Dalriada bids a fond farewell to four outstanding teachers

AT the annual end-of-year assembly in Ballymoney's Dalriada School, Headmaster Tom Skelton, paid tribute to the dedication and commitment of four retiring members of the teaching staff – Mr Heaney Sayers, Mr Bryan Coulter, Mrs Mabel Morrison and Mr Alwyn Spence.

Mr Skelton told the packed audience of pupils “Last night, as a staff 92 of us gathered to celebrate the end of another school year, but more importantly, say goodbye to four members of staff who between them have over 100 years’ experience of working in Dalriada School.

“It was an emotional evening, listening to them recall some wonderful memories of their time at Dalriada and their retirement leaves a huge gap in our staff. In all their speeches, they shared a common theme – their love of teaching and the special place which Dalriada has in their hearts”.

Mrs Morrison, Mr Coulter, Mr Spence and Mr Sayers then individually addressed the pupils who responded with a standing ovation reflecting the high regard they have for these four outstanding teachers.

Mr Heaney Sayers

Mr Heaney Sayers has had a long association with Dalriada. A former pupil, he joined the teaching staff as a History teacher in 1977. Previously, Heaney began his teaching career in 1974 at Annadale Grammar School and made an immediate impression. His former Head of History Mr Caffey, in a reference for the post in Dalriada stated that, “his teaching style is both vigorous and refreshing, and he has the pleasing ability to communicate his enthusiasm for his subject to young people”.

Over 30 years later, his unique teaching style is still very much in evidence in Dalriada. His enthusiasm for his subject, both in the classroom and as Head of Department, has resulted in an extraordinary uptake amongst pupils for History in recent years at Dalriada. The excellent History results gained in external examinations is a fitting tribute to the work of Heaney and to his leadership of the History Department.

During his 33 years at Dalriada, Heaney has held a number of key positions of responsibility, including Head of Department, Head of Middle School, Head of Sixth Form and Senior Teacher. He was also a member of the Careers Department, a member of the Primary Liaison Committee, a Teacher Governor and a member of the Education Committee.

Heaney’s commitment to the extra-curricular life of the school has been outstanding. Over the years he has assisted with rugby, cricket and badminton. As Stage Manager for the last twenty years, he worked closely with pupils, teaching staff and support staff in the successful staging of school Dramatic and Music productions.

His dedication as organiser of the Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme over the last thirty three years has been truly exceptional, planning and leading countless expeditions and helping hundreds of young people to gain awards at bronze, silver and gold levels. His work in this area has been recognised on a number of occasions by the presentation of prestigious awards. However, more importantly, he provided countless pupils with a positive experience in mountain craft, teamwork and service to others.

In addition to his outstanding devotion to Dalriada, Heaney’s personal qualities include his approachability, attention to detail and the ability to listen and communicate with others. These qualities allowed him to carry out his role as teacher responsible for staff cover efficiently and effectively. As a former scout master, he embodies two of the primary Scout Movement values - self reliance and a cheerful happy decency.

Mr Bryan Coulter

Bryan Coulter came to teach at Dalriada in September 1975 and since that time he has become part of the fabric of the school. It was a time of change for the Art Department as they were just about to move into the newly constructed Edmund Gordon Centre. This building with its open plan Art Department created an environment where Mr Coulter and Mrs Devlin encouraged pupils to explore their creativity and individuality.

Over the past 35 years this has remained the aim of the Art Department. His enthusiasm for his subject and endless supply of original and innovative ideas has helped countless pupils realise their potential and progress to Mr the career of their choice.

He became Head of Department 1981 and has overseen many curriculum and examination changes within the Art Department and in recent years he has become very proficient with ICT and in particular digital photography and Adobe Photoshop.

Who said you can’t teach an old dog new tricks? This attitude of openness and the will to discover new things has been a feature of his teaching. His lessons are never dull and long before the NI Curriculum was reworked yet again he was thinking of ways to better engage pupils.

“On one occasion he even brought a rooster into school for the pupils to draw; of course it broke out of its pen and he spent most of the time chasing it round the Art Department, but I’m sure those pupils will always remember that lesson,” said Mr Skelton.

