Reproduced with kind permission of the copyright holder (c) Basil D. Power [ 2005 ] UK
Written in 1954-55 about the author's teaching experience in London Infant and Junior schools from 1919 to 1953.
"It is good to have been young in youth and, as years go on, to grow older. Many are already old before they are through their teens; but to travel deliberately through ones ages is to get the heart out of a liberal education." So wrote Robert Louis Stevenson in "Virginibus Puerisque", and I think these words come to me full of meaning as I look back over the last thirty years on a career of almost non-stop teaching. Has it been good to grow older? Thirty years has seemed quite a long time with its multitudinous changes in social and educational living. To a young child this span of time would seem as a lifetime, and to youth it might appear as almost half a century. I have been wondering what it means to me and how much light the advancing years will shed on the complexities of life?
To travel deliberately and to have time for the consolidation of experiences is vital for interesting living, and I have been very glad of the unique experience of being a student for the last nine months and of having had time to think. Middle life is not looked upon as the peak time for learning, or for academic study, but it is unfortunate that time is so seldom given, for the older man or woman to browse and contemplate at will. The growing child needs time to day dream with his rapid physical changes, and so equally does the maturing or ageing, adult as he or she adds stones, perhaps, rather than inches, to a growing figure.
Time to travel deliberately; to stop and sometimes leave the pulsating car or plane to look back over the miles of land that have been covered so speedily; see the growing hedgerows and the peaceful meadows. Are the pine covered hills and the shadow green copses, to be blocked from our view as we near our journey's end without hardly knowing we have travelled?
Looking back over the hundreds of faces, over the rows and rows of tables and desks, over the schemes and timetables, in all the schools that I have taught, I wonder how good it was to have been young in youth? How many children shed childhood too soon, and put on long skirts and trousers to hide the growing legs, and become old before they had lived through their teens?
I myself missed many stages of growth and cannot go back and re-live through time that has passed. Many children under my care have had also to hurry along. But I have been conscious as I have penned the following pages that I have in some small way grown to respect and realise the role of childhood. In the last years I have had greater liberty for myself than ever before, and have been able to give very much greater freedom to the child. I have been able to grow and through my growing I have been able to let the child grow too. To quote Robert Louis Stevenson again, "all my old opinions were only stages on the way to the one I now hold, as itself is only a stage on the way to something else."
Changes have taken place, however, in the whole attitude towards children, and there has grown up a realization that childhood has its own role, its own part to play in the development of man. I have grown towards this conception, and look forward to the future with the hope that children will be able to grow at their own rate towards maturity. Let no alarm clock be set for their various stages. This is my plea for them.
"Childhood must pass away, and then youth, as surely as age approaches. The true wisdom is to be always seasonable, and to change with a good grace in changing circumstances. To love playthings well as a child, to lead an adventurous and honourable youth, and to settle when the time arrives into a green and smiling age is to be a good artist in life and deserve well of yourself and your neighbour." [ R.L.Stevenson. Virginbus Puerisque ]
In 1919 at the age seventeen, I went as a student teacher to an Infants' school in a very poor area of North London, prior to going to college. One day a week was still spent at the secondary school with ordinary lessons in the mornings, the afternoons being devoted to the hobby of our choice from a list that included home nursing, country dancing, architecture etc.
But for four day a week I now became 'Miss Clifford' with a skirt and blouse instead of a tunic, and a plait twisted up on my head instead of dangling down my back, though I still felt very much of a school girl. 1 had had no experience with young children and as I went through the swinging doors that first day I felt very sick at heart.
I was welcomed by the Headmistress, a very charming lady, who had not long left a Training College post to open this new school. There were three assistants who were kind, capable, people ready to help me and I gleaned richly from them.
The school was new; every room was well equipped with tables and chairs; all the walls were clean and fresh and everything pleasing to the eye, but many of the little people who filled the room were far from clean. Both boys and girls wore many layers of garments and it was grotesque to set a clean pinafore over a dirty frock or jersey. Some children were just little bundles of clothes with garments sewn together not even removed at night, and they looked plump when actually their little bodies were quite thin.
