Reasons to be cheerful...

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Many students remember their teachers with affection and today’s teachers are among the best there are, says Alex Wood

In 1979, Ian Durie and the Blockheads released Reasons to be Cheerful.

Too short to be haughty, too nutty to be naughty. 
Going on forty no electric shocks. 

It was just after 1979 that I taught Darren who was indeed “too nutty to be naughty”. Darren contacted me last month.

“Hi Mr Wood, I don’t know if you remember me as I know you taught loads of my pals and other kids! But I would like to say thanks for your input in to my education and moulding me in to a positive person! 

“I worked for an architect before I became sick but even then I still fought to get back to work and finished up at Scottish Gas for the last 10 year of my working life and had to medically retire in 2007 after another stroke! I am still fighting and still looking for my pals from school! You are looking great! Cheers Darren.”

I did remember him and was delighted to hear from him. I hope I did help him be a positive person. 

My daughter, studying for her Post-Graduate Diploma in Education, recently revisiting the school where she enjoyed her first placement, was delighted to be recognised, greeted and welcomed by learners she’d taught a few months previously. 

“You’ll have a lifetime of that,” I told her. “Young people always remember committed teachers who liked them.”

Around 36 years later and I am still teaching, but now it’s an adult class. Ten bubbly adults studying the Scottish Novel. One of them, Jane, was a primary teacher. She’s almost 10 years retired, makes informed, humorous comments on each book we study and obviously loves learning. 

To be an inspiring teacher you have to be an enthusiastic learner. She must have been a great teacher. She taught in one of Edinburgh’s most challenging primaries, in a rural school in the Borders, and in a residential unit for children with emotional and behavioural difficulties, and tells me she enjoyed every school in which she worked: “I tried to see past their appearance and see the child.”

We laughed together as we agreed, difficulties notwithstanding, that teaching was the most intrinsically rewarding job imaginable and that we were proud to have been part of the teaching profession.

As well as teaching my adult class, I had the pleasure recently of supervising student English teachers (not from my daughter’s university!) on placement. I continue to be impressed by the new reflective, self-critical and knowledgeable generation of teachers. 

Not only do they consider carefully the content of what they teach, how they teach it and the relationships which will make the teaching possible, but they apply serious intellectual evaluation to these processes. Despite all the pressures which they face on placement (much more rigorous than in my day), they are determined to take advice on how best to develop their pedagogical skills.

It is not that subject content is ignored, indeed the serious approach of these young teachers-in-training to the language and literature which is the essence of their specialism, was impressive. Had I any criticisms? A few were, if anything, too ambitious in what they sought to squeeze into one lesson, but over-ambition is, at their stage, as much a virtue as a fault.

Reasons to be cheerful? Many of those we taught remember most of us with gratitude and affection – because we worked hard for them. And teaching is a fine profession, comprising, overwhelmingly, humane men and women, dedicated and committed to learning and to children; and, given the quality of the next generation, it remains in safe hands.

  • Alex Wood has been a teacher for 38 years. He is now an associate with the Scottish Centre for Studies in School Administration at Edinburgh University.

  


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