Schools may not be the most romantic of settings, unless you’re passing notes to someone you fancy at the back of double maths. but teachers Garret Campbell and Gwen Brennan fell for each other across a crowded staffroom back in 1993.
The odds were stacked in his favour, we joke, as all but three of the teachers at the Loreto Abbey in Dalkey were female. He was teaching science as a substitute teacher, and she was the religion and English teacher.
“It took a few months for us to get talking properly,” recalls Garret. “Gwen was always happy and smiling, and even on the worst days, she would just bring a bit of sunshine into your day, which is what really won me over.”
Gwen, then 22, was intrigued by Garret, who at 27, seemed to know lots about everything and appeared well-travelled. Well, he may have gone on too much about that summer he went to the US on a J1 student visa, he laughs. They often got the Dart in and out to work together, which naturally caused a bit of speculation among the female students.
“Garret was very understanding,” says Gwen. “I was only out of college, so if I came in from a challenging class, he would be able to put a bit of sense on it and make me laugh. He left at the end of the year, so we went out with friends and went to a party afterwards, and that’s when sparks flew.”
They started dating, and tied the knot 13 years later. The contented pair now live in Malahide with their little dog, Cami. “Married life has been really fantastic,” says Gwen, now 44. “I often wonder why we didn’t do it sooner.”
Gwen is from Clontarf, and comes fourth of Marie and Paul Brennan’s six children. Her dad worked as a confectionery sales manager with Rowntree Mackintosh, which naturally was a dream job, from his children’s perspective.
She studied religion and English with education at Mater Dei, and is now principal of Presentation Secondary School in Warrenmount, Dublin 8. She started there as an English and religion teacher, and rose to the position of principal four years ago, and is responsible for a school of 282 students.
“It’s a very challenging job, but I love it and it’s very rewarding,” she says. “I’d be strict enough, I suppose, but I try to be fair and respectful. I am even teaching some of my old pupils’ children now, which is interesting. There are a lot of challenging issues these days, such as cyber-bullying, and my job involves creating a safe and happy school environment, as well as providing students with the skills to deal with any of those issues.”
Garret is from Sandyford and is the eldest of Peter, a painter/decorator, and the late Dorothy’s three sons. He completed his PhD in science at UCD, and did some consultancy work for the OPW. He then completed his HDip, after which he taught at St. Conleth’s in Ballsbridge for 14 years.
His career path changed when he and Gwen were invited to go and work in India for three months in 2006, to train often unqualified teachers working in remote communities there.
“We were up in the jungles of the north-east, and we met lots of Indian teachers working in remote rural areas under very basic conditions,” says Garret. “It was a fascinating, and incredible experience, as when we talked to them, their problems and concerns were the same as every other teacher around the world, including low pay, curriculum issues and discipline problems.”
Many of the Indian teachers hadn’t had formal training, but a law is now passing that all Indian teachers will have to be qualified to teach by 2018. Upon their return, Garret and Gwen decided to set up Global Schoolroom, which recruits working and retired teachers to travel to India at various times of the year, to join a teaching programme that is accredited by UCD and recognised in India.
Cornmarket Group Financial Services came on board to support the ongoing project, and has provided about a half a million euros worth of support over the past eight years. Its former managing director, Robert Power, is now the chairman of Global Schoolroom, and while Gwen is very much involved and is one the board of directors, Garret is the full-time CEO. They had a few lucky breaks, such as becoming the 2010 Irish Life and Permanent international charity of the year, and for the first time, the charity will also receive some Irish aid this year.
“Over 150 Irish teachers have travelled with us, and we have trained over 400 Indian teachers who are now getting better jobs with improved salaries,” says Garret. “People who travel with us become so captivated by the work that they often come back and volunteer the next year, so we have a lot of former teachers with us who have taken on particular roles voluntarily. Many say that engaging with this project is one of the most important things that they have ever done.”
Life is very busy, but in their free time, Gwen and Garret enjoy walking and going to the theatre. Garret works from home and is a great cook, so they have dinner together every night.
“I think that we are very solid, after 22 years together, and I don’t even have to say what is on my mind as Garret will just know,” says Gwen. “I suppose it helps that he was also a teacher and he understands, so if I get myself worked up and worried, he is able to look at things logically and from every angle.”
Garret says that he can take things too seriously at times, but Gwen is great at getting him to lighten up — even if she isn’t particularly domesticated and never empties the dishwasher.
So what’s the biggest challenge they face as a couple? “We have both chosen to take on busy projects, but you don’t always think of the true implications of that, so we have to ensure that we make space and time for each other,” says Garret.
For further information, please visit Global Schoolroom on www.globalschoolroom.net