Noble in suffering the slings and arrows of her good fortune

24th October 2008 at 01:00
Two years ago, as a probationer in Edinburgh, Susan Ward (below) won the UK Teaching Award for Outstanding New Teacher of the Year. She reflects here on the experience of being vilified online by other teachers and the ensuing support she received

As the first Scottish winner of a UK Teaching Award, much was made of my success north of the border. Success is a word used a lot these days in Scottish education: pupils are encouraged to "strive" for it; to eat healthily you need to be "hungry for success". Teachers and educationists often describe the pursuit, attainment and celebration of success as signs of an effective education.

Perhaps in Scotland we have this drive to promote success because of what seems to be called the "tall poppy syndrome". It's a "who-does-she-think-she-is?" reaction that teachers like me are working hard to eradicate. Back from London with my gold Plato, I experienced the unpleasantness of that reaction.

A friend alerted me to 'The TESS' website where a discussion thread, entitled "vomit-inducing news item", had erupted within hours of the televised show. There, I found teachers debating the validity of the award, questioning my credentials and engaging in a general "what's she doing that's so special?" discussion.

I was horrified. I posted a response; I felt it was unfair and totally inappropriate to respond so negatively to an event which was an opportunity to celebrate success in Scottish education.

The media picked up the story and, by the following day, I was again front-page news, but for a much less happy reason: I was a "tall poppy" - that is, way above myself.

The response from the wider teaching community was swift and forceful. I received letters of support from as far as Canada and Australia. My email inbox crashed with the volume of supportive emails.

In the following months, I was stopped in the street many times by parents and people from the Juniper Green community who wanted to wish me well. Edinburgh city councillors hosted a civic reception in my honour and let me invite 30 guests.

The initial backlash was unpleasant, but the subsequent response by the teaching community was important because it fuelled the debate about success and achievement in Scotland. There will always be siren voices, detractors who seek to rip others down, but Scotland is now, and always has been, a strong, proud country and our education system supports that.

Log-in as an existing print or digital subscriber

Forgotten your subscriber ID?


To access this content and the full TES archive, subscribe now.

View subscriber offers


Get TES online and delivered to your door – for less than the price of a coffee

Save 33% off the cover price with this great subscription offer. Every copy delivered to your door by first-class post, plus full access to TES online and the TES app for just £1.90 per week.
Subscribers also enjoy a range of fantastic offers and benefits worth over £270:

  • Discounts off TES Institute courses
  • Access over 200,000 articles in the TES online archive
  • Free Tastecard membership worth £79.99
  • Discounts with Zipcar,, Virgin Wines and other partners
Order your low-cost subscription today