‘My first teach­ing job…’

Pauline Kenyon (née Bas­sett) re­calls get­ting ideas above her sta­tion in her first teach­ing post…

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The ar­rival of the sum­mer term al­ways re­minds me of my first job as a teacher. Af­ter my fi­nal ex­ams at my Lon­don col­lege, I at­tended a ‘pool’ in­ter­view in Es­sex where ed­u­ca­tion of­fi­cers in­ter­viewed young ap­pli­cants to select those suit­able for be­com­ing pro­ba­tion­ary teach­ers. Suc­cess­ful can­di­dates were only ap­pointed to spe­cific schools when all va­can­cies were known, so I had no idea where I’d be go­ing. I was trained to teach both pri­mary and sec­ondary pupils, and hoped for a sec­ondary school po­si­tion in English or art, my spe­cial­ist sub­ject ar­eas. How­ever, I was of­fered a pri­mary post be­cause the lo­cal author­ity had mis­judged the high num­bers of younger chil­dren in the new town de­vel­op­ment. I was dis­ap­pointed, but read­ily ac­cepted it as I knew a flat was part of the ap­point­ment and I was keen to be in­de­pen­dent! It was 1965 and my par­ents were rather sad that I wanted to leave home but they, and friends and fam­ily, gen­er­ously of­fered me old fur­ni­ture they could spare and I was thrilled to bits. I only had to buy a cheap cooker. Shortly be­fore the end of term the head­mas­ter of Pit­sea County Ju­nior School con­tacted me and I vis­ited the school and learned that I was to have a class of 47 first-year ju­nior chil­dren. I’d never had a teach­ing prac­tice with so many pupils be­fore and their names barely fit­ted on one reg­is­ter!

This was all a bit of a shock to the sys­tem, but I left the school with bags full of text books, copies of the ex­ten­sive school rules (some for staff!) and a plan of the school build­ing. Af­ter mov­ing into my lovely lit­tle one-bed­roomed flat, I en­thu­si­as­ti­cally spent the sum­mer plan­ning what I would teach – there was no Na­tional Cur­ricu­lum in those days – and took hours mak­ing the then fash­ion­ably in­no­va­tive work-cards, ed­u­ca­tional posters and ma­te­ri­als for my class­room.

I learned there was an­other pro­ba­tion­ary teacher join­ing the school, al­though I didn’t meet him un­til the day be­fore term started. I was de­lighted to find he lived near me and that he had a car, and

I read­ily agreed

‘The head warned me I must teach for ten years be­fore my opin­ion counted!’

to share his trans­port and petrol costs which made car­ry­ing the masses of heavy mark­ing and ma­te­ri­als a lot eas­ier than strug­gling on the bus. Sadly, this ar­range­ment was short lived as he abruptly left the school at Christ­mas. I dis­cov­ered later that the poor chap had failed his fi­nal ex­ams, but had ne­glected to in­form any­one else of this sit­u­a­tion.

I have never been so tired as I was that first Christ­mas and I was de­lighted to go back to the fam­ily to en­joy the fes­tiv­i­ties and re­cover. One rea­son for my ex­haus­tion was be­cause over half my class were still strug­gling to read – my beau­ti­fully worded work-cards were use­less! To rem­edy this, each day, for half an hour in the din­ner break, I ran an in­no­cently named ‘Lunchtime Club’ full of fun read­ing ac­tiv­i­ties. Thank­fully the chil­dren were so keen they all came back for the next ses­sion. I never thought to ask the head’s per­mis­sion and I was shocked when he gave me a pub­lic dress­ing down for not do­ing so! I couldn’t un­der­stand why ex­tra help for non-read­ers needed ap­proval but re­luc­tantly he al­lowed me to con­tinue, warn­ing me that I must teach for ten years be­fore my opin­ion counted! Teach­ers were re­quired to do com­pul­sory din­ner su­per­vi­sion duty, for which we were given a free lunch. I ap­pre­ci­ated the sub­stan­tial, if rather stodgy, meal and was de­lighted when a col­league with an ul­cer on a strict diet agreed to do­nate his to me. Un­for­tu­nately, the head swiftly ve­toed this char­i­ta­ble ar­range­ment! I was ter­ri­fied dur­ing my first par­ents’ evening, as prospec­tive teach­ers are not trained for this. Al­though I

“What’s he like in school? ‘Cos he’s a proper so and so at home!”

knew most of the chil­dren had pro­gressed well, there was one very naughty lad with wor­ry­ing be­hav­iour. His huge fa­ther lurched through my class­room door and I tried to look con­fi­dent as he shouted loudly, “What’s he like in school? ‘Cos he’s a proper so and so at home!” Amazed and re­lieved, I smiled weakly and told him I was glad to say he wasn’t that bad at school! He, and his rather bois­ter­ous son, be­came my big­gest sup­port­ers there­after! Per­versely, I learned a lot in my first post; the need to de­velop sup­port­ive teams, ap­pre­ci­ate and en­cour­age staff and to share pro­duc­tive ways to aid chil­dren’s learn­ing. All of this was vi­tal in my head­ships – and ul­ti­mately as in­spec­tor and con­sul­tant. Nat­u­rally I moved on, but my first head would be amazed to know that I achieved my first head­ship at 28!

I still work vol­un­tar­ily in a school, but have never for­got­ten the ex­haus­tion of my very first term!

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