Outside of the classroom, Mr Coulter has used his vivid imagination and considerable talent as a painter to transport us to the mountains of Austria in ‘The Sound of Music’, the enchanted forest of ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’, the barricades of ‘Les Misrables’ and the wild west for ‘Annie Get Your Gun’. No matter what the play or musical he has always come up with some stunning backdrops and scenery.

“We may have to bring him back to carry on this longstanding tradition,” added Mr Skelton.

Mr Alwyn Spence

When Alwyn Spence came to teach in Dalriada in 1977 it was his first appointment. He was a graduate of Queen’s University Belfast where he studied Mathematics. Although he remained living in his native Ballymena for a number of years, he quickly became involved in the life of the school, contributing to a whole range of extra-curricular activities.

He helped supervise pupils on Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme expeditions in the Mournes. He was involved with the school productions of musicals and Shakespeare plays, contributing to the stage lighting and of course to taking photographs of pupils appearing in these.

This was only the first of very many photographic contributions which Alwyn has continued to make in recording the life of the school. In this pre-digital, film and darkroom era, the quality of the photographs Alwyn took, developed and printed, form part of the record of these productions and stand as evidence of his skill and ability as a photographer.

Alwyn’s contribution to sport in the school was significant over a number of years and he helped organise the school’s table tennis club from which players competed very successfully both in interschool and regional competitions.

In 1994 Alwyn was appointed as the school’s Examination Officer. The volume of work involved in this position has grown steadily over the years, particularly as modular courses were introduced at A level.

“The efficiency and professionalism with which Alwyn has carried out this key role is something that the whole school community, pupils, teachers and parents, has come to rely on, and for which we owe him our sincere thanks,” said Mr Skelton.

In this work, and indeed in many skiing adventures, Alwyn has been ably assisted by Susan Crawford.

Added Mr Skelton: “Alwyn would sometimes like us to have the impression that he has a very no nonsense and tough approach to dealing with pupils. Anyone though, who has seen him work with pupils in class, or when they have some issue associated with examinations, will know that he is very prepared to do all he can to help them when they are having problems.

“Many pupils, and their parents, will know of the extra efforts Alwyn has made, on their behalf, to ensure they have the best opportunity to succeed in their examination work.

“In the years Alwyn has been at this school, there have been a host of changes in education. He has been known to protest against this tide of change and indeed sometimes claims that he has been doing things in just the same way as when he first started teaching. That this is not quite the case contrasts with the one area in which Alwyn genuinely has resisted change, his choice of car.

“For as long as most of us who known him, Alwyn has only owned two vehicles; a venerable red VW Beetle which ferried him to and from Ballymena in his early teaching years, and the now legendary, and possibly eternal, white Audi. Alwyn has always been a man who knows how to look after things well. Everyone associated with the school has benefitted from that meticulous approach and the good humour Alwyn has always brought to working with all those around him,” said Mr Skelton.

Mrs Mabel Morrison

Mabel Morrison has been a familiar face in Dalriada for almost 27 years. She graduated from Stranmillis University College with a degree in Geography and English and in the early stages of her career taught in several schools, including Cullybackey Secondary School and Coleraine Secondary School.

Mabel was first introduced to Dalriada in 1984 where she taught Geography, English and Physical Education. Over the next few years she became more familiar with the school as a result of covering maternity leaves for various members of staff. In 1993 Mabel became a part-time, permanent member of staff, teaching Geography, Religious Studies, English and Latin. The part-time nature of her work meant that she could spend more time at home with her young family.

In 2001 Mabel completed her Diploma in Religious Studies, which enabled her to pursue her dream: teaching Religious Education. The retirement of Jose Caskey within the R.E. department provided the perfect opportunity for Mabel to finally fulfil her ambition to teach R.E. within Dalriada.

Said Mr Skelton: “Upon the retirement of Miss Ruby Gamble, Mabel was appointed as Head of RE in Dalriada in 2009. Although this role has been short-term, Mabel has really demonstrated her leadership skills and commitment to the department on so many occasions. It has been a very busy year in many ways for Mabel, particularly as she also fulfils several other important roles within her church and personal life. The dedication and motivation she has shown has been outstanding throughout, but her ability to juggle all aspects of her life is, in itself, a real achievement!”