There were quite a number of girls without knickers, and when they sat down on the floor, or had drill, they would pull their petticoats over themselves with a certain amount of shame and obviously did not want the fact to be seen.
It was not easy when Sister came into the room to look at their heads and general state of cleanliness, for the children did not welcome this inspection. Many of these had swollen glands from scratching their live heads and as Sister undid the top button or stitch I was horrified when she called me to see body lice on a child's combinations. Feet were not often washed and were usually smelly, and often, black toes peeped out from worn, ill-fitting, boots or shoes.
I soon came to love these midget beings and grew less conscious of their running noses and uncovered sores. I would carry some of the little four year olds or run after them in the playground joining in their play. At first I only observed in the classroom watching lessons while doing odd jobs in between. There was the clay to be kept moist, pencils to be sharpened and laundry to be left ready - all those dirty pillow slips and little hammock sheets, which were slung on the upturned tables, for the afternoon sleep of the youngest ones.
And then the moment came when I was to be left alone with a class for story time. I had no conscious memory of a fairy story and told some melodramatic story about Little Tim and the Box of Matches that I found in 'Chatterbox' - an annual current at that time. I soon had the attention of the children, but, alas, just at the moment when I had somehow brought tears to their eyes and my own through the rescuing of a blind beggar from starvation by Tim the Headmistress came in, and I was quite unable to finish the story. Tactfully she never referred to my choice of story or embarrassment, but lent me several storybooks and I read these with a child's enjoyment and soon found story time a very thrilling part of teaching.
I learnt the 'signature tune' for the alphabet and sounded letters p-a-t, pat, three times over while the teacher banged her thigh with her hand to keep the rhythm going. Each word on the blackboard was given this attention unless it was a "spelling word" and then it was spelt three times instead. Tables were chanted, with a beaten rhythm too, and number combinations repeated before sums were worked. We had 'Occupations' which we made regularly and children had little envelopes with pictures of a cat, dog, pup, or pig, and their written labels and then there were loose letters so that they could build up these words. There were cards with numbers and corresponding drawings of fruit and stick men. These were copied by the children on to their millboards and sometimes on to paper.
There was modelling in clay once a week with little 'Holland overalls' to be put on while the children were busy. Each child had a small tray with a lump of clay and copied the teacher in slow stages while she made a tree or house, or illustrated a story.
There were bricks, heads and puzzles, in turn and the matching of different colours - pieces of material or coloured paper - and then the folding with gummed and un- gummed coloured squares. We folded in half, and in quarters and then again, and made boats and kites, and envelopes, the children copying at each stage. At other times we folded the paper and tore little pieces out of the corners with the accompanying jargon of 'little mice nibbling pieces of cheese', and then the mat was opened and a pattern of holes disclosed and we all held up similar mats but, alas, there was still time before the end of the lesson.
Finger play was very useful during these 'make up the time' periods and we would play "this little pig goes to market", and "One, two, three, four, five, Once I caught a fish alive," and so on, and then if the clock was still not helpful we would sing:
Clap clap all together, Clap clap away, This is the way we all can clap When teacher says we may
Swinging, rocking, brushing, drilling, were added according to the time to spare. 'Hands on heads' was a useful order when the class needed pulling up for attention and then 'Hands behind' was given when rapt attention was essential.
The singing lesson was usually taken in the hall. Scales were sung and tonic 'sol fa' names learnt, and then songs were sung and rhythms clapped. Poetry was chanted all together and occasionally a child would come and stand on a chair and recite to the class. Drill was also taken in the hall or playground when weather permitted. Nature walks were crocodile trips down the road when we looked up at the trees and sky, and picked up fallen leaves or acorns.
A smacked hand or seat was the lot of the disobedient but love held sway and often a jelly baby or lettered sweet was popped into a child's mouth, and there was laughter and joy even if the soft pedal had to be held during most of the day.
