Relatively speaking - A dynasty of didacts: the Keeleys keep teaching in the family

9th July 2010 at 01:00
The Keeleys are a real teaching clan. Parents Tony and Liz both retired recently, but three of their five children - Claire, Peter and Matthew - teach in secondary schools in Scotland. They explain what attracted them all to the profession

Tony Keeley, 71, retired as education consultant in 2008 my dad was head of St Ninian's Primary in Knightswood, and before that a secondary English teacher, but he did not influence my going into teaching. I came into it by accident.

I did chemistry at Glasgow University and loved it, but went to teacher training to give myself another year to work out what I really wanted to do. I had an interview to become an accountant, but cancelled to give teacher training a go.

I started my teaching career at St Pius in Drumchapel, where I taught from 1961 to 1969, and then moved to St Margaret's High in Airdrie from 1970 to 1987, with the last six years as principal teacher, then assistant head.

It seemed like a natural progression to leave the classroom. I'd done a lot of staff training, and I enjoyed it, so I went to work for the TVEI (Technical and Vocational Education Initiative). We had a lot of free rein in Lanarkshire, and we used it to promote IT as a teaching and learning tool.

I moved to the Higher Still project from 1994 to 2001, where I worked a bit with my daughter Claire - she was on secondment for two days a week.

I never thought about how children learn until I went to the Open University from 1987-1991. I did it to keep up with developments in science, but ended up taking most of my classes in education. I met people who said, "I was no good at school," but they were, because they were getting degrees from the Open University. It opened my mind up.

I think that is where Liz and I were different as teachers. She saw it as a teacher's role to deliver information, but I thought more about making sure the students took something away from my classes, even if they never used a chemical formula again in their lives. Claire, Peter and Matthew, and most teachers coming through now, are going my way.

Out of all of us, Liz did things the hardest route. She had five kids at home when she was at university. She did remarkably well and we were both happy that she was giving university a try.

In 2000, I was awarded an OBE for services to Scottish secondary education. I did not want it, but I accepted it because it was a recognition of a lot of hard work by the whole of the Higher Still team.

I retired in 2001, but carried on working for the Scottish Qualifications Authority and Scottish Further Education Unit until 2008 as a self- employed consultant.

Staff development is incredibly important, especially with Curriculum for Excellence, which is supposed to be about skills for life. Most teachers are very good at their jobs, but once they have been working for a few years, they get stuck teaching the same way and need encouragement to think about how pupils learn.

Liz Keeley, 60, English teacher, retired from Graeme High, Falkirk in June 2009

I loved school and I have a great fondness for my teachers. I always wanted to be a PE teacher but I left school at 16 to work in an office and married young. That was 1965 and it was different for women then - there was not the same expectation that we would have a career.

From the age of 20 to 35, I was at home bringing up my children and being a foster-carer. I got to the stage where everything I did was physical, so I went to night school to get my brain working again.

I had no intention of becoming a teacher, but my English teacher asked if I was going to university, and that sowed the seed. I went to Stirling University and did an English degree with teacher training. Once I got onto the teaching practice, I knew I wanted to do it full-time.

I used to go into Tony's school to invigilate, I fostered children and I ran a youth club - so I was always drawn to young people. Tony probably thought I should be a teacher before I did.

My daughter Claire trained just after I did, and we are similar in our reaction to the pupils. Claire is very aware that these children have other problems in their lives, and that comes from the foster children we had when she was young. She is more organised than me, just because of the nature of our subjects.

Peter worked in my school as a classroom assistant for six months. It was fun having him there - pupils would say: "Is Mr Keeley your son? He's sound." Sometimes I would see him in the corridor telling pupils to tuck their shirts in and stop running and I would think: "He's got the natural Keeley bossiness." I could see he would make a good teacher.

The training is a lot harder these days. It is necessary, but I do not think I could have managed all the work they have to do outside the classroom with five children at home.

I am proud of all my children, but I am pleased that Claire, Matthew and Peter went into teaching.

Claire Connelly, 40, deputy head and business studies teacher at Our Lady's High, Cumbernauld

When I was younger, I definitely thought: "I won't go into teaching." I thought it was boring, especially after my mum became a teacher when I was about 19. I was very proud of her, but I did not want to follow her and my dad into education.

I have very distinct memories of being a teacher's child. My dad took me into his class in Airdrie once, when I would have been about 11 years old, and I thought it was quite cool that my dad was a teacher, but that disappeared when I went to secondary.

I went to Glasgow Caledonian University and took commerce and information management, which is the degree you take if you want to become a business teacher.

After that, I reluctantly went for the teaching course. Even in the first week of the course I did not think I would stick it out, but about three weeks in, I went on a week's observation and decided it was for me.

Looking back, I think my parents were pleased to see me doing something I enjoyed.

I do not remember the family talking about education when I was wee, but now I am very aware of it. My dad and I go to the football together and we talk a lot about things like Curriculum for Excellence.

My mum used to run a youth club, and fostered children for a long time when I was a child. That background helped me a lot when I became a depute head. I did not have much guidance experience, so it meant I understood more about the kids' backgrounds and the things they could be facing at home.

Peter Keeley, 31, business studies teacher at Craigmount High, Edinburgh

I worked as a teaching assistant at my mum's school before my teacher training. I was never in her classroom, but the children always asked if we were related. I liked to keep them guessing for a while, but eventually I would tell them. It was nice to hear them say: "Mrs Keeley's cool."

I never had much time for school myself, and I swore blind I would not go into teaching. I do not think I realised that being in school as a teacher was very different from being a pupil.

After university I was an accountant with Scottish and Newcastle (the pub chain), but very quickly found I was not happy. About three-and-a-half years into the job, I failed some of my exams and had no motivation to take them again. That is when I started thinking about teaching.

Claire suggested I went along to her school to see what it was like, and after that I got the teaching assistant's job at Graeme High.

Before I went into Mum's school I had a fair idea of what kind of teacher she would be. She is quite jovial, but she did once tell me never to smile before Christmas. I could not follow it through, and I don't think she did either.

As for Claire, she is quite similar. She is a bossy-boots, though, but that's because she is my big sister.

I did some English as a Foreign Language teaching with Matthew before my teacher training, too. The teachers would swap classes at lunchtime, so sometimes Matthew took a class in the morning and I took over in the afternoon. We look very alike, so the students would get very confused until they realised we were brothers, not the same person.

Matthew Keeley, 25, English teacher at James Gillespie's High, Edinburgh

I always thought it was normal for teachers to have a lot of other teachers in the family, but in my school people seem to be fascinated by it, and it always comes up in conversation.

In high school, I said I wanted to be an English teacher but, by the time I was at university, I had changed my mind. I thought everyone would think I was doing it because of my mum and dad. Mum always said I should be a teacher, but never pushed me.

After university I worked in a cinema for a year, and one day my sister Claire said: "I think you should be a primary school teacher," and it just made sense.

The primary teaching course was full that year so, instead of waiting another year, I applied for secondary teaching. That sounds lazy, but I honestly do not know why I did not do it straight after university. I cannot think of another job that would suit me so well.

Having teachers in the family gave me an advantage to begin with, because I could go home and ask my mum about things I did not understand, and Claire has helped me out with interviews.

I do not have any kind of plan for my career right now - my priority at the moment is to find a permanent job. I do not have any ambitions to work my way up to depute head or principal teacher like Claire; I think I would be quite happy being a classroom teacher like my mum. I do not want to be a teacher until I retire, though, so maybe I will do something different, like my dad.

As told to Victoria Prest.

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