Mr J storms into my class room and yells, “Sit down everyone! Why are you all out of your seats?”
Mrs K thinks – if you hadn’t moved me to the room opposite your office you wouldn’t be so upset now!
Mrs K draws herself up to her full five feet one and says, ever so quietly, but assertively, ” The class is out of their seats because they are practising six different scenes from Twelfth Night. They can’t do that sitting down. Everyone was on task and doing exactly as they were asked.”
Mr J glares and through gritted teeth says, “Carry on then,”and strides out to his office.
I was, as you can imagine, extremely annoyed, as finally I had got this particular year eight class where I had wanted them; later that year they produced a fabulous newspaper – the Walford Spectator, which we got a highly commended for and they were generally a great hard-working class.
But I do remember disastrous moments when I couldn’t get a class to do anything for about 45 minutes out of a 60 minute lesson. I used to come home quite depressed on days like that – but then the next day everything would be fine. I remember going to a parents’ evening at my son’s school on a day like that, and his teacher started asking me about changing schools because he wanted more experience. I told him very succinctly to stay where he was – he could actually teach for 34 minutes out of every 35 minute lesson – he should know which side his bread was buttered. (He stayed.)
Mrs G once came and stood at the edge of the hut where I was teaching and just stared. Eventually I went up to her and asked her what was the matter.
“Oh,” she said with a smile on her face,”I’ve had a complaint from one of the parents.”
“Oh,” I said, “And… ?
“No,” she said, “Everything is fine. I can see what you’re doing.”
That was probably the only time I ever saw her smile. I had the class of about 32 in 6 groups again, reading three different novels. I felt a bit like the conductor of an orchestra, trying to manage them and follow what they were doing. Sounds crazy but it worked. It’s sometimes hard to choose a novel for a very mixed ability class. So I took the easy way out and chose three.
I had come to Walford from Ealing Green (which had closed down or was about to) as second in department. I had many heads of department, some of whom were more “interesting” than others. The Reverend Bignell who used to call me the other Barbara (his wife was the first). A woman called Ann think, I can’t remember her surname , who couldn’t wait to go back to her original school somewhere in North London. Then there was Dominic, who loved purple: all the English department displays had to be backed with purple sugar paper; all the exercise books had to have purple covers- I wonder if he had unfulfilled aspirations to church royalty. The one thing that really astounded me though was that he could sing all the words – in tune – to the Polish National anthem. In Polish. It transpired that he had gone as a child to a Polish boarding school near where he lived in Henley. And so he had to fit in.And lastly a lovely lady called Fiona, who was charm and efficiency itself.
I loved teaching English in Walford, both to the little ones and at A level. It was a time for great creativity in the syllabus, and most of my students really did me proud. I think I produced two little poetry books of students poetry which I still have somewhere. I made some extraordinary friends amongst the staff, a lot of whom I am still in touch with, though unfortunately several have now passed on to better places. I always love to hear from ex pupils too, though I have a poor memory fro faces. But I can be jogged!
I was there for about eight years – too long for a blog post. If you’re still interested let me know. Especially if you went on the first Barcelona trip with me and Mr Knowles! 1999 ish