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Steve Lamb - Corridor duty

(September 01, 2015)

Steve Lamb is a retired teacher who lives in south Wales. In a career spanning more than forty years he worked as a teacher, local authority school improvement officer and inspector of education services for children and young people.


Steve Lamb - 2014 Steve Lamb - 1972
Steve Lamb ... now  ... and then (1972)

Corridor duty

If you travelled back in time and found yourself walking the corridors of the small grammar school where I taught at the beginning of the seventies, you would be struck immediately by the silence. Good order was as much a priority in those days as homework or school uniform. Lessons were not interactive and exceptions to that rule stood out. Outside the classrooms, discipline was maintained by school prefects and teachers on duty. School prefects had real authority in that more deferential time. It seemed a good preparation for those young people who were moving towards leadership roles in whatever career they chose.

For the teachers, they could expect one monotonous day a week of corridor duty. It meant that at the start or finish of the day and during morning and afternoon breaks, they were responsible for behaviour in and around the school. At break times a pair of teachers would walk from each end of the top corridor and usher pupils down the stairs where prefects would direct them to the yard or hall according to the day's weather. Another pair of teachers and more prefects would patrol the yard to keep order. Ten minutes later a bell was rung and pupils would line up and file back into the school calmly.

That at least was the theoretical model and to be fair it was what happened nearly all of the time. The school was well disciplined and pupils did not remain long in the grammar school system if they did not accept the way it was. After all there were many others who were hungry to take up any spare places that came available.

I remember one particular Wednesday morning; I know it was a Wednesday because that was my duty day. I was clearing the upper floor from the geography room, past the art room, the library and the physics lab, while a colleague was doing the same from the metalwork room, the English and Welsh rooms to the RE room where we met. Girls had to be directed down their stairway and boys to the other side of the school. My duty partner was also my head of department; a genial man nicknamed the Major by pupils because of his military bearing.

We met above the school vestibule in line with the rear wall and ceiling of the assembly hall at the point where a pair of ventilation grids allowed you to see towards the stage. As he was quizzing me about how my lessons were progressing, he caught sight through one ventilation grid of a sudden movement just in front of the stage. He stood close to the grid and peered through and started to chuckle. He gestured with his left hand directing me forward and I soon saw what was making him smile. The hall should have been empty as it was a fine day and all pupils were outside. One fourth former was not where he should have been but instead was hiding beneath the grand piano. Boys wore black trousers and blazers; girls wore bottle green skirts and blazers. This was a boy well hidden from anybody standing at the door to the hall by 400 chairs lined up in rows. We were able to look over the chairs and see most of him, but not his face.

Then he looked out from under the piano to check that the coast was clear. John Morris revealed himself and the reason why he was there. In his right hand he had a slim green packet of cigarettes and a book of matches. Convinced that he was safe to carry on he settled back to his Woodbine, took a cigarette from the packet and went to rip a match from the book.

"Morris, Morrisooo!" an echoing call boomed out. The Major had both hands cupped over his mouth and was projecting an impressive ghostly voice through the grid and across the hall. The Woodbine went one way and the book of matches the other. Then nothing: silence returned. John Morris peered out and round expecting retribution, but there was no-one there. He waited. Still nothing happened and his face was a peculiar mixture of confusion and relief. After a pause he crawled out and hesitantly collected the cigarette and the matches and went to light up a second time.

"Morris, Morrisooo!" the ghostly call echoed again and this time the boy did not hesitate. The cigarettes and the book of matches were dropped and he'd gone through the side door before those items even hit the floor.

"What are we going to do?" I asked.

"Nothing at all; I'd like to think this remains with him as an unsolved mystery. At best he will see the light and become a monk. At the very least he might give up smoking. At worst nothing will happen at all but it's made me smile and broken the tedium of a duty day. Will you go to the hall and pick up the damning evidence while I get the bell?"

He didn’t wait for an answer, but marched towards the boys' stairs chuckling to himself and then laughing out loud. The rare sound echoed down the stairwell as strangely as his ghostly call had reverberated across the hall.

Steve Lamb, September 2015

If you enjoyed this, you'll also enjoy Steve's previous stories:
          End of an era, June 2015
          Teacher training, March 2015
          "... the best thing that happened to me in school", December 2014
          The punishment, September 2014
          The interview, June 2014

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