End of an era at Derry school as popular member of staff retires after almost 44 years

Jim Zammitt speaks about his many years at St Brigid's College

Jim zammitt

Jim Zammitt (right), pictured with St Brigid's College principal Mr Pádraig O’Mianáin, is retiring after four decades at the school.

When he joined the staff at what then was Carnhill Secondary School, Jim Zammitt, was just 16-years-old and his job as an assistant science/woodwork technician saw him work in 'huts' at two sites a mile apart.

Things have changed since then and as Jim prepares to retire from what is now St Brigid's College in Carnhill after almost 44 years service, he looks back at a career and a job that has changed dramatically.

Jim was brought up in the Lecky Road area in the Bogside, the eldest child of Eileen and Charlie Zammitt's four boys and one girl.

After attending the Brow-o'-the-Hill Christian Brothers primary school, he went to St Peter's High School, being one of the first first-year pupils at the newly-opened Creggan secondary school.

Recalling that broadcaster Joe Mahon was his form teacher in fourth/fifth year, he said: “Back in those days, the Troubles were at their height and I would have passed the army going up and down Eastway. There were riots in the afternoon as I went home, but that was just normal, that's the way it was.”

After leaving St Peter's, Jim went to 'The Tech' to do an engineering course.

However, it was not for long.

He said: “It just wasn't for me. I saw the job for Carnhill advertised and I applied and, luckily, I got it.

“Back then the school operated across three sites – Pennyburn Youth Club, Slievemore Primary School and Steelstown Primary School. I worked between two sites, Pennyburn and Slievemore. I would have walked between the two and sometimes was lucky enough to get a bus. But I was young enough and it did not bother me walking anywhere.”

Jim started in January 1977 and he spent nine months between the two sites.

He said the opening of the current school, now known as St Brigid's College, in September 1977 resulted in him going back to school himself.

“When we moved to the new building I was given the choice of being full-time science or full-time woodwork technician and I opted for science and, just by chance, there was a day release course at 'The Tech' for school science technicians over three years and it was a matter of learning 'on the job' after that.”

Jim explained what his new role in the school was.

“It entailed, basically, looking after the teachers' requirements for equipment, chemicals and stuff like that as well as being responsible for stock, the acquisition of all the chemicals, stationery and equipment.”

Jim (pictured above, front row far right, with former colleagues) described the new school building as 'amazing'.

He added: “It was state-of-the art. It was quite a step up from going into a hut where the facilities were really basic and going to a purpose-built school with state-of-the-art facilities.”

And things were to change even more.

He said: “Back then, for example, it was blackboards and chalk. We moved on a bit to have one television and a video between five/six teachers which would have been loaned out of a first-come-first-served basis.

“We have come on even further to where every classroom has an intercative whiteboard, a projector and everything is at the flick of a switch. Everything has changed dramatically, everything is computerised.”

In latter years, Jim's work took him beyond the science room.

He explained: “In recent years, I got to take groups of sixth formers an afternoon a week to the University of Ulster at Magee for what was called 'A Step Up' science course. But mostly the job was very much behind the scenes.”

Like many, the coronavirus pandemic has affected how Jim performed his job over the past seven months.

He said: “The school was closed from March to the end of August. I am sure it was difficult for the teachers with online teaching. As for me, I did whatever I could from home, that included preparing acquisition for the coming year and stuff like that.

“When we went back it was a different world – masks and hand sanitisers everywhere you turned, social distancing and everybody doing their best and being as careful as they can. As I said, it was a different world.”

Looking back, Jim said he enjoyed his 44 years at the school and had made many friends.

“I made many good friends over the years, far too many to list. I have seen every member of staff come and go. There were a few pranksters in science and we had a few laughs.”

However, he admitted he had 'mixed feelings' about his leaving.

He said: “I will be going with mixed feelings and mixed emotions because you don't work in a place for 44 years and not have a very strong bond with the school and the people in it.”

He added: “I hope the school keeps going from strength-to-strength and it will always be in my memory.

“I would like to thank everybody for being great friends over the years and I will miss you all.”

And he had a message for the students: “Good luck, do your best and be proud of your school.”

Due to the coronavirus restrictions, Jim has no immediate plans although he intends to see a lot more of his son, David, a clinical psychologist in London.

He explained: “Marie, my wife, retired a couple of months ago and whenever, and I say whenever not if, this Covid is all over and we get back to some sort of normality, we plan to do a bit of travelling. In the meantime, I will take things easy and do a bit of walking and enjoy retirement for a while.”

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