My best teacher - Kenny Logan

7th August 2009 at 01:00
Rugby became an outlet for this dyslexic sportsman thanks to a push from a playful PE teacher

My education, particularly secondary school, was a very painful experience. By the age of eight, while classmates were learning how to read and write properly, I really started to struggle and was unable to make progress.

Angry and frustrated, I couldn't process language in my head and would have constant battles with my teachers. I was dyslexic, but nobody knew. Instead, I was considered stupid.

I left my secondary school, Wallace High School in Stirling, at the age of 16 without any qualifications. I walked out of my final exams because I just thought: "Well, what's the point? I can't write down my address let alone anything else." By then, I'd had enough - throughout my education I often missed school because of a tummy ache, an obvious sign of anxiety. I never went back. I worked on my dad's farm while pursuing a career as an amateur rugby player with Stirling County.

Looking back now though, there were three people who stood out from my school days. The first was Deirdre Wilson, a kind remedial teacher, who suggested that I might suffer from dyslexia. The second was Jenny Mailer, an admin assistant, whose son, Robbie, is still my best friend.

On the endless occasions that I was thrown out of my classroom and told to stand outside - generally for talking too much, breaking pencils in frustration and not paying any attention - I would immediately head down the corridor, straight into her room for a chat. "What have you done today?" she would say. "Kenny, you have to try to concentrate."

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, I was fortunate enough to meet Norrie Bairner, who taught PE at Wallace High. PE proved to be my outlet. In sport, or rugby union, to be more specific, there is a level playing field - whether you can read or write is irrelevant to how you perform on the pitch.

Strong, naturally fit and reasonably skilful from a young age, I never once felt vulnerable or inferior playing sport. And I must thank Norrie who gave me the enthusiasm, the push, the pat on the back that I was desperately lacking at school.

What helped was that Norrie listened to me. He was welcoming and friendly. If anything, he probably realised I had issues. From the way he conducted himself and the way he worked hard, I learnt the importance of honesty on the rugby pitch.

Personality-wise, he was playful too. You could, as a group of kids, be cheeky to him - although there was a definite line that you knew you dared not cross. Above all though, he was loyal to his class.

Sometime in the 1980s, during the teachers' strike in Scotland, Norrie crossed the picket line, despite being called a scab, to ensure that our rugby team continued to train and even play. Every other teacher was stopped. Not Norrie. What a rare breed he was.

A fitness fanatic, still with long, curly hair, I understand that Norrie cycles 32 miles each day, covering the 16 miles from his home to McLaren High School in Callander in hardly any time. He is about 55 now, but doesn't look it. He has hardly aged. He is as fit as a fiddle and his passion for teaching has never diminished.

Whenever he can, he arranges exciting trips abroad for his classes - I saw him at Disneyland on a family holiday about three years ago and he told me he had taken 30 pupils to Paris. I wasn't surprised to see that he was still wearing his grey, tattered 15-year-old Timberland jersey.

We have become great friends, remaining in contact since I left school. Sometimes I wonder what I would have done, where my life would have gone, had it not been for my involvement in rugby. Goodness knows where I would be had it not been for Norrie Bairner and his inspiration.

Kenny Logan is a former rugby union winger. He is co-president of children's medical research charity Sparks and the founder of Logan's Challenge: The People's Pentathlon, taking place in five cities in September and October. He was talking to Rob Maul.

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