In the last term I had a small class of my own and. was left with very little observation from the headmistress and when the time came for me to leave, I was as reluctant to go out through the swing doors for the last tine as I had been loathe to enter them.
What did the future hold now for me I thought, as I got books and clothes ready for college? I was going to an L.C.C, day-college in Holborn and as I travelled by tram from home I was apprehensive about the new life that I was going to live for the next two years. I had already seen with some dismay the dreadful building that had bean condemned as too bad for a school, with its little playground in front and the few enclosed tombstones at the side, that was the college to which 1 was going. There were many students assembled there, - some of my own age, many a year or so oldest and then a group who were very much older and who had been working previously in clerical jobs and were now wanting to teach.
The college had been run with a man at the head of it but now a woman was to take over, and she was starting as principal when I was starting as a student. The college had had a very free, happy atmosphere and it maintained this atmosphere in spite of the fact that the Head tried to change the students back into pupils, and the college back into a school.
We went over the road to Birkbeck College where we used the theatre for our music lectures, and where we used two rooms in the basement for our private study. It was not seemly to cross the road and enter a mixed college in tunics and so we had to don coats or put on skirts.
We played netball on the tiny court in front of the college during the dinner hour and were watched by all the boys from the newspaper factories who climbed up every wall and cheered us on with our game. My hair usually descended during these strenuous lunch hour activities and so I gave in to wind and game and enjoyed the freedom of falling hair, even if it meant a few cheers from the fence. Unfortunately, one day I was spied from the Principal's room and was sent for and told to act in a dignified way as befitted a future teacher.
I remember another occasion when we were awaiting a lecturer, pencils in hands and note books open, when three male students dressed in maidens' clothes burst into the room shaking money boxes. They had escaped from some rag or other and we were caught up into their light-hearted fun and foolery to be thrown into frozen silence when the Principal opened the door and stood behind the boys, flabbergasted and horrified.
The lecturers were far more broadminded than the Principal and were respected and appreciated by all the students. I enjoyed the lectures and felt for the first time that I was being educated.
History was now a live interest in living - social developments being traced through the years and not isolated in reigns or chapters. Wars seemed forgotten and less prominent as men of noble standing strove to better mankind and the growth of education linked the past with the future.
How I enjoyed Jane Eyre as our book for the term and Stevenson's 'Virginibus Puerisque' with its masterly style.
Our essays were well criticised and marked and we were not always spared humiliation when our work was read out. Sometimes we had to choose prose that we appreciated and then in front of the division give reasons for our choice and subsequently bear with the remarks made by the audience. One ghastly moment I shall never forget, was when I had to tell the division a story while a lecturer stood by, and as red spots mounted my face I heard the word 'measles' whispered from a desk in front, while I struggled with the "Wizard and the Lizard." But those moments were forgotten in the friendly debates, in the country dancing, and endless chatting, and expeditions to different schools.
There were also the expeditions labelled 'pond dipping' when we set off with jam-jars and nets and went out into the country, again an awful moment comes to me when strap hanging, in the tube on return from one of these adventures a wee little fish was shaken out of my jar on to the floor of the crowded train not to be retrieved.
There was a very flourishing field club run by the college and frequent visits were made on Saturdays by past and present students to many districts to watch or collect objects of natural interest. I did not go on these excursions because of financial difficulties, but students gained enormously both from the expeditions and from the close contact with the lecturers who accompanied them.
The college plays were fun and were an essential part of our training. We produced Princess Ida' and William of Orange during our second year and everyone had to act, sing, dance, or help in stage management. Our English lecturer would be in Birkbeck College on Saturday mornings while we rehearsed, directing us with her skilful judgement and making a whole of our disjointed efforts.
