When talk turns to teaching...

24th July 2009 at 01:00
.you can't keep the Mackays quiet

After 35 years teaching in the same school, Linda Mackay may be forgiven for feeling a bit jaded. But she and her husband Finlay are as enthusiastic about their vocation as their newly-qualified son Niall is today.

Finlay Mackay

  • Retired as depute head at Vale of Leven Academy, West Dunbartonshire
    • When I graduated from university with an Honours English degree, I had two choices - teaching and journalism. Some of my friends were going, "Oh my God, I'm going to have to teach." I didn't feel like that. I went to Jordanhill and had an interesting range of schools for my teaching practice. I worked in the High School of Glasgow - I was the only male apart from the jannie - and also Westwood in Castlemilk.

      In those days, there was no difficulty in getting jobs. I was interviewed by the advisor in English, Jack O'Neill, who was a major influence on my career. He tried to suggest that Castlemilk was just the school for a young man like me. But I said no, because I didn't have a car, so I got North Kelvinside instead.

      When I arrived at the school, I was surprised to see loads of coaches parked on Queen Margaret Drive and all these young teachers were getting on them. They were receiving free transport and an extra pound;12 a month for working in some of the deprived areas. It was in the early days of Strathclyde Regional Council and they had made a conscious political decision to say these areas need priority treatment. It doesn't happen now.

      After four years at North Kelvinside, I went to Glenwood High in Castlemilk as an assistant principal teacher, and then in 1982 to Vale of Leven Academy as a PT. I spent three years as an adviser in English in Dunbartonshire from 1991 and returned as an AHT in 1994, becoming depute head in 2003.

      In 2005, I was seconded for two years to Jordanhill as part of the drive to bring in more English teachers, working as a full-time lecturer in English and curricular studies. I live in Jordanhill, so it meant I had to walk seven minutes to my desk. I've just taken early retirement.

      One thing I enjoyed about lecturing at Jordanhill was that it took me back to my subject. Since 1978, I've been a marker for Higher English, and in 2002 I became an examiner in Higher English. I'm interested in continuing that in retirement.

      My love of English may have something to do with having been bilingual (Gaelic and English) when I was young. I was born in Lewis and I was always conscious there were two languages from an early age.

      I've had a smashing time at the Vale, but there were some aspects of the job which didn't interest me any more - the day-to-day routine of being in charge of the boys' lavatories has limited appeal.

      It's important you get out while you've still got the enthusiasm - there are so many young people who are ready to come in.

      There is an enormous contrast in the job situation between the start of my career and what Niall faces. The week before I finished, I was on the interview panel to appoint an unpromoted geography teacher. There were 40 candidates and, looking at their CVs, half could have been shortlisted. Of the seven we interviewed, two had been doing supply, one for five years and the other for four. I would have happily taken any of the seven but had to choose between two outstanding candidates.

      I am convinced the quality of teacher education from colleges and the probationary system is superb. That is why it is all the more ironic we are getting really well-qualified and well-trained people through and not being able to take advantage of that. Class sizes are not dropping.

      Linda Mackay

      • Class teacher at Garscadden Primary, Glasgow, for 35 years
        • Finlay and I met at Victoria Drive Secondary School in Glasgow. We used to do amateur dramatics - I was in S4 and he in S6. Most people stayed on for their sixth year, but I moved on. I went to Craigie College in Ayr for three years and did a teaching diploma.

          I'd always wanted to be a teacher, even when I was a wee girl. It seemed like a good job. It was something that seemed attainable for someone from a working-class background - and I also loved children.

          When you finished your diploma, you had an interview at 129 Bath Street (the education directorate headquarters). It was in a big boardroom and sitting behind a desk came this voice: "You stay in Scotstoun - you'll be wanting a west end school. What about Garscadden? That will be fine. Enjoy. Cheerio."

          Everything comes full circle. A Curriculum for Excellence is just the way it was when we started with lots of topic-based teaching.

          Garscadden Primary has changed over the years, from a school that took all its pupils from Yoker and Knightswood, to one with lots of pupils from different countries. Recently, I had 14 different nationalities in my class. We had a bilingual base in the school with two teachers for bilingual learners. The children are incredible - they come in, not knowing a word, and very soon they are communicating with each other.

          When some of the children from asylum-seeking families first came, we were all prepared but worried about how they would cope and how the children already in the school would react. The original children were interested and welcoming, and it was a testament to Garscadden that there was little animosity.

          Now some of the children seem to be more economic migrants or from families who have bought their way out of their country. It has energised the school in a very unexpected way.

          I have the same enthusiasm now as when I started. People say you know when you have had enough, and I think you do. But there's so much more I still want to do. A lot of people might say that I must be bored stiff after 35 years in one school, but it's not true. I have seen so many changes and every day is different; the children are different.

          If I'd been younger, I might have thought of becoming a chartered teacher - I didn't fancy management. With our family commitments (three children), one of us going down that route was enough.

          Our daughters get fed up with us. Whenever we go out for a meal, we talk about education and the girls say: "There they go again." Sometimes, they refuse to go out with us.

          Niall asks for his dad's advice a lot and dismisses mine. Sometimes, we'll compare views on national assessments. I'll come in with a level D paper and pass it round. Or Niall will say: "Mum, is that a level D?" We do that quite a lot.

          Niall Mackay

          • Finished his post-probation year and doing supply as an English teacher at his father's school
            • I was a bit like Dad when I went to university - I did five subjects and then realised English was the area I wanted to move into. By the time I was in third or fourth year, I had worked with various youth groups and enjoyed working with kids, so I thought I would give teaching a go.

              I went to Williamwood High as a probationer and was asked to stay on the following August to cover a maternity leave. I was there until Easter this year. Then a teacher at Vale of Leven Academy went on leave and I was offered interim supply there.

              They are very different schools and I've enjoyed both immensely. They gave me different ranges of experience. At my stage of career, that's very important. What I found was that kids do want to learn and they want to have your attention - that's what they are looking for. When I was moving from Williamwood to Vale, I heard people saying: "That will be difficult." But, generally, kids at both schools are fantastic.

              Being in the same school as Dad, the kids were asking if he was my father as soon as they saw we both had the same name. We wound them up. I said my dad worked on the oil rigs - that got them confused. We didn't see that much of each other. There was only one time I think that I sent a referral through to him.

              I would never rule out going into management, but the main thing for the next three or four years is to get a permanent job and then develop myself as a classroom teacher. I'm still working on that.

              I've applied for 15 to 20 jobs and had nine interviews for various schools and authorities. I've been lucky because I've been working every day, so not having a job next year isn't something I've had time to sit and think about. I've tried not to let it affect my confidence - it would be very easy to get into the situation where, after nine interviews, you began to have doubts about your career. I have to look at the response I get from the kids I teach day-to-day, rather than a 20-minute interview.

              Most of my contemporaries at Jordanhill have permanent jobs. One moved to Milton Keynes, one to Italy, one to Dundee. I've heard of very few getting jobs in the central belt. I would look at moving if, by September of October, I'm still unable to find employment in this area.

              I ask Dad for advice. He gives you a different perspective. Especially when I was working at Williamwood, to be able to go to someone who was not in the school was good, even though I was in a very supportive department. Dad was able to be more objective.

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