‘I’ve enjoyed every minute of it’

Pupils Carter Russell, Rachel Kennedy, Lucy McCormick and Michael Quays with Doagh Primary School Principal Bobby Thompson   INNT 23-443-RM
Pupils Carter Russell, Rachel Kennedy, Lucy McCormick and Michael Quays with Doagh Primary School Principal Bobby Thompson INNT 23-443-RM

HAVING been a teacher for more than four decades, Bobby Thompson admits that he’s looking forward to retiring this summer. But the Doagh Primary School Principal says he hasn’t quite yet come to terms with the fact that he won’t be returning to work come September.

One of Newtownabbey’s longest-serving school Principals, Mr Thompson has been a teacher for 41 years. He arrived at Doagh Primary in 1970 as a student teacher and secured a job at the school the following year. In 1977 he moved to Eden Primary School in Carrickfergus before returning to Doagh as Headmaster in January 1980. At the age of just 31, he was the youngest Principal ever appointed in the North Eastern Board area.

Having been in charge at Doagh Primary for the past 32 years, Mr Thompson is now facing retirement at the end of August when he will hand over the reins to his successor.

“Apart from two and a bit years, my entire teaching career has been spent in Doagh Primary School. Because I have been here for so long I’m now teaching grandchildren of people that I taught. A lot of teachers when they get older end up teaching the children of children that they taught, but I’m now teaching grandchildren,” he told the Times.

“In many ways I’m looking forward to retiring, but I will find it a huge wrench leaving because it’s my school. I’ve been here on and off for 40 years and I will find it very hard not to be heading over here at the beginning of September.

“I haven’t quite come to terms with it yet, but come September it’ll probably have sunk in a bit.”

Mr Thompson, who is being kept in the dark by staff and pupils about plans to mark his retirement, has witnessed many changes at the school over the years, particularly the advances in technology and improvements to the school building and grounds.

He puts the ongoing success of the Main Street school down to “a teaching staff that’s second to none”, a supportive Board of Governors, a strong PTA and an active core of parents that support the school.

Looking back on his time in Doagh, he said: “There have been ups and downs and there have been tough times, but I’ve enjoyed every minute of it.

“I’ll miss teaching most; I’ll miss the contact with the children. I won’t miss the administration, I won’t miss the way the curriculum has been messed about, I won’t miss the constant changes, but I will miss the contact with the children and trying to guide them along the right path in life.”

Following his retirement, Mr Thompson plans to spend more time with his wife Diana, devote more time to his role as Honorary Secretary of Ballyclare Golf Club and pursue his interest in equestrian sports, particularly eventing and showjumping. He will also maintain an interest in education as he sits on the Boards of Governors at three local schools.

School Governors and officials at the NEELB are currently in the process of appointing Mr Thompson’s replacement. And he knows that the new Principal will face a number of stiff challenges in the years ahead, particularly trying to increase pupil enrolment and working within ever-tightening budgets.

Wishing his successor well for the future, Mr Thompson added: “I just hope they’re as happy here as I’ve been and get as much satisfaction from the job as I’ve got.

“It’s great to see children learning, it’s great to see children enjoying themselves and our children come into school with a smile on their face, they leave with a smile on their face and that means an awful lot when you know that the children are happy.

“This is a caring environment. To me Doagh School is very unique and very special; we have a staff who really do care for the children - it’s not just a job. They’re very caring people and the children know that and the parents know that and I think that’s our greatest strength, that we all have the same caring ethos in the school, and I’d assume that my successor will continue with that.”