Things to like at school

Walking through the school grounds, a group of Year 7 boys approached (first formers, in the old way of counting).¬†“Sir, are we late for our class?”

Knowing nothing of their timetable and having little idea of where their classroom might be, I did know that the bells had gone ten minutes previously. “What time is it now?”

“Twenty-five to one, sir.”

“What time did your class begin?

“Twenty-five past twelve, sir.”

“Do you think you are late? I think you should go there as quickly as possible and apologize to your teacher.”

“Yes, sir.”

Perhaps the subject was one for which they had formed a dislike, even in the opening days. Perhaps there were subjects for which they would develop a love. At their age, I had come from primary school with a love of reading.

My primary school teacher’s only comment on my reading was, “You go through books like a knife through butter.” There was a temptation to say that butter kept in the refrigerator might go very hard and the progress of the knife might be very slow, but it was a time when one did not question schoolteachers.

Perhaps the syllabus had been completed,  (was there even a syllabus to complete?), the final weeks in primary school were spent reading book after book after book. Initially, there would have been questions about the plot and the characters and what was liked and disliked, but eventually he gave up on even the most peremptory questions. It was a simple matter to ask permission to exchange the book finished for another from the shelf near his desk, thus his comment on the speed of their completion.He did not appreciate that our perceptions of what was taking place were very different. He seemed to imagine that reading so many books enabled learning and improvement; the eleven year old doing the reading saw them as a matter of entertainment and escape.

The books chosen were almost invariably adventure stories, tales of derring-do by war heroes who always returned to tell the tale. (Our art teacher, a retired man who came on Wednesday afternoons, had been in the crew of a Lancaster bomber, reassuring us that some heroes returned). Or there were stories of explorers going to exotic locations to defy danger and death. (Were Willard Price’s ‘Adventure’ novels among those on the school bookshelf, or did they have to come from the library? It’s hard now to remember).In those years when the 1940s were still fresh in people’s memories and veterans of the Great War were still plentiful, the exploits of young men who had fought in the World Wars were recorded in many books. The biography which left the deepest ¬†impression was short, perhaps no more than twenty or so pages with a soft cover – the tale of Jack Cornwell VC, Boy Cornwell, who, seriously wounded, had remained at his gunnery post on HMS Chester at the Battle of Jutland in 1916, the sole survivor of the gun crew, standing awaiting orders. Perhaps it was his age that gave the story impact – he was just 16 years old, the age of some of the boys in the village, not so much older than those who sat in the primary school classroom.

Two generations later, the school teacher would probably be more inclined to criticism than commendation. The war and adventure stories have been replaced by a penchant for detective fiction and magical realism, not a great leap forward.

Perhaps, sometime later this century, the boys will look back on things that they liked.

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3 Responses to Things to like at school

  1. The Blocked Dwarf says:

    Things to like at school? Hmm not a question I would have been able to answer even a few years ago then, as my previous comments attest, my school days-at least at Sec.Mod- were, what would now be described, as ‘traumatic’ and resulted in what now would be classified as PTSD….or as call it ‘being a drunk and a nasty one’.
    However with increasing age I begin to realise what a boon some of the *teaching* (as opposed to the playground) was. Teaching that at the time I loathed. The best example being French which we had with the Head Teacher (whom I occasionally see about the town and greet with a loud a cheery ‘Good Morning Sir’-just to see the puzzlement on his face as he fights to recognise this shaved headed lout dressed in early bad Army Surplus -yes I am an evil little sod). Mr K* the Headmaster was Old School, he taught by rote and as a result I will be able to recite the French verb endings on my death bed. Which has not proven to be a particularly useful talent , although I can still *read* enough French to get a general gist, order a cup of cafe creme dans le Gobelin area -if only to watch the waitress beg me to speak in English to prevent her ears bleeding further….as my Parisian Girlfriend used to do too.
    But last year, for reasons too boring to go into, I set myself to learning Old English with the provisional goal of being able to write a blog in it. Now I’m a 50 year male who hasn’t had call or chance to learn nuffink seriously like in 20 years- the 20 years where I have done my best to turn my brains to mush every evening watching terrible , and terribly unfunny, German Cop Comedy shows (we speak German at home) . Which are my beloved, but clinically insane, ” Bestes Frau In The Entire Universe”‘s televisual fare of choice. So I tried out (and am still trying out) various ‘memory/learning’ techniques…Loci, Buzan etc etc inorder to learn the grammar of OE only to discover the rote techniques of Mr K* seem to work the best. Although I also use some simple mnemonics when memorising great chunks of Beowulf. So a tip of the Blocked Dwarf battered camo cap to Mr K*, wish now I had paid more attention, not to ‘mon ma mes’ itself but the *h o w* he instilled those personal pronouns in his charges.

  2. Ian says:

    My French is so bad that the proprietrix of a hotel in Cambrai, to which I brought a group every year, said I was welcome to speak to her in French, but that she would be grateful if I would then explain to her in English what it was that I had tried to say.

    • The Blocked Dwarf says:

      Ha! My French ‘Putt eat amm me’…ooops sorry “mar sherry” I meant of course ‘PARISIAN’! (apparently no one likes the French not even the residents of their capital city)…hated it if I tried to talk in what she called, endearingly, ‘your f**king Cockney French’ . Mind you she also referred to me as her ‘coupe triste’…so that was one French phrase I almost learnt to say properly….just wish I knew what it meant.

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