Monday, April 20, 2009

The Good Old Days

When I began teaching at Morrinsville College the community had confidence and trust in my position. I felt transformed in that at long last I was earning my keep as an adult. There is little time to moon about the nature of existence when you face thirty thirsty minds, though I was being paid to work in a job that enabled me to indulge my life-long love for words and reading.

As regards control I learnt a hard lesson with my third form class, English. As the first term progressed they got noisier. Just before Easter they got even more raucous, calling out answers across each other. Foolishly I said, "I'll cane the next boy who calls out." They quietened down. Near the end of the period a very quiet scholarly boy who had never previously opened his mouth unless I asked him a question, called out an answer. "You gotta cane him, sir. You said you would". I realised there was no option. "Outside" I said. Head down he went out before me. The phrase this hurts me more than it hurts you was never more true. I also knew I could not cane him gently - the class inside waited expectantly. I hit him once. He waited for the second stroke. The school rule was three strokes for a minor offence. (It was a barbaric form of discipline) "That's all. And don't call out again." Back in the classroom someone quietly said, "you only caned him once." "He only called out, once," I replied. The humour eased our mutual unease at the injustice of the situation . Moral - never utter a general threat, it can collide with justice.

Rugby first fifteen practice started very early. Several of my history sixth formers played in the team. When I protested about their frequent absence I was given a lecture about priorities - community priorities. "Scholarship isn't valued here, All Blacks are." (This was Don Clarke country). There was a school rule that pupils caught smoking or drinking would be barred from participation in the next week's game. Some players caught smoking on a school trip split the staff into two groups. Those on the staff who wanted to waive or delay punishment until after next Saturday's big game held a majority but the principal, the women teachers and some of the younger ones like myself believed a rule is a rule. Debate got very bitter. The principal carried the day - the match was lost - shortly after he was off on sick leave, a nervous breakdown.

Classroom preparation and survival left little energy to question overall education direction. I wore my gown for most lessons, it enhanced the sense of authority. Like the children in front of me I accepted the artificial divisions of time as normal. The bell ordered our days like a factory whistle. The curriculum seemed set in sacred concrete. There was a ranking in order of importance. Maths, Physics and Chemistry for the bright boys. History, Geography, German and Biology for the bright girls, Home Economics, Commerce and Technical for the lesser mortals. Uniform inspection was a drag but it was part of the job. Long hair for boys had not yet become an issue. Once a girl dared to wear lipstick to a class. She was marched off to the Senior Mistress for a dressing down - effective, no one else dared to follow suit.

Harvey McQueen

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