Margaret Smith stood down from three and a half decades of standing up for teaching at last month’s end of term.
And ironically the EIS union rep, president and ex-president would have been 36 years in the job but for ten days – and she missed the milestone as a result of strike action.
She looks back fondly on nursery education but also at the “unbearable” shortages affecting teaching. Now she’s looking forward to retirement and time with husband Ian, holidays and living life having worked in, and fought for, education throughout her time. That won’t end either though.
“Things have changed significantly in all that time, as you’d expect,” she said. “Teachers need support, the workload has changed, the curriculum has changed and the pay too. Teachers and education needs to be valued again, that’s one of our slogans at the moment in the union, and it’s important.
“I don’t blame maths graduates coming out of university for looking at teaching the subject and then choosing other careers with the range of jobs available to them. With the workloads and the pay and everything else that goes with it, would you? It’s not an attractive proposition. Teachers are really struggling.”
What needs to change, says Margaret is the pay for starters. She believes teachers deserve a ten per cent increase and that may go some way to reducing the staff shortages afflicting the profession.
“There’s a real lack of supply teachers, so when someone goes off, it’s others who have to take the work on with increasing workloads of their own. The pay has eroded away too as the demands have increased.
“Shortages have come up from time to time but they’ve been more so recently. It’s become unbearable.
“People think it’s a nine to three job, but it’s so much more than that.”
However, despite seeing the other side in her role fighting against cuts, education shortages and representing teachers and colleagues across the area and nationally, it’s still a profession she loved.
“I started at Dunblane primary school, then taught music in Falkirk at various schools, like Langlees, Bantaskin and Carron then after some time off on maternity leave and supply work I returned to East Plean, before Inchyra nursery and Deanburn nursery class.”
It’s at the lower end of the school she found her forte and her passion – while husband Ian is at the opposite end of the education spectrum, as a further education college lecturer.
And though she’s taught across the region, it’s as union rep she’s best known, locally and nationally – working with colleagues and on the picket lines. It’s an association she intends to keep beyond retirement working with the EIS benevolent section.
“I became involved in the union when there was a threat to nursery education, that’s where I’ve always worked and what I’ve always enjoyed. I became involved in the local executive then the national EIS council. After that I was involved in the education committee and the regions and from there it was vice president, president in 2016-17 and my final year as ex-president. I’ve also been local president twice too.”
Awarded the national fellowship for the union, as national president she was on the front line in the lecturers dispute and was again involved in the industrial action at the tail end of the school term – which meant she missed out on her 36-years of service – while defending the profession she believes in and will continue to do with the EIS as local rep and with the benevolent fund helping teachers get back on their feet, despite standing down from her day-to-day role.