October 5, 2008

Teaching Happy Children Was a Joy

Mervyn Edwards

Shares the classroom memories of two former North Staffordshire teachers.

O VER the years, the basic elements of teaching have not changed as much as the constraints of a sometimes overbearing officialdom on teaching staff.

The pleasures of teaching are remembered well by Joy Purcell, aged 70, of Trentham, whose first post was at Westlands Girls' School, in Newcastle. She taught the full range of subjects.

"I joined in July, 1958, and taught mainly English, geography, history and religious education," recalls Joy.

"I was paid about pounds10 a week as a fully-qualified teacher during the period when they were beginning to take the women's pay rate up to that of the male teachers."

Some of Joy's pupils came from the Westlands and others from the Lower Street area of Newcastle, much of which was redeveloped in the early 1960s.

There were standards to uphold, declares Joy.

"You were expected to be smart. I would normally wear a suit or a blouse and skirt, but never trousers."

Joy's next teaching post was at Knutton secondary school, between 1959 and 1966.

"Discipline was very tight," she says. "But controlling the class was no problem and I never used the cane.

"I might direct a withering glance at an unruly pupil or give a stern telling off, but there was generally respect for teachers.

"If a child was sent to the headmaster's room it was seen as a terrible punishment.

"Giving children lines to write out as a punishment was beginning to come in at our school in around 1965, whilst some children were punished by being made to do lists of sums, multiplying, taking away, taking away again, and so on."

The relationship between teachers and parents was very different in those days, however, as Joy reflects.

"There was a parent and teacher association, but it was run along far less formal lines than today.

"Help was there if teachers needed it and some parents helped us on school trips.

"There were day trips to Snowdon and to Cheddar Gorge, which we travelled to by train.

"Taking children long distances such as this was a responsibility, but part of your job.

"Back then, of course, there was no suing if a teacher said the wrong word or if a child tripped over a paving stone.

"Parents were invited into the school now and again. Otherwise, we teachers would just let them know about the progress of the pupils through the school reports.

"We only had a small space in which to write, but I tried to be positive, conveying that a pupil was working to the best of his or her ability."

Nigel Coulton, aged 74, is another former teacher with happy memories of his days in the classroom.

"I taught between 1957 and 1989 at Longton High School when it was a grammar school and also at Edensor High School.

"Class sizes were up to around 30 children. I imposed discipline by personality alone, and never struck pupils.

"Some of the learning was done parrot-fashion, for example the learning of tables and Latin verbs."

Nigel speaks happily of his time as a teacher.

"The best thing about teaching is, and was, the pupils and the optimism of young people.

"This never changed or never will change. Some of my former pupils are now personal friends - as well as bus pass holders!"

Tell us your memories of working as a teacher. Or perhaps you would like to tell fellow readers about a special teacher who had an impact on your life. Email [email protected]

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