It could be said that it was a sticky bun that lured Nigel Ryan into the teaching profession.
That was the reward given to Nigel as a Year 10 pupil when he finished off a Maths lesson for his teacher, who needed to rush off to set up the tuck shop ready for the break.
Many years later and the rewards have kept coming for Nigel, who retired yesterday as headmaster of Spalding Grammar School.
They haven’t been so obvious as a sticky bun, but more about the difference Nigel has made to the lives of students, staff and the school.
Nigel, who has continued to teach alongside his managerial responsibilities, says: “The rewards come on a daily basis when a student doesn’t understand something or can’t do a problem and you help them think about it in a different way and they can do it. Those rewards happen on a daily basis and that’s what teachers teach for. Obviously, I am going to miss that. You can’t replace that.”
In fact teaching wasn’t Nigel’s first career as he was sponsored by Courtaulds to go to Cambridge University, where he gained a degree in Metallurgy and Natural Science, and in return spent time in the company’s research department.
While he enjoyed the job, Nigel decided to pursue his greater interest in teaching and was all set to become a student again when his wife, Elaine, became pregnant with their first child, Louise. Their second daughter, Lorna, came along quickly, and they went on to have Kirsty, all of them within three years.
That meant a slight change of plan and instead of college Nigel began work as a physics teacher at a community college in Coventry, having to get to grips very quickly with the contrast between his own grammar school days and the reality of an inner city comprehensive of students of mixed ability, ethnic origin and discipline standards.
Importantly, however, what the new job gave him was “a full family life”. He says: “Being a teacher, you are there all the holidays, pretty much every evening, with the exception of occasional parents’ evenings.”
Elaine returned to her demanding job as a nurse, working evenings and weekends when the girls were small, and Nigel taking over bed-time duties.
Nigel’s career took him to schools in Birmingham, Kent – where both Nigel and Elaine come from – and Essex, and Bexley Grammar School in south east London, where he was deputy head.
Nigel took over as headmaster at Spalding Grammar School in 2004 and says: “This school is, for the vast majority of students, the biggest social grouping they come across and they enjoy the social aspect of the school. It makes a difference to them, as well as their education.”
Nigel has handed over to Steve Wilkinson, and he and Elaine – they are both 58 and both retired yesterday – have a new home on the North Yorkshire coast where they plan to pursue their interest in sports and spend time travelling in their motorhome. Nigel is planning to return to Spalding though, when he plans to improve on past performances in the old boys’ golf match!
Making a difference
Nigel Ryan leaves Spalding Grammar School a vastly improved educational establishment in terms of the improved facilities – three major building projects during his tenure provided new classrooms, library, drama and IT suites, as well as a state of the art business centre. A new atrium was built in the middle of the school, new staff room, 6th form block, and more, all done to preserve the Victorian school building while bringing facilities up to 21st century standards.
However, Nigel says one of the most rewarding parts of being a headteacher is appointing the staff.
He says: “If you get that right, everything else looks after itself. I have had the pleasure of appointing a whole range of fantastic staff during the time I have been here.
“I regard education as a caring profession and when I appoint teachers I am looking for people who are not just educated, but who care about students as individuals and are prepared to help develop and support them, and we have a great bunch of staff that are more than prepared to go the extra mile outside as well as inside the classroom.”