The Teacher (2009)

Location : Nottinghamshire, Pulham Market, Norfolk

I really enjoyed school. We moved into the top class when we were ten so that we would be prepared for the 11 plus exam by Miss C and, because I was one of the cleverer ones, I was taken in hand and prepared for it and fortunately passed. From then on I had to cycle even further to Fritton to catch the bus to go to Norwich to the Notre Dame High School. I should have gone to Diss, but because other girls from the school had gone to Notre Dame Miss C got a special dispensation for me to go, because it was really out of the area where we lived. I thoroughly enjoyed it for the six years I was there. I got a good grounding in education and also a mixed religious training. I had been to Chapel, I had been to Church, and they were Roman Catholic and so we had to take part in some of the Catholic rituals; mind you, it was good because we had extra days off school, if they were Saints’ days. The Catholics had to go to church but we had the day off. I went on there until my sixth year. I passed my School Certificate and went into the sixth form for a year. I had no intention of taking my Higher Schools Certificate because I wanted to be getting off, so that I wasn’t a financial drain on my parents; by now there were the next two coming along and Mum had always said that she wanted us to do what we wanted to, so I put ideas of University to one side and went for teacher training because I had always wanted to teach anyway.

When I left the sixth form I went to college. I was lucky in that most girls had to wait until they had done two years in the sixth because colleges wouldn’t take them until they were eighteen and I was only seventeen then. I applied to a brand new college, among others and, because I was a second year intake, I was able to get in there. It was the Notts County Training College at Retford. It no longer exists as a college; it is now a computer centre, so it didn’t really last very many years. I had quite a happy two years there. We were at first split into two areas; we were in the village of Eaton, and the rest of the college were in a village called Ordsell. Eventually when I was there it became into the one situation because they put more buildings in. We used the stable blocks and the new buildings of what had been the hall of the village, so we adopted their livery colours and the green of Sherwood as our college colours, so we were black, yellow and green in the scarves.

It was a good two years. It was an all-girls’ college, as they were in those days. It was a very good grounding for teaching; we went out on teaching practises into the local areas. I was in Retford, I went into Edwinstowe with a lovely class. We went into the Major Oak there, and actually the whole class got inside it. You can’t do it now because it is fenced round. I also went into the outskirts of Nottingham to a suburban school there, but all the while I really knew that I wanted to be in a rural school.

We had, at the end of the first year, to do a local teaching practise within distance of our home. That was when I first came to Pulham Market. I applied to the school and Mr L. very kindly said yes I could come and spend a fortnight teaching practise there. He must have been quite pleased with me because at the end of the two years he asked me if I would like to apply and become permanent there, which I did. I was very lucky because I have never had to have an interview for a job. I just got in on the fact that he wanted me there, so I was lucky, because it was a new post because the school had got bigger. There was Mr L. Mr P. and Miss E. and they now had enough children to make another class, so I got the extra class. I then became the junior teacher with children from seven to nine and was there for thirty six years.

When I came the children were practically all with fathers on the land. There might have been the odd one or two whose fathers worked somewhere else, but mostly they worked for the farmers. By the time I left there was hardly a child whose father worked for a farmer. Another difference was in the accents, they were all very broad Norfolk speaking children when I came, but by the time I had left we had quite a lot of intake and there was hardly a Norfolk accent to be found.

I started with a class of about thirty two. I can remember that first class well because in actual fact they were a very good class. I saw one the other day and she is now quite a lady. There were older ones and I taught them needlework and the girls I had for netball, while the senior master took the boys out for football or cricket in the summer. In the summer the girls played stoolball and then of course we had the races and that sort of thing as well. We also did an outing in the summer.

I remember going to the Festival of Britain in 1951 when we took the children to London. It was quite a daring thing to do in those days, but we never did lose one in all the thirty six years I was there. We had a near miss, but we never did actually lose one. Because that was successful I remember we went to Stoke Bruerne once to the canal; we went to London two or three times, we went to the zoo – we didn’t even lose them there! Also, whilst I was there, we took the children to the Field Study Centre at How Hill in Ludham and also to Wells, for a week at a time, so that they could do nature study in the raw as it was.

I thoroughly enjoyed those weeks although it was very tiring, being on duty twenty four hours a day. There again, the children behaved themselves pretty well and we didn’t lose any. When I started teaching at Pulham the numbers were around the hundred mark. They varied just under, just over, and there were four classes. Mine was thirty two when I started, Mr P. had a small class, he had the oldest children. Mr L. had what we called the scholarship class, the ten’s, eleven’s and twelve’s. Miss E. of course had the infants up to seven.

Children in those days of course sat in double desks in rows both ways with an aisle between so we could get round. They weren’t allowed the freedom they have today with island groups of desks. There was no room for them to walk round the classroom and do much, they had their own desk with their own property in it and had to cope that way. Of course there was no television or anything, so it was teaching by books and blackboard. First Aid was basically Miss E. except the first day I was there a boy fell down in the playground at lunchtime. I was the only member of staff in the school; Mr L. had gone home for lunch, I don’t know where Mr P. was and Miss E. had gone home for lunch. We had a shingled playground and he did a belter on his knee. He took all the skin off his knee and got gravel rash underneath. I washed him as best I could but I would never make a nurse! I hated doing it and Miss E. looked at it when she came back.