We had demonstration lessons to give in different schools and our lecturers demonstrated as well and were always willing to help us in all our contacts with the children. School practice was a nightmare though it was a great help to have had the experience of teaching beforehand. I was sent to a school near Kings Cross - again a school in a poor area with slums reaching down to the canal banks behind the busy thoroughfares of Caledonian Road and Pentonville. The class teacher was very sweet and handed over her children to me without showing any unwillingness in giving them up to a student, and she helped me in many ways.
I made stacks of apparatus and conscientiously wrote out notes of lessons and in fact enjoyed the children until the door opened and, a 'presence' was felt as a lecturer entered.
I remember that we had a heat wave while I was there and one child eager to be cool waded too far into the canal and was drowned. I felt the tragedy for days. There was so very much misery and squalour and it seemed wrong for such a large number of people to be huddled together without proper accommodation.
There were the final examinations, and the interview for the List of First Appointments and I was fortunate to be placed on the List and to know that I could now look out for jobs in London. I went to see one Headmistress who needed a teacher and was shown round her Infant school and introduced to the staff. I was told I should be able to start there after the holidays, and was shown the lovely baby room with its own piano that I thought would soon be mine.
After the holidays I returned to London to find I had been posted to a school in Islington, and not to the one that I had originally seen. I had high hopes, some confidence and no lack of schemes and exciting ideas, when I entered the large brick building where I was to start my career, but I was dismayed when I saw the Headmistress.
She appeared very elderly to me then and I was appalled by her voice and by her approach to the children as she took me round. I took a little comfort after being introduced to the staff, but my high hopes left me, and I felt I was being pulled down to earth by forces out of my control and yet my feet were unwilling to tread the solid earth that was beneath me, but seemed to bounce hither and thither without direction, jolting my innermost being.
I felt that if I were alone with the children I might regain composure, but a class was denied me and I was told that a 'Guinea Girl' was to be sent to the school and so there was no immediate need to upset classes, that had already been organised.
Guinea Girls were being allocated to schools as there was a shortage of teachers. They were untrained people who were allowed to teach in the baby room with the under fives.
I was left in the hall with medical cards to write for new admissions and other clerical jobs were given me. I observed one of the staff give a lesson to a crowded room of children sitting in desks, in rows mounting higher and higher on steps, and she had a high-pedastalled chair from which she could see with a far reaching eye. The children had their hands behind them while they patiently listened to a story that was to be continued another time and left off just as it reached a point of interest. As the children filed out to the cloakrooms in rows the Headmistress was ready to meet them in the passage cane in hand should an offender forget he was back in school.
There was no staff room, though there was a room upstairs where the Headmistress adjourned at dinner-time and there was only one lavatory that was down dark stairs. We all had a sandwich lunch in solitude and then prepared for work or exchanged a few words with one of the staff. Some of the rooms were connected by doors and a teacher could during an emergency stand and control two classes from this viewpoint.
One day there was a great hubbub and I was quickly sent along to the Baby Room while a few toddlers were emptied from one of the rooms to fill my new abode and I was instructed that this was to be my own class and an inspector might be coming in to see me at any moment, as he had been recognized, in the neighbourhood. The Headmistress brought all sorts of reference books, which she placed on my table and said “looked good”, and I was left. I was feeling as dumb as the children when the door opened and a massive Goliath appeared stunning both me and the little ones. He glanced in my direction and at the seated images, then spoke a few words and receiving no answer, left abruptly. I have echoes of "Do these children ever smile?" sounding across the classroom but there the memory ends.
I was now mistress of the Baby Room and a few hopes and ambitions once more began to soar. I spoke to a few parents as they came to fetch their children and found them kindly on the whole, though some were coarse and rough.
I worked frantically at making some occupations and varnished hard most of the dinner hour and after school, as I knew the grubby fingers would soil any apparatus they touched.
Matching numbers and colours in envelopes, word building with loose letters, and picture shapes to be matched and drawn round, and then nature calendars to be drawn out ready for the month. Names had to be written on pillowslips and beds to be got ready every dinner hour so that the children could come straight in and rest.
