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Making Forever Memories at School

What do you remember about being at primary school? My first thoughts are the wee bottle of milk we used to get every mid-morning, my favourite teacher, Mr Gillanders and his guitar. He was the coolest teacher anyone had ever encountered and we were all beyond chuffed (and a little bit smug) to be the chosen ones. To our childish eyes, the other teachers were all tidy young women in twinsets with their hair in beehive-shaped buns and wearing stern, pointy spectacle frames. Not Mr Gillanders though, he could not have been more different.

He wore sports jackets that flapped and swung as he careered through the corridors, his big wide smile beaming at staff and pupils alike. His long dark wavy hair draped over his collar, made him look more like a pop star. Back then all teachers had to play a musical instrument and be able to teach singing. There was an audible gasp in our class of thirty P5s when, instead of heading towards the piano to start the music lesson, he reached under his desk and brought out a guitar. None of the other teachers had ever played guitar in school. We were awe-struck!

For the three years he was our form teacher, we regularly sang along to a variety of well-known songs. From Kum Ba Yah to Coulter’s Candy, Christmas carols to Rabbie Burn’s finest lilts, we tackled them all. We even entertained the whole school on special occasions. When that happened, we’d all sit cross-legged on the floor in rows of semi-circles around him, enthralled, as Mr G sat on a chair and led us through the repertoire. When the applause came, as it always did, we all thought we were “Archie” and at least as good as the Rolling Stones (or more likely, the Von Trapps). Utterly deluded, but happy!

Mr Gillanders was a wonderful all-round teacher too and worked us hard in class to prepare for the 11 Plus exam that would determine where we went next. Yes, we had fun because he was so warm and friendly, but we learned a lot and I left primary school happily literate, numerate, well informed about the basics and forever inquisitive. If we are lucky, a good teacher sparks an interest in learning that never leaves us and Mr Gillanders certainly did that for me. When I heard that he had died of cancer in his fifties, I was really saddened and shed a tear.

Fast forward to the 21st century and this week, as our wee school in the village prepared to break up for the holidays, I was there for the prize-giving and farewell to the children heading up to secondary school. The little choir sang beautifully, parents hanging on their every note and we all applauded with gusto as the well-earned prizes were awarded. Some children bounced on to the stage like eager beavers, other were a wee bit shy, but everyone participated and there was hardly any technology in sight. Just one monitor in the background rotating photos from school camp. And I was glad of that because some things are more important, more enduring than the latest tech.

It struck me that, despite the dramatic changes in learning technology, access to the internet and communication devices that are second nature to Generation Alpha (born since 2010), the really important ingredients for a child to thrive in education haven’t changed much at all. Talented, compassionate and committed teachers, encouraging and involved parents and a happy culture that values and nurtures all of the pupils. School was always my happy place in an otherwise chaotic and troubled childhood. The place I went to learn and thrive. A safe haven of wonder and opportunity.

During the next few weeks, as children and teachers get ready for “schools out” and some head on to pastures new, let’s celebrate humanity over technology and remember some very wise words. Nelson Mandela said “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world”. That will surely remain true for generations to come.


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© 2019 by Sandra Burke