Ramblings and adventurous spirits

6th June 2003 at 01:00
A little nostalgia is called for at this time of year, so sit back, it is story time.

Some time ago a very well respected depute headteacher retired from our school. As many of us may be doing soon, we gathered in a restaurant to celebrate her long service to children in Edinburgh.

On that occasion I was struck by the fact that we were all sitting enchanted by her many interesting stories about her life as a teacher but also saddened by the fact that we are all so busy in our daily lives that there is little time to share such stories on a more regular basis.

One story recalled life in a school near Leith barracks. Daily, on their way to school, the older boys tormented the young soldiers on duty outside the barracks and, daily, they were locked up until just before the bell rang at 9 o'clock.

Like many of my colleagues, I come from a long line of teachers. Looking back at my family, one of the things I see is past solutions for teacher shortages. Long before the General Teaching Council for Scotland guided procedures for entry into teaching, both my mother and mother-in-law were uncertificated teachers in Ayrshire, at Belmont Academy and Rankinston primary. Their curriculum was largely based on what they remembered they were taught at school.

Later my mother chose to attend Jordanhill College of Education as one of the mature students so beloved of younger counterparts because of their commitment to their studies.

The normal pattern for newly qualified staff was to teach "up country" for a while, which my mother did before being given a post nearer to her home in Ayr.

Some supply teachers think that South Queensferry is miles from Edinburgh and much too far to go for a day's teaching.

How I wish I could turn the clock back and ask my grandfather so many questions which never occurred to me as a child.

As the son of a worker in the Ayrshire blanket mills at Skeldon, he somehow or other won a place at Glasgow University to study the classics. He literally walked to digs in Gibson Street once a term from Ayrshire.

I think that one of my daughters is adventurous for going off for a gap year in Australia. Yet, all these years ago, my grandfather set off for Singapore with a friend, Willie Campbell, who later became a primary headteacher at Alloway Primary in Ayr. Together they had wanted to go to Canada but were angry when asked to complete extra training: in their eyes, a Scottish education was the best in the world. So, Singapore was their choice as no extra training was required, and off they set for Raffles Institute to teach English.

That lasted for two years until these adventurers crossed the bridge into Malaysia and became rubber planters for 11 years before returning to teaching careers in Scotland.

I do remember stories of my grandfather being a pupil teacher in Coatbridge with 52 pupils in his class. I also know that his headship was at Lethanhill, in the hills above Patna, near Ayr. I'm not sure how useful Latin and Greek would have been to his pupils. Some of the women had never left "the hill" but to walk down the road with their men's betting slips and collect a board of bread for their return journey to their homes.

My great aunt would dearly have liked to have been a teacher but then, of course, only the boys were educated.

Years later, I had a full grant to follow my own studies to be a teacher. I wonder if it is as easy for today's young generation to follow their dreams.

Sheilah Jackson is headteacher of Queensferry Primary in Edinburgh


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