the concern by dwelling on the list of my least favourite things connected with the business of teaching and the near-certainty that what the council was offering is unlikely to be repeated.

I know that whatever my mental state I would evoke little sympathy from my erstwhile colleagues. For the most part the dominant emotion has been more akin to the vice of covetousness and envy than the virtue of compassion. I will, however, at the risk of appearing patronising express unreserved sympathy for them.

Teachers in Glasgow have always had a difficult job. This much I did learn after working for 33 years and 173 days in secondary schools in the east and north-east of the city. With the disappearance of 270 or so teachers a wealth of what Joseph Kelly refers to as "experience, nous, artfulness and talent" has gone. Their collective contribution will be missed for some time.

In my own school five folk took the early road. All of them, including the only one who was keen to go, were vastly experienced. All contributed in different ways to the life of the school, and four, myself among them, found ourselves in a personal and professional dilemma. If, as I believe to be the case, the pattern is replicated throughout the city, then notwithstanding the quality of the replacements many schools could find the immediate future more problematic than it might otherwise be. According to the east end rumour mill, one secondary school is due to require at least eight new members of staff as a result of departures. The position will be compounded by recent cuts. Staffing levels have been reduced, even where pupil rolls are projected to rise, non-teaching time has been reduced and, yes, school rationalisations are imminent.

My sympathy for colleagues staying on is at least better than the near-bilious Schadenfreude of one who from the day he was granted premature retirement displayed a set of large number cards on the staffroom wall and every morning would ostentatiously rip one off. His constant gloating led me to suggest to him about D-Day minus 10 that the sooner the number reached zero the better. So piqued was he that he resigned from the Educational Institute of Scotland of which I was school representative, questioning my "inconsideration" as he was leaving on compassionate grounds. This was rich bearing in mind that I had written his application.

Anyway, that's it, I'm off, earlier than I had intended, still on top of the job and still trying to convince myself that as this door closes another one marked "Life beyond teaching?" (note the question mark) opens. Time will tell.

John Cairney taught at All Saints Secondary School, Glasgow.

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