At work there was a north-south divide, but creativity is the link

7th August 2009 at 01:00
Christine Pollock always thought her daughter Lorraine would make a good teacher

Christine Pollock is the Executive director of learning and leisure, North Lanarkshire Council. This year, she was proved right when the 26-year-old was a runner-up in the probationer of the year section in the Scottish Education Awards

I always wanted to be a teacher, although I was the first in my immediate family to do so and the first to go on to higher education. I didn't know initially whether to do biology, which I loved as a subject, or home economics.

I started teaching in Glasgow, at Allan Glen's. In those days, you were able to choose your school. The adviser got out a map and the bus timetable - I didn't drive - and I chose Allan Glen's because it was in the city centre and good for public transport. I was there for three years and worked for an excellent principal teacher, Margaret Niven, who from the very beginning encouraged me to be part of the curriculum development group in Glasgow. It was called the Central Committee.

After moving to Shawlands Academy, I was promoted to principal teacher at John Street Secondary in the Bridgeton area - I was only 24. In the Glasgow league tables, it was at the bottom. It was the most deprived secondary but had a fantastic team committed to offering experiences to the youngsters way beyond your subject. In July, I'd give up three weeks of my holidays to take them to Faskally or Blairvaddich for Outward Bound courses.

I was seven years in John Street and we did many health-based projects, like community lunches, linked into home economics. You could really involve youngsters in relevant learning experiences - it was where A Curriculum for Excellence is now; we've almost gone full circle.

There was a high infant-mortality rate in the area, so we did parenting classes through home economics. We also did lots of DIY in the school - we would go to "The Barras" and buy old furniture, strip it down and varnish it and give it as a donation to a community project. The kids got such a buzz out of it, but they didn't get certification for it - and that's what's really good about A Curriculum for Excellence.

At that time, in the east end of Glasgow, there were loads of companies manufacturing garments for Marks and Spencer, so, instead of just sewing, we taught machining skills to get them a job - the kind of fast methods that were linked into industry. I did some CPD at Galashiels and Queen's colleges and learned how to put in a zip with a piece of Sellotape, not the way we learned it at "Dough School" - having to pin and tack. That way you could make a garment in a night.

Lorraine was seven when I became an education officer in Argyll in 1990; in 1996 I became a senior depute in North Lanarkshire, working for Michael O'Neill. I was responsible for personnel, education budgets and integrated children's services until 2007, when the new service of learning and leisure services was created; Michael retired and I took on the larger service.

My husband is an engineer and we've never really talked about education at home until Lorraine became involved in it. During her student teacher year and probationary year I have said to Alastair, "Did I go on about it like that?" She talks about it all the time.

I still miss classroom teaching, the buzz you get from working with young people and seeing whatever it is clicking and falling into place, and the satisfaction they get out of achieving something.

I sometimes found special needs really challenging. From an educational point of view, I would know we had met the criteria, but as a parent you would have wanted more for your child. Of all the remits, special needs drains you and it can be quite upsetting.

I like to think that even as a director I am still pretty close to schools and classrooms. Lorraine has not said anything to me which has surprised or shocked me and I have never said, "That can't be happening". She's very idealistic as any young person is. If things aren't right, she believes they should be sorted, and sorted now, but it takes time to find resources or develop a curriculum. I remember being like that - thinking everything should be perfect.

When I started, it was at a time of teacher shortage. My contemporaries are the 55-year-olds who are going to retire in the next five years. From an employer's point of view, I understand why they have had to train teachers now because there's going to be a huge need and we couldn't have trained them in one year. It's a sad thing for teachers finishing their training, as they may not get a job immediately, but I have no doubt that if they hang in there for temporary or supply work, the permanent jobs will come.

All along, I thought Lorraine had the generic skills and qualities for being a teacher, but as soon as it was suggested, she looked in the other direction, so I backed off. I am particularly proud that she was nominated for the probationer of the year award. I read her reports and I have never seen better; and I have read a lot of reports.

