Tune into a new career

20th December 1996 at 00:00
In the first of a series on teachers who have found alternative professions, John Mitchell talks to former drama teacher and lecturer Iain Anderson, now a successful broadcaster.

Iain Anderson still visits the occasional school. When we spoke, he was devising an educational support programme as back-up to the Celtic Connections festival held in Glasgow each year. Strathclyde University had commissioned him on a freelance basis, and his researches had taken him into a few of the city's educational establishments.

"It's been fascinating, and rewarding, to be involved with schools on that basis," Anderson agrees, before conceding, with a commendable degree of honesty, "but when I see them going off to classes, my heart sinks for them".

Questioned more closely, and notwithstanding his enormous admiration for the teenage vitality of your average pupil, he reveals that his sympathy for "them" is directed towards the staff rather than their charges, and the recollection sparks memories of his time as drama tutor at Jordanhill College from 1967 to 1993.

"I used to visit students at some of the roughest inner-city schools, and it would certainly put any college problems into perspective. Being pushed and jostled in corridors as you fought your way along to their classrooms - these things concentrate the mind wonderfully. And I'd have to admit that life back at Jordanhill was delightfully civilised in comparison. In many respects, it was a lovely haven from the real world."

Nevertheless, Anderson had to enthuse these students with a love for their chosen profession, and his concerns for education today are the same as they were then. He recalls a conversation with one of his guests on an early Radio Clyde programme: "It was Harry Chapin, the American singer-songwriter, who echoed my biggest worry over the morale of the teaching profession. He claimed that we 'do not value our teachers, and that's a disgrace. They are the enablers on whom our society depends.' These were words of wisdom as far as I'm concerned, and I get fed up when I hear politicians complaining about the cost to the public purse of teachers' salaries."

Anderson's own salary was curtailed in 1993, when the balancing act he had performed between broadcasting and lecturing since 1974 ended in acceptance of an early retirement package. "I wouldn't say they were glad to see the back of me, but let's say they were helpful. There had been occasional difficulties combining the two lives, and the authorities seemed a little uncomfortable with that kind of cross-fertilisation. The offer of a regular daily programme on Radio Scotland clinched it."

The daily radio programme was - and is - the award-winning Mr Anderson's Fine Tunes. As an immense band of faithful listeners will testify, Iain Anderson has a natural voice for radio - and for teaching, come to that. His father described it as "foghorn", but it's a remarkably cultured foghorn, whose first opportunity to broadcast to the nation - or Glasgow and surrounding districts, at any rate - arose in late 1973 when he wrote to the still embryonic Radio Clyde and asked whether they'd be interested in "doing anything in the arts"?

The Sunday before the station opened he received a telephone call from Andy Park ("a genius, who changed the face of broadcasting in this country"), asking him if he could present an arts programme. Oh, and what kind of musical taste did he have? And would he therefore fancy doing a late-night music programme as well?

Interact and The Anderson Folio were the result - both still warmly remembered by many of the Glasgow teaching fraternity - with programme timings that dovetailed neatly with his Jordanhill commitments. Media success, however, breeds further success, and a 1978 invitation to be involved with Scottish Television's rugby coverage meant a deal of timetabling reform when occasion demanded; an eventual move (in 1985) from Clyde to BBC Radio Scotland to present a Celtic music programme, and the subsequent request of his new (media) paymaster that he present their tele-vision shinty programmes and - later - the afternoon programme, caused yet further demands on Anderson's teaching schedule.

The day job had to go. It was all a far cry from Govan, where his teaching career (English and drama) had commenced in Broomloan Road School. For the most part, he loved it: "There were some real ragged-trousered characters, some lovely children - and some head-cases too, with mothers as head-cases and fathers as head-cases as well."

A move to Kelvinside Academy was a move to another time and another place, in every sense of the phrase. A three-hour interview for the post of assistant teacher comprised 30 minutes of discussion on academic and curricular matters - and two-and-a-half hours on Anderson's rugby ability. Fortunately, his strengths as a wing-forward were well respected, and four immensely happy years accrued, with weekdays given over to teaching (plus some rugby coaching), and Saturdays given over entirely to rugby: refereeing pupil games in the morning, followed by games for Kelvinside Academicals in the afternoon. And then the team would repair to the bar.

The school was an old-fashioned and autocratic regime, he concedes - "great in many ways, outrageously wrong in others" - but when the chance of a move to Jordanhill arose, he was eager to take it: "There was a financial attraction, yes, but the conditions were also infinitely better than at most schools. "

And did Jordanhill succeed in its aims of preparing students for the world of teaching? Anderson shrugs. "Some students felt that Jordanhill was a complete waste of time. Others used it to develop themselves. The truth is probably somewhere between the two."

For the latter group, Anderson clearly played his part in offering assistance, most notably in his heavy involvement with 25 years of the annual Shakespeare productions at the college. "These were fantastic exercises in community, in society. To see the multi-faceted teamwork, and the dedication and commitment by all concerned - those were the kind of things which made young teachers see the value of what happens outside the curriculum, let them see the generosity of spirit and endeavour not rewarded in money."

The loss of such extra-curricular activities in many schools after 1986 was clearly a source of regret for Anderson, because he feels they made the job of teaching much easier, in that they removed much of the potential for pupilteacher conflict.

"And that's what can be so draining for teachers today," he says. "Sure, business people can have stress, but it's a different kind of stress. Teachers have confrontational stress for so much of their lives: if you took a lawyer, or an executive, into a classroom and asked them to ignore the cheek, the abuse and the noise - what do you think would happen? I have to be honest and say that I'd rather be digging ditches than teaching some of the neds that I know teachers have to deal with."

Fortunately, Anderson has an alternative. Certainly, exposing yourself on the radio - in a metaphorical sense, of course - has its own pressures: there is a pressure to deliver, a complete absence of job security, and an appraisal system - "on a daily basis by the community, which depends entirely on the bonhomie of the citizens of Scotland" - which might make some people apprehensive.

But there are certainly benefits, not least in the appreciation offered by one's audience. "I get delightful letters from people for whom I've done a small service. It's so unlike the large service you do for children and for society as a teacher - and which goes completely unremarked."

After 29 years in the profession it certainly makes for a nice change, and would seem to confirm that, for Anderson, there certainly has been life after teaching.

Fine Tunes is on Radio Scotland, weekdays, 2.30-4.30pm (3pm start on Fridays).Next week: Adam McNaughton, bookshop proprietor and folk singer

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