Teach­ers in Train­ing

This England - - Contents - An­gela Cony­ers

My mod­est-size, all-girls com­pre­hen­sive that I at­tended in the Six­ties sent a small hand­ful of pupils to uni­ver­sity (most of the would-be nurses had left after their O’ Lev­els) but me and most of the rest of my class­mates were aim­ing at what were still pop­u­larly called Teacher Train­ing Col­leges. So it was that, in Septem­ber 1966, a cou­ple of months after leav­ing school, I ar­rived for the first of my four years at the Bishop Lonsdale Col­lege of Ed­u­ca­tion in Derby.

The col­lege was on two sites. Down near the town cen­tre were the old build­ings: a red­brick mock Ja­cobean struc­ture which pro­claimed in let­ters of stone across its frontage, “To the Glory of God: A dioce­san in­sti­tu­tion for train­ing school mis­tresses”. This an­noyed the men, but we girls thought it was hi­lar­i­ous.

This housed some of the col­lege de­part­ments, the chapel, the Stu­dents’ Union of­fices and pro­vided ac­com­mo­da­tion for some of the men. Out the back was an­other high build­ing, once a gym­na­sium but now the re­fec­tory with the art stu­dio in the at­tic and a lovely gar­den which came as a real sur­prise in its in­ner-city sur­round­ings. Many of the nearby houses had been con­verted for stu­dent oc­cu­pa­tion and half a mile up the hill was Lonsdale Hall, the largest hall of res­i­dence for women.

Mean­while, at the be­gin­ning of the Six­ties the New Col­lege had been built out at Mick­leover on the edge of the coun­try­side. This con­tained the rest of the de­part­ments, the ad­min­is­tra­tion, the main hall, a large dou­ble gym, all the sports fa­cil­i­ties and an­other large fe­male hall of res­i­dence. As the coun­cil planned to build a new by­pass, the col­lege had taken out short leases on a num­ber of big­gish houses due for de­mo­li­tion along the main road and this was where more of the men lived.

As a re­sult we spent a lot of our time wait­ing for buses be­tween the two sites. Bi­cy­cles were en­cour­aged, but al­though it was a joy to free­wheel down from Mick­leover at the end of the day, it took a lot of hard ped­alling to get there in the first place.

It was a Church of Eng­land col­lege, but oddly enough in many ways it was far more easy-go­ing and up-to-date than some of my friends found at their lo­cal author­ity run es­tab­lish­ments as the orig­i­nal rules had been over­hauled at the time of the move to new build­ings. We still had to sign in dur­ing the evenings and there was a 10.30 cur­few for those un­der 21 al­though these re­quire­ments were abol­ished by the time I was in my third year.

Most of the new stu­dents lived in the halls of res­i­dence un­der the ju­ris­dic­tion of ma­tron house­keep­ers. These ladies could be very fierce when it came to tidi­ness and clean­li­ness and so on and were in the habit of leav­ing lit­tle ad­mon­ish­ing notes sel­l­otaped to wash­basins, but in a cri­sis they showed that they had hearts of gold. There were some twin rooms but most stu­dents had their own pri­vate quar­ters with wash­basins; it was very com­fort­able and all our meals were pro­vided.

As for what we were re­ally there for, our stud­ies fell into sev­eral dis­tinct sec­tions. First there was our main sub­ject. I had toyed with do­ing English but in the end went in for my real love, his­tory. This was what I hoped to teach in schools, but we were told that these stud­ies were pri­mar­ily for our own in­tel­lec­tual de­vel­op­ment. Then there were the cur­ricu­lum cour­ses: short se­ries of lec­tures and some prac­ti­cal ac­tiv­i­ties on some of the other things we would come across or be ex­pected to teach.

Nat­u­rally some sub­jects were more in­ter­est­ing than oth­ers and later be­came more use­ful. I par­tic­u­larly en­joyed the art and maths, while games and gym came a long way down my list. Most im­por­tant of all was ed­u­ca­tion: the the­ory and prac­tice of teach­ing. Al­though psy­chol­ogy played an im­por­tant part in this and we learned the his­tory of ed­u­ca­tion, most of our time was devoted to so­ci­ol­ogy which was one of the fash­ion­able stud­ies of the Six­ties. It had its uses and con­sid­er­able bear­ing on our fu­ture work, but much of it and its ac­com­pa­ny­ing pol­i­tics are com­pletely out-of-date now. The Na­tional Cur­ricu­lum was 20 years in the fu­ture so we didn’t have to spend any time learn­ing its re­quire­ments.