Lorraine Pollock

Art probationer at Uddingston Grammar in South Lanarkshire, starting at St Matthew's Academy, Saltcoats, this month

After art college, I opened a studio and was self-employed as a professional jeweller, sharing my workshop in Glasgow with two friends. I specialised in designing jewellery made with fabrics embedded in resins, textile prints and patterns etched onto silver and handmade papers with fabrics, threads and colours. I had exhibitions in lots of galleries - Leeds, Leamington Spa, London, Edinburgh, Leith, Aberdeen, Princes Square in Glasgow, plus trade fairs. I did enjoy it and I did make money, probably more than lots of my friends. I also worked part-time at Fifi and Ally's boutique in Princes Square. But I found the workshop lonely because we all worked at different times.

Mum mentioned that Suilven Plazalska was going to be an artist-in- residence in one of her primaries. All the teachers took part in one of her workshops, making bits of jewellery with straws, tubes and balloon bits which I thought quite fun. So I applied for my disclosure certificate and went into St Aidan's and St Thomas's primaries in Wishaw and did a series of jewellery workshops.

I didn't think I would like it - Mum had always said, "What about teaching? I think you would be really good at it".

I am proud of Mum, but I don't remember her being a classroom teacher. I remember when she was working with additional support needs, she got really attached and emotionally involved. I would come downstairs and she'd be crying and Dad would say, "Go back to bed."

My whole life, Mum was always right, but if she said it I would go in the opposite direction. I would have been too young if I had gone straight into being an art teacher - I needed the life experience.

My first placement was at St Ninian's in East Renfrewshire. You had to do a lot of paperwork, asking kids about what they had learnt and how they had learnt - so I had to get the balance of doing that and teaching. My next placement was at Holyrood Secondary - it was more about discipline and teaching the lesson, but because I felt I had got the lessons under control, the discipline was more manageable. I preferred Holyrood. I had two placements there and the PT, Kevin Coyle, is still helpful.

My probation year was at Uddingston Grammar, South Lanarkshire. I didn't have North Lanarkshire down as a choice - not ever.

I don't tell anyone when I arrive who my mum is, but people talk in teaching and education. Before I have even got through the door, they know - but I won't say and they won't say. Kevin, on my second placement, confronted me and said: "When were you going to tell me? Didn't you trust me?" I replied: "Tell you what?" He said: "You didn't tell me who your mum was." I said: "You obviously know. I didn't think it was relevant. My mum isn't teaching here, I am. My dad's a mechanical engineer - that's just as relevant."

He gave me more respect after that, because he had thought I was just an uppitty southside girl who would run to her mum.

Christine McNeill was my PT at Uddingston. We went from four members of staff to two at exam time - one was on maternity leave and the other had deep vein thrombosis. We also had an HMIE inspection and moved schools - we were working up till 10 at night, shifting and packing.

Why was I nominated for probationer of the year? I was on the ethos committee for the school - there was a new head and it was a new school, and he wanted to tighten things up. Our department didn't have as structured a curriculum and my PT liked the projects I was doing - they were different from other people's in the department because I did quite a lot of 3D work; plus I had developed coursework for Intermediate 1 for next year. I helped to run the jewellery club with the new tech teacher and the technician. I brought in jewellery skills, took in my own equipment and silver, and made it a bit more contemporary. Every Friday afternoon, I'd go down to Bothwell Primary and help P5-6 to create a backdrop for their Cinderella pantomime. I enjoyed it, but I couldn't work in primary - I am like, stop touching the teacher.

I'm taking up a permanent post at St Matthew's Academy in North Ayrshire. Most of my classmates found something - in English, hardly anyone got a job. All eight of us shortlisted for St Matthew's were below 30 years old - they were clearly looking for someone newly trained who wasn't scared of A Curriculum for Excellence.

I've found my niche - I love it. I don't know what else I'd do, although I don't know if I'd ever want to do what Mum does.

As told to Elizabeth Buie.

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