Many of them went to sleep quite quickly and I sang softly to the others as I walked between the narrow spaces left by the upturned tables, but all was not bliss, for I found that some were too sound asleep to waken when the play bell sounded, and the others had to be taken to the lavatory, and then into the hall, where I was allowed to let them march and run as I played the piano, meanwhile sipping tea when I could; it had been made by the Headmistress and brought down from her room into the corridor.
The staff joined her and drank standing up, and able to watch all that I was doing in the hall. And. then back to my room to find that one sleeping child had messed his sheet and lay still asleep in all his filth, while there were all the others to be occupied.
Thinking the caretaker was the right source of help I sent a child for him, but his arrival brought cold comfort. I was stared at and through when I mentioned the predicament, and then left alone while he sought the Headmistress to tell her of my incompetence to deal with the situation. The child was shaken awake and I was bidden to dress him and take him home. Without any facilities for washing or tidying up, I took, the poor little soul home to a cross and tired mother. She blamed me for letting her boy sleep and soil himself, and said he would not be able to sleep at night after I had let him do so at school.
Accidents like this one happened many times, though the children were all taken to the lavatory before coming into school. I was in trouble more than once, when I had let a child go to the lavatory and forgotten his existence and he was returned to me by the Headmistress with a caustic remark on my carelessness.
It was hard to keep stock of all the children in the class, and calling the register and counting all the heads took time each morning and afternoon. Lunch was allowed in the morning and many children brought large thick slices of bread and jam, cake or slabs of bread pudding wrapped in newspaper or paper bags and there were the names to be written on the greasy papers as the lunch was deposited in the waste paper basket. Here the packets could wait in safety unless an unwatched hand strayed near and had an uninvited feed, or a mouse fed undisturbed until the lunch bell.
There were happy and miserable days and often as I went home I felt that I could not face this career. I had to support my home and the thought went through my mind to what other work could I turn as with wet eyes, tired feet and a frightening despondency I climbed Cathcart Hill on my way home.
It was a fortunate idea that prompted me to study at King's College one evening a week and work for the diploma in English Language and Literature. To listen to Sir Israel Gollantz and to be one of his spellbound audience was an experience not to be forgotten. How well his voice read out from his beloved Pearl and Gawayne and the Green Knight and carried me far away from the worries of the day!
There were the essays to be written during the term and books to be read but I was able to find time at the weekend.
And so life went on until the end of the first term, and then the day before I was due to return to school, I had a letter telling me to go to a church school where help was needed. I went along to a building that looked drab and sinister and where the children were all playing outside in the street, and I shuddered as I went through the entrance.
I was met by a most motherly Headmistress who welcomed me with such kindness that I cried. She soon discovered, how unhappy I had been at my first school and did all she could to keep me with her. There was nothing to commend the building and no facilities for physical work or movement but an atmosphere of friendliness radiated from every desk and the warmth of the classroom fire reached out to every corner. The blackened, kettle was often heard singing for the morning cup of tea and sometimes a saucepan was left at the side of the hob with the stew that was for a teacher's dinner. I often left a potato in the ashes of the fire and looked forward to its bursting readiness at dinner time. This healing period came to an end when I was summoned by wire to go to yet another school and I left with real sorrow.
Once more I faced an unsympathetic Headmistress who left me in a classroom with sixty children without a word of advice and I learned that supplies had come and gone and were not anxious to return. I was told that I had lost a grant for the school as I had not marked the cod liver oil register and there was trouble as I had to initial the class register as I had marked a child in error. Fortunately I found someone on the staff who helped me all she could, and told me where to find apparatus that was needed and explained my duties to me.
So the year wore on and I faced school after school; what numbers of different buildings, what different staffs and types of children, what varieties in method, what contrasts in tone, what madness in timing, where was I going through it all?