I also remember another child; they were practising sports and she was doing high jump and she landed on some clover which of course was slippery; it is more slippery than grass. She slipped and I went to pick her up and Miss E said “Leave her,” she said “Look at her leg,” and her leg was out of alignment. Fortunately it wasn’t broken but it had to be straightened up by the doctor; she ended up in hospital. I remember another time, a little lad standing on the bottom rung of the climbing frame, and I could see that he intended to jump, and I shouted “Don’t jump,” but he did! There again, it was another trip to the doctors.

On another occasion a little girl for some reason decided to put a bead up her nose, she did not know why she did it. I took her to the surgery and S. was there at the time and she looked at it and she said “Well I don’t know how we are going to get it out, have you got any ideas?” Well the only thing I could think of was a crochet hook and she said “Have you got one?” I said “Yes, back at school.” So I went back and got it and she fortunately got the bead out with a crochet hook! Apart from that, not too many mishaps.

We did have one little girl who got a pair of boots ruined. She had got them wet coming to school and they had been put near the fire and I presume accidentally got knocked a bit nearer to the fire and, because they were not expensive boots, they cracked and dried like cardboard. There was quite a to-do over it, and in the end I think there was money forthcoming from somewhere and she was provided with a new pair of boots. The Rector, the Revd L. at the time, managed it but how that happened we don’t quite know.

If anyone really overstepped the mark Mr L. had a cane that he used to administer. Basically that was the big boys, girls were usually punished by depriving them of privileges, losing playtimes, writing essays, and sometimes they were given lines to write. I didn’t believe in lines because they just ended up with poor handwriting. Sometimes they would get spellings to learn, but usually just depriving them of privileges.

Heating when I first went there was by coal fire, which was fine for those near the front, but there were no heated pipes as there were in some schools, so the ones at the back didn’t get very warm and were quite good at coming out to the front and getting their work marked because they would then stand near the fire! Later on we got some Tortoise stoves which came out more into the classroom and therefore warmed more of the classroom but it was one of these where the little girl’s boots got dried up because they were too near the fire. They put out quite a fierce heat if they were really built up and you couldn’t get near them, and this happened to be first thing in the morning when the fire was built up and the boots were just pushed too near the fire.

After Mr P. left the school he went off to do some supply teaching. We had Mr M. come for a while. His wife was head mistress at Thelveton and he was with us until they decided to move north. We also had another chap who had been trained in an emergency training college after he left the RAF. He was there for awhile and lived in the village until he decided to move on due to promotion.

When I first went there mother-in-law was caretaker. She wasn’t my mother-in-law then, but she was caretaker. We were frightened to death of her because she was so particular about everything. Every night the mats went out from the cloakrooms to be banged against the wall, and during the summer holidays she took several weeks scrubbing every inch of the floor space until it looked like pastry boards. We hardly dared walk in in September for the mess we would make. At first when we still had the shingled playground, the mess was awful because it was sandy as well. Later when we got the tarmac playground it made life a lot easier; for a start the mats didn’t get as wet, and certainly not as muddy in clay and sand. Father-in-law helped her by chopping the sticks ready for the fires and sorting out the toilets, which of course in those days were the old buckets. Later we got the flush ones, then it was his job to go and sort them out by un-freezing them. He used to empty buckets before South Norfolk did night soil duties. She used to go in at seven o’clock in the mornings to light the fires so that by the time we got to school the rooms were nice and warm; she was really good that way. It was just that we had to be careful not to make a lot of mess and sticky desks and that sort of thing to be left at night.

Sports days were annual and when I first started teaching they were the old regimental type school sports where all the schools met at one school and each had their banner before them with their school team colours, and everybody entered particular races like the one hundred yards, two hundred yards and the skipping races or whatever. I can’t remember what most of the things were but I think most of them were actually running races and relays. Eventually that changed and they became more relaxed until in the end there were no inter-school races. In Mr B’s time after Mr L. these were still going on but they were more relaxed and we did actually get one boy through to the All England Sports. Mr B. went off with him for three days whilst I was left with the school. Mr L. wasn’t really interested in sport; he was more interested in music and enjoyed taking the girls in particular for singing. The boys I think were so disruptive in singing lessons that they didn’t get taught to sing! On the whole it was mainly the girls, but even they got a bit fed up sometimes. They would ask Mr L. if he could persuade Mrs L. to come in and sing to them because she had such a good singing voice. Of course he was delighted and so was she, and the girls were getting out of their singing lesson. They are still laughing about it to this day, I have seen them! I was quite pleased as well because very often he would take my children in as well and I could get on with some marking while they were singing.

Because it was a church school the emphasis was on religion. The rector came in once a week to do his service and once a term he signed a register as a governor and we used to have an annual examination by a visiting clergyman. We were given a syllabus to follow. We had to teach the children the catechism and they had to learn the responses by rote and we also had various bible stories to teach the children and we knew when the rector was coming, but one year my children decided they were not going to answer and not one of them would put their hand up to answer a question. If he addressed one directly they didn’t answer. In fact he got nothing from them whatsoever, it was really embarrassing, and I think he was as embarrassed as I was. It was as if they had been struck dumb, it was awful.

One of the best things that happened to me in school was that I met R. my future husband. Mrs L. had persuaded me to join a newly formed drama group and she had also evidently persuaded him to join it. It turned out that we ended up in the same play, it was called “Tangled Skeins” and from then on we became, as they say nowadays, ‘an item!’ I was nineteen and he was twenty three, yes I don’t think he had reached twenty four then.

After we were married R. was always very interested in the village. He loved the village and he wouldn’t move when I said I was applying for a Head’s job out of the village. He said “Well, you can go but I’m going to stay.” So we stayed.

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