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News > Staff > Teacher Feature: John Swinney (1985-2013)

Teacher Feature: John Swinney (1985-2013)

We asked John Swinney about his memories of teaching Maths at Hymers College
20 Mar 2022
John, with his wife Lynda
John, with his wife Lynda

How many years did you teach at Hymers College?

28 years (1985-2013)

What did you teach at Hymers College/What was your position?

Maths Teacher

What are your favourite memories of teaching?

It was an honour to work at Hymers for 28 years as a teacher of mathematics. I started my employment under Geoff Underwood who was a man of impeccable character. Geoff’s knowledge of the school was second to none. I remember him showing me that the craftsman who built the balustrade in the main hall had left his unique mark which is clearly visible to the entire hall. Visible to this day, and yet unnoticed by nearly all. In morning assemblies I used to look at that craftsman's ‘signature’ and think how good it would be if we, as teachers, could similarly leave our mark in helping future generations.

When I first started, only boys were allowed to enter at year seven. I was taken aback to discover that our ‘charges’ were addressed solely by their surname, with perhaps an initial if necessary. One morning, upon the conclusion of assembly, the Head, Mr Brian Bass, bellowed “I would like to see A. Duck and A. Gosling outside my study Immediately!” Now there spoke the voice of authority.

The staffroom was entitled “The Masters’ Common Room” despite a small minority of female staff. There was a strict pecking order for seating with the order descending from the open fire at the far end. The Art master, Mike Thickett, seemed to be in pole position standing with cigarette in hand warming his backside, whilst Laurie Trewartha was seated nearby reading a broadsheet. If I was fortunate, in a spare moment, I might sit next to the classics master Dennis Jack who would mentor me in the alchemy of The Times crossword.

There have been many changes for the better since those days but I am pleased that I was witness to such a very different era. An era when Hymers worked under a different paradigm and stood in stark contrast to the inner city school in which I started my vocation.

As for memories of the classroom, putting to one side the hard labour and lurking shadow of exhaustion (for both staff and students), there was the immense privilege in helping these unique individuals to blossom. For those who were not ‘gifted’ in mathematics, it was wonderful to see the other talents they had. Someone who might struggle in my room clearly showing his latent ability to become a world class euphonium player or, in another case, to give a mesmerising performance for the school on electric bass. Whilst teaching the language of mathematics was important, it was also important for me to recognise their journey in life and to try to impart encouragement and hope. Of course, I am sure that I failed many times. I remember one time, the class had just taken an internal examination and I decided to use the next lesson to go through full solutions to the exam whilst it was fresh in their minds. This was despite the fact that they had not yet received their scripts. I was over half way through the solutions, and upon giving one answer to a particularly difficult question, I heard Henry, from the back, shout an exultant “YES!” my joy was short lived when he continued “OFF THE MARK!” Needless to say, Henry went on to achieve a very creditable GCSE grade and is now successful in his chosen career.

Do you have any favourite tour/trip stories?

Outside of the classroom I enjoyed many hours seeing students in different environments. Amongst others, I enjoyed:

A cultural trip to Pitlochry with Dr Franklin.

WW1 battlefield tours with Ms Stanyon

D.of E. Award excursions with Mr (now Rev.) Richard Summers.

Much could be said of these educative times but, as the saying goes, what happens on the trip stays on the trip.

What have you done since you left Hymers College?

So what of my retirement from Hymers?  Well, it’s great to have time with the family. Lynda and I bought a dilapidated 5 storey building on Scarborough headland overlooking both bays. I spend much of my time renovating the property as well as enjoying its location. Obviously its ample size means we can be more hospitable with friends and family.

I have also involved myself in voluntary work particularly with the local Salvation Army.

I am still trying to advance my piano skills whilst being used by various churches in this regard.

I am also studying theology - in particular the doctrine of apokatastasis as taught by the church in the first 4 centuries.

It’s great to have more time to pursue various interests but there is so much I miss about Hymers, not least, Richard Grayson’s daily matinee performances at 8:00 am in the staffroom.  But seriously, I will always be thankful for the privilege of learning so much from my students and colleagues at Hymers.

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