Coming to the end of a tenure spanning over 20 twenty years at the helm of Stewart’s Melville College, steering staff and pupils through many changes and maintaining the standards synonymous with SMC, is Mr Neal Clark.
We managed to find a spot in Mr Clark’s busy end of term schedule to sit down with him and record some of the highlights of his time as a teacher and Head of Stewart’s Melville College. We hope you will enjoy reading all about them.
What is your happiest memory from your time at Stewart’s Melville College?
I am lucky to have lots of good memories from my time here, not least many happy sporting memories, but I think my happiest memory is probably when I completed my final Munro. A number of colleagues joined me for a celebration not only on the summit, but in a pub afterwards, down in Perthshire, situated next to one of the UK’s oldest trees, the Fortingall Yew, which is estimated to be around 5,000 years old!
What is the most significant change you have observed in your time here?
I think probably that there is an even greater ambition for academic success amongst the boys and a real enthusiasm for all of the other activities we now offer at school.
I put together the Standards and Quality report each year which contains a lot of data and information discussing the achievements from each academic year and I did think just recently as I was looking over this year’s document, from the grades statistics that the boys are achieving to the number of activities and trips going on, it really is remarkable. These stats suggest to me that together, staff and pupils at this school really make the most of the chances and opportunities available to them.
Could you describe SMC in just one word?
I will try to… A famous American General at the Battle of the Bulge in 1944 described the war as ‘nuts’! Now this is not as facetious as it sounds – it certainly can be a little ‘nuts’ at SMC, but that’s only because this is a can-do school.
Would you say there has been a colleague or pupil at School who has made a lasting impression in your life?
Well certainly. It is very sad but we have seen three superb teachers unfortunately pass away in service since I have worked here: Grant Mackenzie in the PE Department, Graham Mitchell who taught Chemistry and most recently Dr Carl Broughton, Teacher of Physics. They were all fantastically dedicated to the school, not only just in their subjects but in terms of their wider commitments to extra-curricular activities. In many ways they were models for me and my colleagues. It is very humbling to think I am lucky to get to my retirement since these three amazingly dedicated teachers did not get to this particular point.
In a similar vein, pupil Peter Murray fought a long battle with cancer throughout his time at ESMS. I remember finding out he would be going through a big operation over the Christmas holidays one year and feeling just blown away with what he was battling with and what he was going through. He was able to attend Prizegiving later that year, which was a really moving moment as his brother helped him across the stage to receive his deserved award for character and commitment. No other boy has matched him for that. He had such a huge future ahead of him that he was not able to fulfil and we should not take that for granted. I shall never forget Peter.
What achievements would you say you are most proud of from your time here?
As a teacher, is it always proverbially difficult to see where you cast your shadow. As you rise through the ranks you also get further from the classroom, which is what you were trained to do and what made you fall in love with the job, losing that closeness with individual classes and pupils. However, I hope I have encouraged our boys to be ambitious. I think, as I mentioned, there is lots of evidence that they have been and if I have played a small part in growing that ambition I would feel very proud. SMC boys do not accept second best.
What have you most enjoyed most about SMC?
I think, probably, it is that feeling of esprit de corps. I have always worked with teams of staff who are extremely positive and forever bouncing ideas off one another and when they have ideas, they follow through. I’ve also enjoyed that experience with pupils, whether it has been producing plays, accompanying them on expeditions, or on the sports field. That sense of communal teamwork and camaraderie has been fantastic and really encapsulates what this school is about.
What has been your most memorable school trip and why?
I remember in one particular year, the SMC boys had been on every continent on the globe (with the exception of Antarctica!), and I have been really lucky to accompany many trips over the years. The one I remember best was an S2 Geography trip to Iceland. It was the year after the disruptive volcanic eruption which had stopped air travel, and when we got off the plane and started driving to our hotel we were faced with great clouds of volcanic ash and lightening… there was another eruption! The locals were very sanguine about it and when we woke up the next morning to red dust clouds, we were simply provided with masks and advised where would be the best places to visit in the circumstances. Pupils were able to remain calm and enjoy a superb trip and wow did they learn a lot of about geology and geography in action!
Best piece of advice you have been given?
I shared an office for about ten years with Mr Johnston, Teacher of Maths, who was fantastic to work with and able to deal with any stress in a very calm way. He always reminded me that ‘every day is a school day’, and he is so right. Every day you will come across something new that will make you wiser or make you laugh. I think we should all remember that.
Finally, what are you looking forward to most in life after SMC?
That is a good question since the School has been quite all consuming! I would like to get better acquainted with my best friend, Radio 4 and catch up with my reading, which links in with what I said earlier and every day being a school day – there is still so much I know that I don’t know.
Thank you for sitting with us, Mr Clark.