Never a dull moment. A life in education. (2016)

Location : Norwich

Beryl went to teacher training college in the early 1950s. She got her first teaching job in 1955 and taught children in both state and private schools until 1970 when she had a break to have her son while studying with the Open University. She later worked in adult education, retiring in 1994.

I started my A-Levels in 1951. When I was in the sixth form at school I didn’t know what I wanted to do and I was always being asked about it. The school and my parents assumed that I would go to university, but I really didn’t feel as if I wanted to. I remembered that when I was about eight or nine I used to say that I would like to be a teacher so I developed this in the sixth form and decided that instead of going to university I would train to teach junior school children. I passed two A-Levels which would have given me entrance to university at that stage, but managed to fail my Latin. Everybody thought that I ought to do Latin so that I could do Oxford and Cambridge entrance. I stayed on at school for an extra year, chose which subjects I wished to study and did a lot of my own research in the reference library and so on which all stood me in good stead for going on to training college.

As my parents had expected me to go to university, they thought it would be a good idea that I should do a three year teacher training. At that time teacher training was mostly just a two year course so I went to a college that did a three year course. This was at the Froebel Educational Institute and would include a Froebel training. Fredrich Froebel was a German who first had the idea of a kindergarten: that’s a garden of children or a garden for children. He had these ideas in the early part of the 19th century which was a time when people thought that children should be moulded into the way that they should be and that, if you like, their minds were tabula rasa and education could be imposed upon them. Froebel thought that the children should be treated like plants in the garden where given the right environment they would grow and develop and reach their full potential. He believed this would help them develop as rounded personalities, not just academically, but socially, emotionally, physically and so on. These ideas gradually became incorporated into the education in this country and certainly in the latter part of the 20th century they were generally accepted, but I think the clock has been rather turned back at the beginning of the 21st century in that education now has to have a purpose and be economically useful to the country. Froebel thought that children should learn through play. He said ‘For a child, play is its work’. Many schools started the day with a period of play where they could adjust to transition from school to home and spend time choosing what to play with and developing in a rounded way through creative play.

The schools I did my teaching practice in weren’t very modern. I was able to put the Froebel philosophy into practice to a certain extent, but was restrained if I tried to go too far by the classroom teacher whose class I was trying to help to teach. My second year teaching practice was at a very old-fashioned school in Barnes in south-west London. The class I was given was of 48 slow 10-year-olds all sitting in old-fashioned desks unable to move about and the only way to teach them seemed to be just to keep them in their place and tell them what to do. However, for my third teaching practice I went to the Lady Eleanor Holles school in Hampton which was a private school for girls. I was much happier there and the girls were all much happier there and I enjoyed that far more than the teaching practice in Barnes, I can tell you.

Of the three year course, two of the years were funded by the state, but the third year had to be paid for by my parents. The college told us that, as we had received state funding, we owed it to the state to teach for at least two years in a state school. Therefore after I finished my training I applied for various jobs in state schools. I ended up with two interviews in the same week. I was to go first of all to Oxford for an interview and then I was supposed to go on to Bristol and be interviewed there, but when I went for this interview with Oxford County Council I was there and then offered a job.

In 1955 I started to teach at Donnington Primary School which was on a working class estate in Oxford. The children’s parents mostly worked either for Morris Motors or Pressed Steel. At the time I was living in digs which was very different from living at home or living in a boarding school or a college as I had earlier, but I was near enough in the digs to be able to cycle to school. After this I was sharing a house with two friends with whom I’m still very friendly today. I worked there for three years.

I then got a job at a school in north Oxford called Greycoats and moved there. This was a private day and boarding school for girls. At first I shared a flat with a friend, but later was invited to go and live in and be in charge of a boarding house of 13-year-old girls which I have to say was quite tough. The girls at Greycoats were often those who had not got into Oxford High School and therefore a number of them were rather slow learners. I taught the basics – English and Maths in particular – but I was also teaching other subjects in the school. I could talk for quite a long time about music because it’s been a lifetime interest and a lifetime hobby and, whichever school I’ve been in, I’ve found myself involved in the teaching of music at some stage. At college I’d learned to play the recorder under Freda Dinn who is very well-known in recorder circles so at Greycoats I was teaching children to play the recorder. I particularly enjoyed teaching was maths to a class of very bright 10-year-olds. I learned to appreciate the different ways of thinking children had on the subject of maths. For instance there’d be one girl who could do mechanical arithmetic very, very quickly, but if it came to having to use several stages of reasoning to solve a problem another girl who was very, very quiet would sit and consider it and she would come out with the answer much faster than the child who was very good at mechanical arithmetic. I stayed at Greycoats for nearly four years after which I left to get married.

