Reminiscences and retirement

25th June 2010 at 01:00
The joys of the summer end of term concert

End of term already! It's amazing how quickly 39 weeks can fly by. I've always enjoyed the sports-like span of the school year: there's a sense of completion to each session and a closed-season break to be enjoyed before loins are girded for the next bash. Friends in other jobs seem to be on a never-ending treadmill, whereas teaching enjoys its natural cycle and attendant rituals.

One of our key end-of-term events is the summer concert. We have a hugely talented cohort of pupils and an enthusiastic music department, including several instructors (don't cut this service, please). The 80-plus pupils who performed in the summer concert then headed off for a 12-day tour of Italy, including public performances in Verona and Garda. What fabulous memories to cherish.

I took up the clarinet on my 50th birthday and sit in with the orchestra as part of my musical development. It is a joy to take part in the collective experience of rehearsing and performing; in fact, I got so carried away this year, I nearly played out loud.

Farewells are prominent, of course - mainly students setting out in the world, but there is always a cohort of colleagues skipping off to retirement pastures or, sadly, young probationers desperately seeking employment.

Our school has a prize-giving ceremony on the last day which is always a quietly dignified affair, echoing a long tradition. To accommodate more comfortably the numbers involved, it's held in the nearby Wellington Church - an impressive building and a wonderful setting for the ceremony. Achievements of every kind are celebrated: academic, sporting, community and cultural.

There are special prizes donated by, or named after, former members of the school community and these are faithfully explained in the programme notes.

One of our recent guest speakers was former pupil Azeem Ibrahim, a self- made millionaire entrepreneur. He spoke in the most glowing terms of his favourite teacher, Dennis Booth, who died of cancer a few years ago and whose name now adorns the chemistry prize. The speech was a fitting tribute to the impact of an excellent teacher on a young mind.

Another staff name on a prize is that of Paddy Gallagher, a well-respected maths teacher who died of a heart attack during a staff five-a-side football match. Paddy's tenth anniversary has just occurred and we remembered him with a staffpupil kick-about. The initiative had come from former pupils who had played in the school football team that Paddy ran. They had been aware of the date and, unprompted, had contacted the school to arrange the tribute. It was a nice way to remember a much-missed colleague.

Thankfully, of course, most teachers do make it to retirement and, funnily enough, they seem to thrive on it. I played a round of golf with one recently - on election day actually, which made it all the more pleasant - and he was having the time of his life, having just returned from a three- month stay with his family in Australia.

This year's annual general meeting of the Educational Institute of Scotland also saw its share of retirements, with several prominent members of the union stepping down, including five former presidents. That's a lot of expertise and experience to lose. You look around and begin to realise that suddenly you're "het" - you're the one who has been around the block a few times and are assumed to have a suitable degree of wisdom to accompany your advancing years. If only.

Larry Flanagan is education convener of the Educational Institute of Scotland.

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