School’s out for Margaret

Sacred Heart PS, vice-principal Margaret Marley. (SI1906AQ01)
Sacred Heart PS, vice-principal Margaret Marley. (SI1906AQ01)

Sacred Heart PS vice-principal MARGARET MARLEY has been teaching for more than 36 years but later this month she’ll call time on her career. Margaret talks about being struck down with Polio at a young age, studying in Hull and lists the capital cities of the world she hopes to visit during her well earned retirement

“I’ll miss the children,” says Margaret Marley as she contemplates life after teaching. Margaret, who turned 60 last month, has been teaching for more than 36 years but when the doors of Sacred Heart PS, Waterside close for the summer holidays later this month she will not be returning in September; Margaret has decided to retire.

Margaret became vice-principal at Sacred Heart PS in 1999 but uniquely, her teaching career started in a corridor in the old Waterside Boys’ School on Chapel Road.

“I got a job there when I came back home after obtaining my teaching qualification in Hull,” she recalled. “I had been assigned a classroom outside the main building but the week before I was due to start it was burnt down - I had no place to go so it was decided that I would take the class in the corridor just outside the main hall,” she laughs.

Margaret was born in Derry in 1951, the second oldest of seven children. Margaret’s parents, Charles and Brigid (nee Tinney) were both from Glenvar in Donegal.

“My father worked as a carpenter at the Yankee base. We ran a small bed and breakfast out of our home in Carlisle Road and my mother helped to run it.”

Margaret’s mother died when Margaret was only nine-years-old. As the second eldest she helped to raise her younger brothers and sisters.

“I suppose you could say that that was where I got the bug for teaching,” says Margaret.

Margaret went to St. Joseph’s PS in Artillery Street before continuing her education at Thornhill College.

“I enjoyed school - it wasn’t uncommon for me to be found with my head in a book.”

When Margaret was just two she was diagnosed with polio and at the age of 14 she spent 10 months in Altnagelvin Hospital while undergoing leg stengthening operations.

“After I got out of hospital I had to stay at home for another year before going back to school.It was quite a traumatic time to say the least, but the school did its best to make sure I was keeping up to date with what everyone else was learning. Two of my teachers, Mrs. Thornton and Sister Michaela came to my home after I got out of hospital to set me work - I was very thankful for that.”

Margaret returned to Thornhill when she was 16 but all the friends she had made when she started at the school were now two years ahead of her. She said that she had to make new friends and then at the beginning of upper-sixth, Margaret and her friend Patricia decided to leave school in search of a teaching qualification.

“I can’t remember how but myself and my best friend Patricia Gallagher found out that there were a few extra places left over on the education course at Endsleigh College, Hull. We both went over for an interview but on the way back we missed our plane,” she laughs.

Margaret started the course in 1971 and she said that being away from home had its disadvantages as well as its advantages.

“I suppose when I look back it must have been good for my family knowing that I was in Hull when the Troubles were going on back home.”

She added: “When we moved there we were both put into separate halls of residence. We were told that the sound of the bells ringing in the morning signalled time to get up for class. The first morning I remember getting up at around 4am after hearing the bells. I got up, got dressed and ran out into the corridor - what I didn’t realise was that the bells I was hearing were calling nuns to Mass - needless to say I never made that mistake again,” she smiles.

Margaret returned home to Derry in 1974 to be with her sick father. She had completed her education degree and in September 1974 she got her first teaching position at the old Waterside Boys’ School on Chapel Road. After spending five years at the school Margaret moved to Sacred Heart PS in April 1979 at the behest of her teaching colleague, Brian Spellman who was principal at the school.

“There was a bit of shake-up taking place amongst the schools in the Waterside and when Brian Spellman moved to Trench Road PS (the former name of Sacred Heart PS) as principal, he asked me to come along too. Margaret McGlinchey was the secretary at the old boys’ school and she started at Sacred Heart PS the same day as myself. Margaret is still the secretary at Sacred Heart PS and we’ve remained great friends over the years.”

She added: “I’ve worked under four amazing principals. They were Leo Day, Joe McCourt, Brian Spellman and now Brendan Bradley - they were all excellent.”

An opportunity to take part in teacher exchange with an American primary school presented itself in 1985. Margaret travelled to Burke, Virginia where she lived and worked for a year.

“Living and working in America was a great experience and one I’ll never forget. I loved it so much that I could have stayed longer but I think that Mr. Spellman would have had something to say about that,” she laughs.

When Margaret returned home she was seconded by the Western Education Library Board (WELB) to help introduce new computer systems into many schools around Derry.

“I witnessed how the American system incorporated computers into teaching so I suppose that was why the WELB asked me to do that job. I really enjoyed it but when I look back now and think about the computers we were working with it makes me feel so old. We used to use the old Acorn computers - that’s how long ago I am talking about.”

The reason Margaret enjoyed her career so much was because of the people of the Waterside she says. She explained that the sense of community she witnessed over the years was second to none.

“The people of this community are just amazing. There’s a real community ethos here - they’re so dedicated and when it comes to school shows and other big events the parents really get on board and help out.

“The other thing that I like about the children of this school that if I ever run into any of them when I’m in town they come up and talk to me and tell me how they’re getting on. I just love working with children and when you’re teaching and you see what you’re saying is starting to register with them, you can’t help but feel satisfied.”

She added: “The children and the people in this school are top class and I’d by lying if I said that I won’t miss them.”

Margaret believes that she has taught more than 1,000 children and admits that she will feel strange when she closes the book on her teaching career later this month.

“It’s always going to be strange when you’ve been used to a certain routine but if I’m honest, I am really excited about retirement. I love travelling so I hope to visit as many of the world’s capital cities as possible. I’ve been to a few places already but I’d love to see Paris and then maybe travel around Latin America - I’m really looking forward to it.”

Margaret said that she also plans on using her time to volunteer and help others. She says that after seeing the help and support her uncle received whilst in a local care home she decided that she would like to “give something back”.

“My uncle was at the care home in William Street and the people there were just amazing with him. I noticed when I was there that many older people had no one visiting them so if I can give something back that way then I’ll know I am doing the right thing.”

Although Margaret is visibly comfortable with her decision to retire she looks pensive when asked how she will feel in September. As all the other teachers, pupils, old and new, arrive at school for the start of the new term - will she be thinking of them?

“Of course I will,” she smiles. “Like I said to you before, it’s the children I’ll miss most.”