How she put herself in the picture

8th August 2008 at 01:00

Matthew MacIver

There was an inevitability that Elizabeth should become a teacher and yet, going through university and even after, there was no hint that she wanted to be one. At the time, I read that as the reaction of someone almost born into a teaching family.

I was the first in my family to go to university, although my sister Margaret and I became teachers. Elizabeth's mother, Katrina, who teaches nursery and early primary, also came from a family of teachers - her father, mother and sister.

After Elizabeth graduated, she went into the North Sea oil industry in Aberdeen and I thought that was it. When she phoned to tell us she was applying for the PGCE, I was first surprised and then delighted.

It has been really good for me that Elizabeth has become a teacher. I am coming to the end of my career at the time she is starting hers. It has made me reflect on what kinds of things I would like to see stay the same and what I'd like to see change.

If she continues in teaching, she will retire from a very different profession, but there are certain values and principles I would not like to see change: the concept of teaching as developing young minds; the concept of teaching being a great privilege at the same time as a great responsibility; and the concept of teachers being critical to the development of a free society.

I was interested in how someone like Elizabeth would get through the new induction scheme, how her generation was different from ours, and how they accepted CPD portfolios and that kind of vocabulary in a way that was unknown to us.

I was of a generation when you were passed by an inspector and got your parchment after your two years of probation. Now we have a good induction system and I want it to remain that way, so generations of young teachers go on to permanent jobs and become the anchor of the next generation.

I was a history graduate and teaching was one of the jobs available where I could continue to use my subject. I loved it - I've never made any secret of that. My eight years as principal teacher of history at Craigmount High in Edinburgh were the most contented of my career.

I am still of the view that teaching is more than a job: there is a vocational element which is fundamental to the whole process. But for me, it was a subject-based activity as well. One of the great issues for the profession is the whole subject thing, and it is still very dear to my heart.

I was inspected twice as a PT but never in my 12 years as a headteacher. When I was inspected it was in the 1970s, before publication of reports, so I am unaware in many ways of the pressures people face in terms of publication and so on.

One of the issues that faced my generation was that we came into teaching at the beginning of the comprehensive era. There was a huge development of big schools and huge promotion possibilities, so many of us were promoted at young ages. I was a PT at 26. I found that intimidating because I was learning skills at the same time as running a department. There was not the same kind of in-service, CPD or awareness of the needs for training.

Where it was different, and far more liberating, was that we didn't have the publication of results or these kinds of pressures. I felt I had an autonomy, a freedom to develop interests and the interests of my department. There was none of the prescription we have now. Children benefited from experts in the department, teachers being allowed to express their own historical interest.

I came into teaching at an interesting time - the raising of the school leaving age, which was a huge step for government to take. I remember corporal punishment being banned.

The challenges for Elizabeth's generation will come from the political world. Education is going to have to face challenges from society. We have already seen that in Scotland over the health of the nation. I have always maintained that the teaching profession can't walk away from such issues.

This generation of teachers will also have to face the challenges of the skills issue, especially at the top of the secondary system. There will be challenges in terms of how much inclusion there should be. There are going to be issues about pre-school, such as the contribution of teachers For the system itself, the blurring of edges between primary and secondary will continue. And there will always be curricular issues - new subjects of interest appear and some leave us.

Elizabeth MacIver

I can remember my parents at the tea-table with my aunt Lorna, talking about 5-14. I was in P5 and that was the age when I was starting to become aware of grown-up conversations. I also remember mum and dad having lots of marking, and spending every school holiday going in with mum to set up a nursery or primary classroom and being taken to the infants' school fair to help out on the stalls. It was part of my life, not questioned. I knew about the different areas of a nursery - the sand area, the water area and reading area before I started my postgraduate course.

My mum and aunt had to work so incredibly hard and I didn't think I could. That's why I steered away from teaching for a few years. I probably rebelled and I didn't want to do what my parents did. But, at the same time, when I left school, I was like a lot of 17-year-olds and had no idea what I wanted to do.

I was quite young, but I knew that I worked best and learned best in a practical sense. I looked at the prospectuses and hospitality management appealed, so I did three years at The Robert Gordon University. As part of my course, I had to undertake a five-month placement. I was fortunate enough to get front-desk at the Harbor View Hotel in Martha's Vineyard. It was a long way away and I had to deal with a lot of difficult situations, but it gave me skills which I have used in teaching.

Back from America, I had no idea what I was going to do. So on my 21st birthday, I signed up with a temping agency. I got a long-term job with an engineering consultancy doing reception work, and I had a long hard think about my life.

What stood out was the realisation that I enjoyed working with children. In my late teens, I had taken Sunday school classes at our church. It was only then, after doing a degree and working in America, that I thought I could do this. I can appreciate the office worker and how hard that is, even an office in school. I have experience of a working environment other than education, which is good.

After probation, I was offered a temporary job at Kingswells Primary in Aberdeen until the October. It was extended to Christmas, then Easter, then summer. After that, I was able to stay on permanently.

I've been a teacher for four years and will be taking P3 this year. I've taught P6, P4, P5 and a composite P23, which was very challenging. I hadn't done infants until then, but at the end of the year I felt quite pleased. All the stuff with mum helped

It's been good having mum and dad as teachers, particularly through the postgraduate and probation years - not to do with who dad is, but the fact that he's a teacher. I remember with one difficult child in that class, they said: "We have all been through it." There was an understanding that it is hard.

Our school was recently inspected - and my parents were there for me. Colleagues whose partner or family were not in education said they did not understand the pressures at all.

It seems that, with the generation coming up, things happen quickly. The internet makes everything available, so it's more of a challenge to inspire children because they live in a very 3-D, fast-moving world. I use ICT a lot. We've got a fantastic ICT suite and we use interactive whiteboards as much as possible.

What are my concerns for the future? At the moment, the financial situation of the council where I work is concerning. I am lucky enough to know what I am doing next year but I imagine there are a lot of people sitting at home who have no idea what their future holds.

As told to Elizabeth Buie.

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