When I arrived for my interview with Jenny Gilruth she was obviously well-prepared.

To her right sat a stack of papers presumably containing all sorts of interesting information about crumbling concrete, the charitable status of private schools, and maybe even the exact number of fires in which the SQA has managed to lose exam papers. Her new Special Adviser was in attendance, as was the press officer.

In the end – and as I had expected – we didn’t need any of it over the course of our discussion.

One of the first things I noticed was the difference between her two smiles.

There’s the one we all know – the one approved for photocalls and TV cameras and all that stuff. Every half-decent politician or public figure has one, and Jenny Gilruth’s is perfectly professional and acceptable.

Read more: Education secretary Jenny Gilruth on Scottish schools, ambition and reality

The other smile seems to come from somewhere else, like a different part of her brain is producing the response, and appeared to be provoked by the more challenging lines of conversation that developed over the course of our forty-minutes of allotted time.

Now, to be blunt, Jenny Gilruth doesn’t have a hard act, or hard acts, to follow as Education Secretary – but that doesn’t mean she’s in for an easy ride.

Obviously, she also has something that her predecessors did not: experience in the classroom. A modern studies teacher by profession, she was also a head of department and spent time at Education Scotland during the development of the (then) new National 5 and Higher qualifications.

As an MSP she has had two stints on the education committee, the first ending due to her role as then Education Secretary John Swinney’s parliamentary liaison officer, and the seconding beginning when those positions were abolished.

When Shirley-Anne Somerville was appointed Education Secretary, lots of people messaged me to express their disappointment that the job hadn’t gone to a former teacher; when Jenny Gilruth took over, the main feeling that people were expressing was relief – but underneath that, a significant undercurrent of anxiety was easily detectable.

Read more: Inside the school of hope caring for Scotland's most vulnerable children

Her background in education means that Gilruth has enjoyed a period of genuine goodwill at the start of her tenure: I got the feeling that teachers wanted her to succeed in a way that was never the case for previous occupants of her office. That little bit of extra leeway might just open some doors that would otherwise have proven more difficult to budge.

The trouble with all that is what it does to people’s expectations, and the subsequent judgement as to whether or not she has succeeded. Put simply, the bar is higher for a former teacher than it would be for anyone else. So it should be.

It seems reasonable to think that a former teacher will ‘get it’. Workload problems, the complexities of contact time, the need for job security, the importance of support staff, and the desire to be respected as professionals are, you would hope, the sort of matters that the latest education secretary will be able to discuss without waiting for briefings and prepared lines.

For what it’s worth, that is the impression I got of the new education secretary. It’s not just that she’s able to discuss complex educational issues – she seems positively eager to do so.

The flip side of that coin, however, is the sobering realisation that even if Jenny Gilruth were everything that people hoped for and more, it might not be enough to overcome the political barriers that are the real impediment to progress.

And if even a former teacher can’t catalyse the changes that are required then where would that leave us?

Read part one of our interview with Jenny Gilruth in the link above and part two online and in the Herald tomorrow (Monday September 9).