‘My first teaching job…’
Pauline Kenyon (née Bassett) recalls getting ideas above her station in her first teaching post…
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!