A PRIMARY headteacher is handing over after 39 years – to a former pupil she first taught in P1.
Irene Smith was one the first pupils at Bell’s Brae Primary, Lerwick, Shetland, when it opened in 1957 and returned 19 years later as a teacher.
In her first ever P1 class in 1976 was a girl called Jennifer Wadley.
Jennifer herself went on to be a teacher at the same school and is now taking over the top job at Bell’s Brae from Irene, 65.
And Irene not only inspired her replacement as headteacher. The newly-appointed deputy head of the school, Cheryl Simpson, 37, was also a student of Irene’s in the class of 1983.
Speaking of Jennifer, Irene said: “She was a good student, they were a lovely class that first class
“She was a very conscientious pupil. She had a lovely smile, I remember that.”
Irene added: “It’s lovely to see former pupils having the same commitment to teaching.
“There is a bond there – an understanding and familiarity.
“It’s so nice to think you’ve had some impact, that they’ve wanted to go into the same career as you.”
Irene herself was promoted to deputy head of the school, which has almost 400 pupils, in 1994, was acting headteacher in 2004 and was running the school again this year until her retirement.
Irene, whose last official day at work was today, said: “The funny thing is, I never applied to be headteacher. I just stepped up.
“People do come back to Shetland, but I don’t think this has happened at Bell’s Brae before.”
A 1976 class picture shows Irene standing proudly next to the class, with Jennifer beaming out from the front row.
Jennifer remembers fondly her time in P1, saying: “Irene was always a very calm person.
“She has such a lovely way with words.”
She added: “I always wanted to be a teacher, right from the very start, and that was down to the fact that all of the teachers were fun and caring and supported you.
“I never wanted to do anything else.”
She recalls returning to her old school as a part of work experience programme, and Irene’s words of encouragement: “If this is what you want, go for it!”
“I’ve learned so much from her”, she added.
Jennifer, who was Jennifer Sinclair when a pupil at the school, said Irene always stood out in her recollection of primary school.
“I can remember that Irene was always visible.
“When I was in P2 Irene and my class did a celebration for the Queen’s jubilee.”
She added that Irene’s support continued through her time as a pupil, teacher training and returning to the school.
When she started at the school as a rookie teacher, Irene was there to inspire.
Jennifer said: “She would always be stopping by and asking how you were getting on, and saying,’Go for it!’”
“For me it was quite lovely coming in. I can honestly say I got nothing but support.”
Mrs Wadley also nominated Mrs Smith for a Lifetime Achievement award at this year’s Scottish education awards.
As part of the nomination process she gave a glowing report of her former teacher.
“She will cover a class with an engaging lesson at a moment’s notice, supervise at breaktime, referee a football match, dry tears, sort out disputes, ensure a lost child gets home, organise a school trip, spend a sleepless night in the local outdoor centre, search for a missing jacket, be a DJ, take the role of a Victorian headmistress…the list is endless!”
Irene took home the lifetime achievement award at a ceremony on June 10.