The General Teaching Council for Scotland

Enhancing professionalism in education since 1965

50th anniversary


Glen Ross

Glen Ross graduated from Aberdeen College of Education in 1965 with Secondary and Primary Teaching Certificates. He registered with GTC Scotland in 1965 and began his first teaching post in 1967, teaching Maths at Bervie Secondary School. His first full month’s pay was just over £48. At that time at Bervie Academy, the ‘academic’ pupils left the school at S2 for Mackie Academy while the rest stayed on for S3 and then left education.

Can you remember your first day in a classroom? What was it like?

I remember it exceedingly well! I knew I was going to be teaching maths and the headmaster instructed me that when I went into this particular third year class I was to jump down the throat of a particular pupil. Because, he may not have been doing anything but the chances were 90 per cent that he had been so I should assert my authority right away! And I thought, this was a bit strange. In fact when I went in I think they were more unsure of me than I was of them. I had been well briefed by the headmaster on who the pupils were. They were all third year, at that time all the academic ones went up to Mackie Academy from Inverbervie at the end of second year, so the ones we had were what you would call the 'non-certificate pupils'. But, it was OK, we got on very well and within a couple of days they just accepted me.

What is your most memorable moment from your experience as a teacher during the 1960s?

Getting to grips with the syllabus. When I first started as a teacher at what was, at that time, just a three-year school, and having to do a syllabus that was really free and easy to be fair. Just getting there and meeting the headmaster and things was quite memorable!

What would you say the biggest difference between 'then' and 'now'?

Oh the amount of paperwork, and the amount of details that's now given in syllabi. When I started teaching, the syllabus for the non-certificate pupils was pretty free and easy. It was topics more than a detailed breakdown of what you should cover. Because there was going to be no exams for the non-certificate pupils. The certificate pupils was slightly different, there was a syllabus for them. But again, you were pretty much free in how you approached the topic and how you broke it down. You had much more basic guidelines than you have now.

What has been the biggest challenge you have faced as a teacher?

Glen Ross pictured at Chobe There were two. The first one was when I went to Africa and I had four weeks to set up an A level school. I arrived there thinking I was going to be teaching Maths, to be told that the school had just been upgraded from a four-year school to a full six-year school and I was now Head of Physics, in fact the only Physics teacher, and the first pupils would be going into the A level class (5th year as we would call it) in four weeks time!. There were no books, no equipment, nought! So it was quite a scramble having to go all over the country getting books from other schools and putting a syllabus together. I hadn't brought a Physics syllabus out with me, not expecting to be teaching Cambridge A level Physic overseas. It did take the best part of two years to get all the books and equipment in place and really get a department up and running.

The other challenge was getting the job at Speyside High School. It was a brand new school that was being started from scratch. I think my experiences in starting a department from scratch in Uganda counted in my favour. I went there in May 1976 and stayed there until my 15 minutes retirement in 2003!

Can you tell us a bit more about your time in Uganda?

Glen Ross pictured in the Ruwenzori MountainsWell, I'm glad I went. I have to admit it was a phenomenal experience, and I have to admit I really grew up. I was there for the best part of six years. We left just before the Asians were shoved out by Amin. We were there during part of his regime, but when it came to the end of ‘72 we decided it was time to get out. We got out just before the Asians were actually flung out in huge numbers. Amin, before he became President when he was chief of the army, was actually governor of the school. He came up every year to the school to present a bull.

How did you find teaching over there – was it difficult with the language difference?

By the time the children got into secondary school their English was pretty good. Only 20 per cent of primary school leavers actually got into secondary school because there was not enough schools. Lango College in Lira was the fourth top school in the country, which meant that we got the best of the top pupils.

The pupils were very keen to learn and there were fees that had to be paid. Sometimes you'd have a remote village clubbing together to raise the fees to send one, or maybe two, of their pupils from the whole village to the school.

Who has had the most influence on you as a teacher?

It was a Maths teacher in my 5th year. I was not very good at maths and he managed to get me to grasp the patterns in mathematics. I went from the equivalent of a D to the equivalent of an upper B in one year. But I met that teacher again at teacher training college where he was now a lecturer. And the thing that influenced me most there was the fact that, I was speaking to him one day and he said he'd only be at the college for about say seven years because by that time the maths syllabus would be changed and he did not see how he could bring on or help new teachers to develop a syllabus that he himself had never taught. And that was in stark contrast to our Physics tutor at the college, who hadn't been in a classroom for over 25 years and the trainee teachers like myself knew more about the equipment and the topics than he did. And he got quite shirty about it and we did too to be honest! The maths lecturer was true to his word and after seven years he went back to school. I thought that was a very good thing, a very important thing that he did not feel he could help trainee teachers with a maths syllabus when he himself had never taught it himself and found out what the problems would be in the classroom.

Glen Ross with one of his students who took the Institute of Physics Award Can you give us your top teaching tips?

Two things I would say are – always be positive and encouraging and remember that not all of your students are there because they absolutely want to be there. Some of them are there because they just need something of the subject in the background. The other things which I found, surprisingly, other schools weren't using, is make the subject relevant to real life. Physics is used in real life. Some of my pupils were shocked when they found out that Heather the weather has a First Class Honours Physics degree and is President of the Scottish Branch of the Institute of Physics. That was one of the things that I really liked about my career: by the time I left roughly 50 per cent of my class was female. I was quite glad I managed to get so many girls to continue Physics because there was still an attitude that Physics wasn't a girls' subject.