Cymru Culture

Articles / Erthyglau

Steve Lamb - A typical day

(June 01, 2016)

A typical day

In writing about my experiences of teaching in a school in one of the Glamorgan mining communities at the start of the nineteen seventies, I have generally concentrated on events which I remember fondly. One reader asked recently if everything had always worked out so well in my teaching career. I pointed him towards the account of a caning as an exception to the glow of nostalgia which lights up some of these accounts. These were different times: teaching was relatively straightforward as schools were quite small and society was more disciplined and deferential than today. In addition there was little pressure on teachers to meet targets as there was no national curriculum. Key stages with associated national tests had not been invented. This does not mean that teaching and learning were more effective or schools more efficient – education was simply a less pressured environment.

I had no formal teacher training and I taught only children under the age of fourteen in my first year. I designed my teaching programme around the books available to me in the department stock cupboard: novels, plays, anthologies of poetry, comprehension passages and English grammar texts. As all classrooms were open to view from the corridor, it was usual to see the headmaster strolling through the school casually observing classes. He only became concerned if there was noise or movement. In those days learning was expected to be a passive process and only the teacher’s voice was meant to be heard.

A typical day for me began in the terraced house where I had my digs. I paid £7 a week ‘all found’ as my elderly landlady liked to say. This was enough to cover accommodation, meals and laundry in 1972. There was no indoor toilet and I had to climb over a low wall to go next door for a bath. It all seemed quite normal and certainly the house was just like my gran’s in Small Heath, Birmingham. School was a brisk ten minute walk away. Rain or shine I would be greeted by children heading the same way and by neighbours standing on front doorsteps. Coming from an anonymous city I enjoyed the friendliness of the mining village. It seemed to come as a surprise, though, that I could not answer the occasional questions about neighbours’ relatives working in the West Midlands.

As I neared the red-brick building of the Grammar School I would be overtaken by a fleet of red double-decker buses carrying boys and girls from villages across the catchment area. The main entrance was reserved for staff and visitors and it led to a grand vestibule with a vaulted ceiling. Immediately to left and right were the offices of the headmaster, his deputies and secretary. Straight ahead was the main hall with its stage, wood panelled walls and war memorial to ex-pupils who gave their lives in the Second World War. The men’s staffroom was along the left-hand corridor and I would head there for a chat before the registration bell, morning assembly and lessons.

As soon as registers were marked pupils were ushered quietly to the hall. Boys came from the left side of the school and girls from the right. Tributaries of children merged at the bottom of each set of stairs and flowed on towards the ranks of chairs facing the stage. Teachers sat alongside their classes. Everyone stood as the headmaster entered from the rear door and marched to the stage with his academic gown billowing. A hymn, prayers and brief snippets of school information – that was how each day began.

Two thirty five minute lessons raced past and then there was a break. Pupils were ushered to the yard and teachers were served coffee or tea by kitchen staff. The staffroom was misty with cigarette and pipe smoke and noisy with chatter in Welsh and English. Another two lessons passed and the lunch break of ninety minutes was signalled. I used to walk back to my digs to share a light meal with my landlady who enjoyed hearing about my classes. I had enough time for a glance at the Western Mail and then back to school for a short rehearsal with one or two members of the drama group before afternoon lessons began. The pattern of the morning classes and break was repeated and the school day ended at 4 o’clock.

I got into the habit of chatting to the senior history teacher at the close of the day, reporting what had gone well and what had not. He would give sound advice that was more valuable to me than he ever knew. The school day had flashed by with one group of thirty pupils quickly replacing another on a strange kind of conveyor belt. All of a sudden I felt tired and hungry – and I’d only been enjoying myself sharing the joys of English language and literature with young people of the valley.

Steve Lamb, June 2016

 

If you enjoyed this, you'll also enjoy Steve's previous stories:

     The school eisteddfod, March 2016
The school play, December 2015

Corridor duty, September 2015
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

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)

 

cylchgrawn Cymru Culture magazine
Published by/Cyhoeddwyd gan:
Caregos Cyf., 2016

 

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