The 'ultimate classroom teacher' who just can't stay away

22nd July 2011 at 01:00
Honoured at this year's TES Schools Awards, Maureen Eastwood defied even life-threatening illness to follow her calling

The only place Maureen Eastwood ever wanted to be was in the classroom.

For more than half a century, her passion and dedication to teaching inspired hundreds of children in nursery, primary and secondary schools across Wales.

She repeatedly turned down offers of promotion - and even two brushes with death could not keep her away from the chalkface for long.

And despite officially retiring last September, the 73-year-old continues to lend a hand at Ysgol Gwaenynog, an infant school in Denbighshire where she is an active member of the governing body.

"I can't seem to let go of the reins," she says. "I just really enjoy working with children. It's amazing what they can achieve."

Her dedication was recognised with the Lifetime Achievement Award at the TES Schools Awards on 8 July, with judges describing her as "the ultimate classroom teacher".

It is surprising, then, that teaching was not always on the cards for the teenage Maureen, who seemed destined for a career in retail in her home town of Liverpool.

"I was going to be a buyer in Lewis's department store. But, to be honest, I didn't like the cut-throat attitude of the people I was working with," she says. "I always had an inkling I would like to teach, so I decided to go to the training college in Manchester."

She trained as a secondary teacher, specialising in geography and art. But, seeing her engagement ring, one of Mrs Eastwood's tutors questioned whether she had chosen the right vocation.

"She didn't think it was a job you could split between having a husband and family. I was determined to prove her wrong," she says.

In 1959 she started her first teaching job at a small village primary school in Pembrokeshire, South Wales. She soon moved back to Liverpool and in the following decades taught at nursery, primary and secondary schools across North Wales and in Flintshire, Clwyd, Denbighshire and Conwy.

From the 1980s until retirement she worked at Ysgol Gwaenynog, apart from two years at a school in Rhyl in the early 2000s. Recently she also worked as a special educational needs teacher at Ysgol Glan Gele in Conwy.

During those decades not even injury or illness could keep Mrs Eastwood away from the job she loved.

In the early 1980s she was lucky to survive a serious car crash, in which she fractured her neck and nearly lost an eye. In 2003 she suffered a pulmonary embolism.

"Both times I wondered whether I would be able to survive and carry on, but within a few months of each I was back teaching again," she says.

In her long career, Mrs Eastwood says she has seen many changes in the nature of education, teaching and the pupils themselves - not all of them positive.

"I don't think pupils are getting worse, but I think society in general is," she says. "I often wonder whether people really value the opportunity a good education provides them with.

"Generally children are still very inquisitive and want to learn, but have no idea how to play or interact socially because they spend so much time sat in front of the television."

She hopes that, in Wales at least, this trend can be reversed by the introduction of the play-led foundation phase curriculum for three to seven-year-olds.

Mrs Eastwood is also a fan of phonics and a proponent of basic skills teaching in early-years education. In fact, she is so passionate about both that she volunteers to help pupils with reading difficulties at Gwaenynog every Friday morning.

It is this dedication and commitment to teaching that particularly impressed the TES Schools Awards judges.

They said: "If one of the hallmarks of an outstanding teacher is generosity of spirit and a willingness to walk the extra mile, then Maureen has walked thousands of extra miles - and with her skill at each step, she has helped her pupils look forward to a more fulfilling life."

Of the praise, Mrs Eastwood says: "I find it quite amazing. I was taken aback when it was suggested I should win an award because I don't really think that I have done anything special. I have done my job and enjoyed it.

"I have been very fortunate I have had good, talented colleagues to work with, most of whom have been hard-working and inspirational themselves."

In retirement, she plans to indulge her hobbies of walking and art, and to spend more time with her partner of 30 years, her three children and six grandchildren.

But, she admits, the classroom will always keep calling her back.

Read about the other TES Schools Award winners at www.nxtbook.comnxteutslTES_SAwinners201107

IN QUOTES

One of a kind

"In 38 years in teaching I have never met such a professional" - Gareth Williams, head of Ysgol Llywelyn, Rhyl

"She has shared the excitement of learning with not only the children, but also her colleagues" - TES Schools Awards judges

"It was only as an adult I realised she was teaching us instead of having her lunch break" - former pupil.

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