Guest speaker at the recent Coleraine Probus Club meeting was Stephen Connolly, former head teacher at Bangor Grammar School.
The unusual topic of his talk was “Getting There”, which he thought would be more interesting than something like ‘my life and career as a teacher’.
Stephen is a native of Londonderry and a former pupil of Foyle College where his father was Head Master. This was not a happy situation for Stephen, for he felt (borrowing a phrase from the author Graham Green) ‘like a spy, with a foot in both camps’. School life was made worse as his mother was also a teacher AND she managed to keep every one of his school reports! Stephen was not a gifted student, but he was a determined one - determined that he would never, ever become a teacher!
With hard work and years of study, Stephen did manage to rise from 30th in a class of 30, to 29th and on the way found that he was very interested in English. This led to an opportunity to take a degree course in Durham University and eventually an offer of a post at B.R.A. in Belfast. Stephens account of the trials of getting from Durham to the B.R.A, where he arrived for his interview on a milk float, would have made a good Laurel and Hardy style film!
Stephen’s talk was fuelled by many thoughts and reflections from his 39 years in teaching, mostly at Bangor, with the last 13 as the head. It was a career he ‘somehow escaped without disaster’ while becoming more interested in English and its practical application in writing, performing and directing a number of plays.
It was on stage at the Riverside Theatre, when acting in a new play, that Stephen found the title of his talk to Probus. His character has a particular and styled walk to do, followed by a short dance. The lady choreographer practiced long with Stephen to get these steps right. At the dress rehearsal, thinking he had done well, Stephen asked what she thought of his performance. Her reply was ‘the walk was very good’. But Stephen wanted to know about the dance also, and was told ‘Well, we’re getting there!’. That, for Stephen, is perhaps a metaphor for all our lives. With help and much practice, we can learn and improve how we live our lives, and that may continue right up to our natural end (when we take that final bow?).
What is certain, Stephen’s talk was delivered with the masterful aplomb of an outstanding head teacher and a talented actor.