My husband was then working near Hertford as a scientific research worker in biology and so I moved there. I found a part-time job in the local Church of England primary school. I remember that I taught one particular class for several afternoons. The headmaster taught the class in the mornings and he didn’t teach with a rod of iron, but he taught with an old gym shoe on the desk and any child who stepped out of line received ‘the slipper’ as he called it. So you can imagine that when I went there in the afternoon the lid was off and things were not easy. Something I remember at that school was being asked to coach a girl who was very bright, very intelligent – loved English, loved reading – but seemed to have a blank as far as maths was concerned. At that time one had to pass the 11-plus to go to grammar school so I took Vivienne in hand. I discovered that she didn’t understand maths at all – certainly didn’t understand place value or how to do subtraction – and we worked away at that and I’m very glad to say she did pass the 11-plus. Years and years later her parents turned up here in Norwich at my front door saying ‘Do you remember us? We’re Vivienne’s parents. We’ve always been glad of what you did for Vivienne’. She had become either a physiotherapist or a radiographer – had some job on the fringe of the health service – which they felt she wouldn’t have got had she not had the help as a 10-year-old from me. I was there right the way through that dreadful winter of 1962. It must have been dreadful for the caretaker because the lavatories were outside and frozen everyday and had to be thawed out at the end of the day with boiling water. The children all made slides in the playground which had frozen over. They had an absolutely wonderful time and didn’t hurt themselves at all, but today under the present health and safety rules they would not have been allowed to skate around the playground as they did then.

In 1967 the Biological Institute where my husband was working was moved to Norwich to link up with the University of East Anglia which was then newly-established. I applied to Norfolk County Council and just for a term I taught infants at Willow Lane Roman Catholic Primary School right in the centre of Norwich. As it was a Roman Catholic school I was a bit worried about what I would have to do in prayers, but the sister – Sister Mary, I think she was – in charge very kindly told me that I didn’t need to cross myself and I didn’t need to say the Hail Marys; I could pray to the same God in my own private way and didn’t have to join in with them.

After that term at Willow Lane I found that there was a part-time vacancy at Norwich High School for Girls which was a part of the Girls’ Day School Trust at the time. When asked what I taught I used to say ‘Five-year-olds and music’. I hadn’t been trained for teaching infants, but I enjoyed teaching the children there. I did a jobshare with Sally: she was there in the morning; I was there in the afternoon. As well as music I taught religious education and various other things.

In 1970 I became pregnant with my only child and therefore had a break from teaching. This was the time when the Open University was just beginning and also when the government had decreed that a teaching profession should be an all-graduate profession. I thought, while I was at home with the baby, I should do an Open University course and become a graduate and perhaps that would bring me a better salary. I started my Open University course just about the time that I had my son in the spring of 71 and found it much tougher than I had expected. The child was not an easy one; although I was trying to follow Dr Spock he’d not read the book! I started at the OU with an arts foundation course, but after that first year I stopped for a while and waited until my son started school. I did two courses in reading development, a music course and then the last course that I did was an absolutely way out one that became quite notorious throughout the country. It was labelled TAD292. T.A.D. stood for going across all the disciplines – technology, arts and social science – and it was a very interesting course. It was multi-disciplinary, multi-media; all the in things; very much like a Froebel course where it was bringing the ideas out of us rather than having them imposed upon us. In 1979 I qualified for my degree in Education and I was very proud when I went with my husband and my son to Cambridge to receive my degree.

After this I thought I should be getting back into work and somebody suggested going into adult education. I wasn’t sure what I could teach. I began with an evening class in recorder and then started to teach other subjects as well. While I’d been doing the Open University degree one of the things that I’d found most useful was learning study skills so I started teaching this to others and after a year or two that became almost a standard course which people aiming to do an Open University course were recommended to do first.

I had to devise my own courses completely. I remember calculating that devising one of the courses had probably taken me about 80 hours, but it stood me in good stead because I could use it year after year. As time went on I built up my repertoire of courses, building on the areas of music and study skills. I did one called Learn to Read Music from Scratch and I taught courses in essay and report-writing, courses in learning to read effectively and efficiently and so on.

A few of the students were teachers themselves, but they tended to come from quite varied backgrounds. I had a number of nurses on the study skills course. Most often people were middle-aged, but there were also younger adults and people in early retirement. In the recession in the 1980s a lot of people were being laid off and I helped put together a course to help the unemployed. I can remember going into Colman’s to advise people who were being made redundant there about what to do: how to look for a job, how to present their CV and that sort of thing. I was recruited by the UEA careers centre to help students with job applications and job interviews and do mock interviews with them.

