Teachers in Training
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.