Personally speaking - 'If the meat's tough, put the fork in the gravy'

3rd September 2010 at 01:00
Ian McNeilly taught English in secondary schools for 15 years and is now director of the National Association for the Teaching of English and editor of boxing website BoxRec News

Who has been your biggest influence?

My father, without a doubt. He turned 80 earlier this year. Paratrooper, long distance lorry driver, voracious reader ... A few times every year during my childhood he would lift his head from whichever tome he was ploughing through and enigmatically ask, "Which two professions read the most, son?" I feigned ignorance and each time he answered, "Lorry drivers and sailors." Then he would return to his book without saying anything else. Class.

What is your career high so far?

More than five years ago, I got the best job in English education (at Brantwood School in Sheffield). I worked with a wide variety of fantastic people whose commitment and passion for the subject was a regular inspiration.

What was your worst moment in teaching?

In February this year, Brantwood closed. It was 108 years of history gone at eight days' notice. It was an independent school but academically non-selective, with a third of the pupils on the SEN register. We had just achieved our best results. Some of the GCSE pupils, who had to leave three months before their exams, had been there for 12 years.

What is the best piece of advice you have been given?

"If the meat's too tough, stick your fork in the gravy."

What would you have been if you hadn't become a teacher?

A writer of some kind. I am a qualified journalist (extreme CPD some years ago), but I prefer working in education.

What do you do on a Friday evening?

I crack open a bottle of wine and when the kids are in bed we watch a DVD made by either of the 20th century's greatest film-makers: Federico Fellini or Steven Seagal.

What was the last book you read?

Hit Man: The Thomas Hearns Story. Tommy Hearns was one of the most stylish boxers of the 1980s. I'm a big sports fan.

Are you tech savvy or a Luddite?

Don't tell our ICT committee this, but I've never been wholly convinced by the IT revolution.

What is the worst excuse you've ever heard?

Not really an excuse, more a distraction technique. I asked one of my former Year 9 "characters" for his homework. He stood up, flung his chair back, spread his arms wide and shouted, "Give us a hug, big guy!" Fair play, you've got to have bottle to do that.

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