On 1st September 1976 a newly qualified teacher started their first teaching job in Ballykinler Primary School in Newcastle, Co Down. In early 1977 they were back at home in Belfast when they asked the then Principal of Finaghy Primary, Robert Brown, if there were any jobs at the school. It turned out there was and this teacher started in FPS in September 1977, teaching P5. It was the same school that they had attended as a child so they had come full circle as it were.
Several years later and after having taught several hundred children across P1, P2, P3 and P5, this teacher took up the challenging but incredibly rewarding role of Special Education Needs Co-Ordinator (SENCO). This meant leaving the classroom to work one-on-one with children who needed a bit more help, mostly through a programme called Reading Recovery which helps improve the reading ages of children.
You may have worked out by this stage that I know this teacher quite well… she is my mum.
After an amazing teacher career spanning 40 years with 39 at the one school, she is retiring from full time teaching.
She has seen some changes at Finaghy Primary over the years.
In 1978 Raymond Harbison became the new Principal. Mr Harbison (as he is still known by colleagues to this day) was there for 21 years. In the mid 1980’s she started teaching Primary 1 in the same classroom which she was taught in as a child. In 1999 she welcomed Alastair MacKay as the new headmaster and only the fourth Principal in the 66-year history of the school.
In 2002 she took on responsibility for school trips and shortly after became SENCO. In 2004 the old building was demolished and a new school built, complete with sports complex and public library on the site and in 2009 she was part of the celebrations marking 75 years of the school.
The origianl main school building and the staff and pupils as part of the 75th anniversary celebrations
She has organised and led the Primary 7’s trip to Edinburgh for 14 years which I was fortunate to go on in 2009. The kids always seem to have a great time and it’s crazy to think that she has taken two full intakes of children away.
She was also a member of the Parent Teacher Association for 25 years and turned her hand of helping to organise a lot of events over the years.
She has seen many teachers and support staff leave the school and has welcomed in the new generations of young staff members. She has taught the children of those who were children when she first arrived at the school. She has had hundreds of children come through the doors of her classroom and has impacted on several hundreds more through extra-curricular activities. Since becoming SENCO, she has sought to make a different in the lives of those children who are behind their peers and has a brilliant success rate in increasing their reading ages.
Going to the same school which my mum taught in had a lot more positives than negatives. For example it was great to be able to walk home after school with my mum and it meant that she was always aware of my progress.
It had its downsides though as well. On the incredibly few occasions that I did something that perhaps I shouldn’t have, my class teacher didn’t come out with “I’ll speak to you after school” but rather “go and see your mum”.
It’s a proud moment for me to hear from parents who are so thankful for the work that my mum did with their child and I know that she has made a positive impact on so many children and parents over the 39 years that she has been there.
She has spent 13 more years of her life in Finaghy Primary School than I have been alive so to be leaving full time will be a difficult transition. She has obviously became a stalwart of the place and I know she will be missed by staff and pupils alike.
One thing that being raised by a teacher allowed me to do was to appreciate the amazing work that teachers do. Those on the outside are probably envious of their holidays and I hear people all the time coming out with something along the lines of “teaching is fairly easy…sure you get two months off over the summer”.
The simple fact is that teachers put in so much time outside of the classroom and I got to see first-hand the work that teachers do most evenings. If it wasn’t lesson planning it was marking or something else, so teachers deserve their summer holidays.
The media are also somewhat intent on blaming teachers for a lot of things. Teachers, for example, are meant to be combating childhood obesity as well as many other factors traditionally dealt with by those outside of schools. The simple fact is that most children spent 7 hours a day or 1330 hours at school a year – that is just 15% of their years and yet teachers are supposed to do it all.
As the child of a teacher I will continually be grateful to all of my teachers from Primary One to Upper Sixth for inputting into my educational development. For those reading this who have recently started their teaching careers or those about to encounter on theirs, I hope you can look back on your career and see the incredible benefit that you have made already or will make in the future.
You will come across parents who will blame you for a lot of things outside of your control and for things that you are not responsible for. However, I am confident that you will look back and see that you will have made a massive impact in the lives of the vast majority of children who will pass through your classroom.
I’ll finish with a great quote from Henry Brooks Adams:
“Teachers affect eternity; no one can tell where their influence stops.”