Rosemount Primary School headteacher Brendan Grant will retire from teaching today - 44 years after he first began teaching in the same school.
First of all there is the issue of what to call them. Do you call them by their first name even though in your mind they deserve their full title or even ‘Sir’?
And second of all, do you admit to them, 30 years after they taught you in primary four that you once forged your mammy’s signature on your homework while in their class?
These were the dilemmas I faced when I tasked with interviewing Brendan Grant who retires this week as principal of Rosemount Primary School after 44 years in the teaching profession.
I decided to go with calling him Brendan (although I blushed) and I did admit to the great primary four forgery. “I hope I wasn’t too tough on you,” he laughed.
But Mr. Grant was never a teacher known for being tough - while he commanded respect he was someone who believed in harnessing the talents and strengths of each child and teaching them more than the basics of numeracy and literacy.
It was this belief that brought him into the teaching profession 44 years ago - and this belief that he admits he will carry with him when he leaves teaching at the end of today.
“Leaving the children behind will be the toughest part of it. I have loved my time here. I plan on having a quiet walk around the school when everyone has gone home, to just relive some memories and take it all in for the last time.”
It is fitting that Brendan Grant finishes his career in Rosemount Primary School - it was there he started off in 1970.
“I started in 1970. It was Laurence Duffy’s last year as principal before Mickey Gillen took over. Rosemount was a big school, with over 1100 boys enrolled. There were no girls at the school then and the staff was mostly male.
“It was a great time - great craic. We were just coming out of the swinging sixties and school was very different,” Brendan said.
“You came into work in the morning - getting in at nine - and everyone was out of here by quarter past three. There was no real accountability for what you were doing. You were in your classroom and you got on with things and learning was mostly text book led.
“There was no directed time and no emphasis on planning - no after schools clubs or breakfast clubs. It was another world.”
Brendan spent 16 years at Rosemount before he admits “ambition got the better of him” and to “add another string to his bow” he applied for a secondment to the Western Education and Library Board as a field officer in language and literacy.
“It was wonderful to get and about - visiting schools across the Board area facilitating courses. As much as I was there to teach, it was a learning experience for me. I learned so much about what worked in schools and how to engage pupils.”
At the end of that two year secondment, Brendan applied for the post at St. Matthew’s Primary School in Drumsurn.
“That was a wonderful experience - moving from a large inner city school to the rolling hills of the Sperrins with a staff of five teachers.” As a teaching principal Brendan found himself soon immersed in the community - which he admits wryly forced him to “learn a lot about GAA - and fast!”.
“It was a bit of a culture shock but there is such a strong sense of community out there and the children were so lovely. And apart from the smell of the cows, it was a very pleasant experience!”
It also proved to be another learning experience for Brendan who found himself with itchy feet after 12 years - and found himself wandering back up Helen Street to the school where it all began.
“I never thought for one minute I would be coming back here again but it was great to be back.”
He was welcomed back into the fold with some of the staff he had worked with previously - but he faced new challenges. “We were in a very different position. Enrolment had fallen. New schools had been built around us and we had to fight for our pupils.”
Applying his energy and enthusiasm Brendan started to look at new ways to breathe life into the school. “We had this huge big building - and down in the old building we had empty rooms. Surestart were just starting out so I asked Martina Storey if she wanted to set up in the school and she did.
“SureStart has brought a whole new energy to the school. People come here, they move onto the two year programme. They look over and see our nursery and they tend to stay. And our numbers are very much on the up now.”
Brendan says he is leaving the school - and teaching with a great sense of satisfaction. The school is performing well and the future looks bright - but his biggest achievement has been fostering a happy and relaxed learning environment.
“Children in this school are loved. You need to be happy and relaxed to learn. Rosemount will always be in my heart and the memories I take with me will be the happy children - the noises in the corridor, the singing from the classrooms, the buzz of the school and the camaraderie of the staff.”
But for now Brendan will be looking forward to a welcome break from term time routine, a few days in the Downings, a round of golf at Greencastle and perhaps a bit of winter sun when the colder days comes back around. And of course he won’t have to worry about eight year olds cheating on their homework anymore!