Most of our lec­tures were in groups ac­cord­ing to the ages we hoped to teach, but once a week there was a mass lec­ture when an en­tire year of stu­dents

were gath­ered to­gether in the main hall to re­ceive a hand­ful of xe­roxed notes and to lis­ten to a mem­ber of the ed­u­ca­tion de­part­ment. Ev­ery­body hated these ses­sions; it was not the best learn­ing ex­pe­ri­ence and doo­dling and whis­per­ing were com­mon­place with some peo­ple even fall­ing asleep. I doubt if the lec­tur­ers were en­tirely happy, ei­ther. Some of them looked as if they could have done with a stiff drink be­fore­hand, and prob­a­bly af­ter­wards too. They were a mixed bunch but mainly knew what they were talk­ing about. Most of them were bat­tle-scarred for­mer teach­ers, but there were one or two more ex­otic blooms, among them Ge­of­frey El­ton, later a Con­ser­va­tive politi­cian, and Rus­sell Harty, the tele­vi­sion per­son­al­ity of the Seven­ties.

Be­sides all this, the cul­mi­na­tion of each year’s work was the Teach­ing Prac­tice where we put our stud­ies into op­er­a­tion. It was fright­en­ing, and many stu­dents got into a state be­fore­hand, but at the same time it was ex­hil­a­rat­ing — be­ing let out into the big wide world to try our hands.

Great ef­forts were made to en­sure that we went to as wide a va­ri­ety of schools as pos­si­ble. The head of the ed­u­ca­tion de­part­ment ad­mit­ted that he was pre­pared to phone up head­teach­ers per­son­ally — the ones he knew by their Chris­tian names — to get stu­dents into suit­able places. As our prac­tice area was spread over three coun­ties and two large towns, some peo­ple found them­selves get­ting up at the crack of dawn to face a long jour­ney by hired coach or minibus, but I was very lucky as none of my schools were more than a few miles away.

It was the sec­ond year which was make or break. A num­ber of stu­dents dis­solved in tears when some­thing hap­pened to up­set their care­fully laid out plan­ning but my worst ex­pe­ri­ence was when a dog ap­peared out­side my large un­screened pic­ture win­dow and jumped into the or­na­men­tal foun­tain in the mid­dle of the gar­den there. The ef­fect on the class that was sup­posed to be do­ing RE can be imag­ined!

It was by no means all work. There was a wide va­ri­ety of sport­ing ac­tiv­i­ties avail­able for those that way in­clined, al­though the women’s tended to be mo­nop­o­lised by the PE Wing, an al­most sep­a­rate sec­tion of the col­lege devoted to train­ing fe­male games teach­ers, a species I had suf­fered from enough at school. They were mostly big, strong, ath­letic girls and the rest of us did tend to take the mickey out of them, es­pe­cially when they were run­ning around the cam­pus wav­ing lacrosse sticks.

There were also many op­por­tu­ni­ties for mu­sic. I re­mem­ber Dido and Ae­neas and Trial by Jury in my first term, but my chief in­ter­ests, then as now, were dra­matic and lit­er­ary. Apart from pan­tomime ap­pear­ances I dis­tin­guished my­self as a mes­sen­ger in “The Scot­tish Play” and prompter for Twelfth Night which was played in the round so I had a ring­side seat for ev­ery per­for­mance.

Derby was not a very pre­pos­sess­ing town in those days, but a few miles north it was a very dif­fer­ent story and I en­joyed trips to Dovedale, Mel­bourne, Had­don Hall, Chatsworth and Dethick among other places, and twice man­aged to get to the Well Dress­ing at Tiss­ing­ton on As­cen­sion Day. As well as this we were all ea­ger dress­mak­ers and the hall sewing machines were con­stantly busy.

It was a very in­ward-look­ing way of life. In-col­lege dances were held nearly ev­ery week­end, the stu­dent bar was sit­u­ated un­der­neath the chapel and there was a pop­u­lar film so­ci­ety. In the com­mon rooms there were tele­vi­sions and news­pa­pers, but most of us pre­ferred ra­dio with our lit­tle tran­nies in­vari­ably tuned to Ra­dio Caro­line. The town’s cin­e­mas were well pa­tro­n­ised, but oth­er­wise there was al­most no need to leave the cam­pus for en­ter­tain­ment. Pol­i­tics were con­fined to a bit of noise but no ac­tion, ex­cept for the tiny but vo­cif­er­ous bunch of Young Lib­er­als. Look­ing back, al­though there was a wild el­e­ment among us, most of the stu­dents were very se­ri­ous and se­date.

Nowa­days there are no Col­leges of Ed­u­ca­tion. They were done away with in the Eight­ies, merged with other in­sti­tu­tions to be­come uni­ver­sity de­part­ments.

We of­ten com­plained about be­ing sur­rounded al­most ex­clu­sively by fu­ture teach­ers and ex-teach­ers, but we knew that they all knew the con­di­tions we would work un­der and the prob­lems we would meet. And there was not one of our lec­tur­ers who would not try to move heaven and earth to get a stu­dent through a dif­fi­cult teach­ing prac­tice or to help with per­sonal prob­lems. And I have never for­got­ten the fi­nal piece of ad­vice we were given: “What­ever you do in school,” said my tu­tor, a hardy veteran of Not­ting­ham Sec­ondary Moderns, “Never, ever, up­set the care­taker.” I have al­ways been care­ful never to do so.

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