Turning the pages

Two weeks into the autumn term, and where would we have been? The memories of the summer holidays would have rapidly receded; when you are at primary school, a fortnight is an eternity, but what thoughts would have filled the days as the autumnal equinox approached?

School was a serious matter. Learning was a serious matter. Trained in the 1930s, our teacher treated the education of the twenty or so children in her class as a matter of the utmost gravity. The classroom was not a place for levity, and, unless you wanted a slap, it was not a place for failing to do exactly as instructed. Among the gravitas and the silence, there must have been a great deal of learning, or, at least, attempts at learning, though it is hard now to remember how most things were taught. On the third week in September, what things might have occupied the timetable?

Even the concept of a timetable seems absent from those times, undoubtedly the teacher had schemes of learning planned, but the sequence did not seem apparent. There were fixed times in the week for particular activity.  The final act on a Monday was to copy the week’s spellings from the Word Perfect textbook, they would be tested after break on Friday.

On Wednesdays, Mr Shield, who had been a member of an RAF bomber crew during the war, would come to teach us art. He had been a teacher in civilian life and enjoyed coming to schools to teach art in his retirement. His great passion was the pigeons he took to local shows and sometimes he would bring some of them to school in small, box-like cages so that we could sketch them.

On Fridays, the ageing clergyman would walk the short distance from the vicarage to oir school, which was under the control of his parish. The parish was in the patronage of an Oxford University college and the rector, a kindly and gentle man, probably found it difficult to engage with a class of rustic children. He would read from the Prayer Book catechism and, if we had sat in silence, then read from CS Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. 

The classroom teaching was supplemented by BBC Schools programmes on television and radio, was there a television programme called Science Box? There was certainly a radio programme called Singing Together, it was the highlight of the week.

There must also have been other teaching, yet, apart from the class reciting the times tables, no memory remains of arithmetic. History classes linger in projects on the Sumerians and prominent Victorians. Learning cursive handwriting with ink pens was a lesson abandoned at secondary school, as soon as it was possible to do so. Apart from a comprehension exercise on The Water Babies, English lessons have been forgotten.

What pages might we have been turning on the third week of the autumn term?

 

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