Muzaffar Hussain

24th June 2011 at 01:00
Describing himself as `hands-on and experimental', Muzaffar trained as a teacher after being made redundant as an engineer. Now the first ethnic minority teaching union president in Scotland, he is putting his boundless energy into encouraging more people from a similar background to become teachers. Photography Colin Hattersley

If you had to sum yourself up in a couple of sentences, what should people know about you?

Passion. Total passion and endless energy. As soon as I get into my classroom - and my headmaster will back me up - I don't stop. I am on the go all the time. When I get home, after I've done the dishes and my share of the housework, I switch off for a few minutes before I start again. I just go on. I think I owe that to the fact that I was raised in a shop and we worked long hours.

How did you end up being a teacher?

I was sent by my company to retrain for the 3G revolution and was then told I had no job. The careers adviser said: "Zaf, you have a lot of experience, a lot of knowledge - do you not fancy teaching?" I applied, went for the interview and had to do a presentation. I took Buzz Lightyear because, to a child, he brings joy and to an engineer, he is full of technology. How can a toy know when you twist it? How can a toy know that it has landed? There is art there, there is technology, there is science, there is chemistry.

How would you describe yourself as a teacher?

I am hands-on and experimental. When you have got lovely props that the technician has made for you, it is not a sitting-down job. You teach with a bit of passion. It's as if the classroom is alive, and my door is never closed. I teach through my learned experience, through technology, and I teach what people have passed on to me, bringing it up to date, of course. You have to do that, particularly in science and physics.

What are your big fears for the McCormac review?

My big fear is that what will suffer, if teachers are not looked after, is education itself. I have 100 per cent attendance, I enjoy my job, I am protected under pay and conditions - why are you putting this uncertainty into my profession?

Traditionally, the NASUWT has had quite low membership in Scotland. How do you explain the recent rise (from 2,540 in 2006 to 6,919 in 2011)?

Look at the investment we have made. With investment, with commitment and campaigning, putting our point of view across, it becomes a natural choice. What has inspired me is Chris Keates (NASUWT general secretary). She comes to the BME (black and minority ethnic) advisory conference, and you can ask her any question you like - she will answer. If she can't, she will find someone who will help. She empowers you. With that kind of a person beside you, leading you, you can't help but be on solid ground.

Do you think it has anything to do with the way other unions have reacted to the Cosla recommendations?

If I have to go away and do some very important work, someone has to take my classes and if that happens to be a supply teacher with the same experience as me, then surely that person needs to be paid at the same rate as I am, so that the quality is not lost. I have a degenerative eye disease. Eventually, I am going to have to go part-time. I am a chartered teacher. Surely, if I was to go into a school to do a day's work, I should be paid on my experience and the commitment to being a teacher? My union represents that.

You are being talked about as the first ethnic minority teaching union president in Scotland. How do you feel about that?

I am very honoured if I am. I want to be a role model to say to other ethnic minorities that education and the trade union movement are something they should contribute to. I attend a lot of BME consultation conferences, and there are so many people who inspire me.

The GTCS has highlighted the small number of teachers from ethnic minority backgrounds. Why do you think that is?

It has puzzled me as well. I am on the record in my authority for campaigning to encourage ethnic minorities to become active not only in education, but in the public sector, and to use it as a valued way of being a part of this community. You need positive role models to say this is a career. But can I really say that right now, with all this uncertainty?

What do you think needs to be done?

Certainty needs to be put into the system. We have an agreement - why are you changing it? Enhance it with consultation. Ethnic minorities have to take responsibility as well and become educators. I made the transition from highly-skilled engineer to committed, hard-working teacher, and there are people I know who also have an ethnic minority background, who not only want to be in - and are in - education, but are also looking for promotion. What frightens me is, for example, the contraction of principal teacher posts - will that reduce the opportunity there?

What would you have to achieve to count your presidency as a success?

I want to promote this union and the belief I have in it. If my presidency can promote to all, regardless of race, religion, gender or sexual orientation, then we are a union that represents all. I would say that is a fundamental success.

Personal profile

Born: Yorkshire, 1964

Education: Calderwood Primary and Stonelaw High, Rutherglen; Bell College and College of Technology, Paisley; Strathclyde University

Career: Shopkeeper, engineer, then science and PSHE (personal, social and health education) teacher at Braidhurst High, Motherwell; president of the Scottish Executive Council, NASUWT.

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