I worked at Wensum Lodge more and more as the years went by because the courses there were put on in the day and I preferred that to going out in an evening although I did continue with some evening courses in other locations. I put on one or two whole day courses as well, but I found them exhausting. Some of these were with the adult education service, but another time, for instance, I did a day course at the hospital on reading effectively and efficiently for administrative staff which helped them in their work.

In the course of doing the study skills teaching I took people to the public library and showed them how to use it. The library then seemed to get hold of my name as somebody who could coach individuals and they passed it onto various people who were looking for help. I was presented with a police sergeant who had failed his interview for inspector. Luckily the retired chief constable lived not very far from me and I’d worked in another sphere with his wife and so I was able to ask him what they would be looking for and the police sergeant did pass his interview the next time. Then there was a student nurse who’d failed written exams who was sent to me for advice on essay-writing. Prior to meeting me she thought that when she was asked to write an essay on a certain subject she just had to churn out everything she knew about it instead of asking what precisely are they asking for? How do I select from the knowledge that I have? What information do I select to put into the essay to answer the precise question which I’m being asked?

When I was helping people look for jobs one of the things that we were advising them about was the possibility of setting up their own business so that led me to be in contact with the banks and get literature about setting up your own business. I learned an awful lot myself on the way.

I was also involved in adult literacy. This was a government initiative. There were an awful lot of people who had been at school for many years and somehow or other never learned to read. I was asked to teach people one-to-one in their homes. I can remember going to the house of a young woman who was only about 23. She already had five children and she hadn’t time to do anything else except look after her children, but she began to realise that she needed to be able to read; she wanted to be able to help her oldest one at school and realised that her five year old was reading almost better than she was. Not being able to read leads people into all sorts of difficulties. For instance, this lady decided she wished to remove the hairs from her legs so she bought a depilatory cream, but she was unable to read the instructions and understand them and she’d burnt the skin on her legs quite badly. It shows how very important it is to be able to read.

As well as developing the course content myself, I had to produce the actual materials. This wasn’t just in adult education. In the 1950s it was still a period of austerity, not many years after the war had finished. At college on teaching practice we’d been expected to make our own materials on the whole. You cut up card and made little packs of flashcards to show for reading and maths. There was very little material provided and maybe even published for teachers at the time. We must have had some books for reading in groups, but we made our own wallcharts, for instance. It was before the national curriculum was introduced so it wasn’t so much dictated what we would teach. I do remember when teaching in Oxford at the beginning they said you must teach religious education according to what Oxford County Council has decided and so that syllabus was given to us, but other than that we were just expected to know how to teach the basics. In physical education most people were still following something that had been devised in 1933, but at college there were some books about teaching PE. I seem to remember there were two: I think the first was called Moving and Growing and the second one Planning the Programme. Not being very good myself at physical education or particularly interested in it I certainly found the Planning the Programme very useful. We used to make our own lesson plans as I’m sure all good teachers do. We did it in the way in which we’d learned at college where we had to set it out on paper and we’d have aims of the lesson and then divide it up into the teacher’s part in the lesson and the child’s part in the lesson – making quite certain that the teacher didn’t do too much talking and that there was plenty of activity for the children to do – and then we had to judge how successful the lesson had been and think of ways to improve.

In my early days of teaching it was possible to have copies of worksheets done for you by the office secretary on something called the Roneo machine where you turn the handle, but I can’t remember exactly how the master copy was done. Later on the photocopier came in and when I started teaching in adult education it was possible to go to the adult education centre in the city and to print off as many copies as I needed for the class for free. When I was working at Wensum Lodge I had to pay ten pence a sheet for photocopying and I passed this charge on to the people in the class. I didn’t count it out; I just said ‘I’ve given you so many sheets. I’d be much obliged if you’d put 50p here which will cover my costs’. There were no computers in general use before I retired so any worksheets and handouts had to be written by hand. That included music because of course in any case you can’t photocopy much music. The recorder course I’d started out teaching had expanded to be a three year course which took in not just the descant recorder, but the treble recorder and the tenor recorder and so I had to write out all these parts.

While I was at school myself and in my early days of teaching the emphasis was very much on the three Rs: reading, ‘riting and ‘rithmatic. After the 1944 Butler Act a lot of people said that education had become the three Ms: meals, milk, mucking about! This implies that progressive ideas of education were beginning to come in then, but that a lot of people thought of child-centred education – learning through play and so on – as mucking about and didn’t realise the value of it.

I retired when I was 60 in 1994. I’ve enjoyed my retirement. I’ve done lots of things. I was a member of the University of East Anglia book club and luncheon club and a little group of us play recorders once a week. I’ve spent time going to literary evenings at the university with my husband. I went to lectures with NADFAS for quite a while. Never a dull moment, anyway.

Beryl in 2016

Beryl Hussey interviewed in Cringleford for WISEArchive on 15th November 2016

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