There was 'Nellie Dale' to be mastered at Dalston. That was a method of reading of which I had never heard but the children were keen and I was young and so we moved the letters on the frame and said, "P p pig," and the children learnt unconscious of the existence of any other method. They would have learnt to read I think, whatever the presentation for they were alive and eager to follow any interest that I put before them.
We left the ordinary paper folding of the handwork lesson and embarked on free paper cutting, building up our own pictures. These lessons stimulated meaningful conversation, not the stilted remarks which were typical of the oral composition lesson.
I was sorry to leave my friendly room for Hammersmith. The new atmosphere was chilly and uninviting but pressure of work and absence of teachers were the cause of the lack of warmth, it was a crowded, area of poverty and the children came in with their little greasy packets of lunch looking rather like grease spots themselves without colour or form.
It was in one of the classrooms here that a mouse ran about heedless of the children's restrictions in movement, and unbound by the teacher's authority. After eating his fill from the basket packed with unsavoury lunches, he took a look at me, and not being perturbed by my disciplinary glance advanced near to my feet. I stamped hard and then called a child out and demanded that he should, stand and stamp by the basket. I explained the reason for this action and the child obediently stayed and stamped until the mouse really did come out and look at him whereupon he screamed, "There is a mouse there" and ran back to his seat.
This was tragedy enough but imagine my surprise and humiliation when a trap door opened in the ceiling and the Headmistress's head appeared and said, "Is everything alright Miss Clifford?" Humour saved me this time and I stored that episode for the next Old Girls' meeting knowing how it would be enjoyed.
I left Hammersmith to be sent back to North London where I visited school after school until at last the third term of teaching drew to an end.
It seemed as if more than a year had passed when I found myself at last in a school in North London where I was to remain as an assistant and not as a supply.
I was now in a modern building in not too congested an area, with a large playground and even a few trees and with less social difficulties than I had previously encountered. The rooms were bright and cheerful, and though many of them had stepping, they were smaller than I had previously experienced and did not house more than fifty children as a rule.
The Headmistress was an Irish woman with a great love of children. She had a pleasant appearance and personality, but a dominance which made her word law, and a possessiveness which made her school and staff her own private property.
There were five teachers between forty-five and fifty-five with black stockings and buttoned boots, long shirts and hair piled up high on top of their heads, and then there was a young Guinea Girl and myself. I was "ducky" to the staff and though treated as a child was expected to take full responsibility without mishaps.
The register was treated as a sacred book, and our Time Book in which we recorded our arrival in the morning and our departure at night, and our leaving off work at the end of the mornings and restarting in the afternoon, had to be as accurate as a railway timetable. If ever late or absent a reason was inserted in red ink, and I remember the unfortunate day when I overslept, and with honest simplicity related this fact, to be told that that reason could not possibly be recorded. I found afterwards that tram delay was the cause of my lameness and noted this fact for future reference.
There was a happy atmosphere in the school and the staff were good women with a serious religious attitude to their work. There were many deeds that were considered immoral or definitely wicked, and my standards were constantly being questioned but it was according to their "lights" or convictions that I was judged and not from any bane reason.
If a child swore he needed his mouth washed out and his tongue scrubbed and he was taken out and shown a, scrubbing brush and sometimes had to rub a sponge up and down his tongue. If a little boy should show evil tendencies by running into the girls' lavatories he was taken to Governess and might have a slapped hand or seat. On other occasions, however, unless the offender had been really very troublesome Governess would often smack her own hand and the child would think he had been punished and go happily back to his class. Most of the children loved her and she would listen to their confiding chatter and lend an attentive ear to their parents when they needed a hearing.
The Headmistress always took hymn practice and texts twice a week while we were free to keep up to date with our Weekly Records and notes of lessons. We had a detailed plan of our year's work and knew how many words or sounds to teach each week, and what to draw etc., but we had to keep a record of our weekly learning and write out notes for our Nature lessons. We were allowed money to buy flowers or fruit if we spent in moderation, and usually we were able to have one snowdrop between two, one daisy each, a bunch of tulips for all to see, or a loaf of bread, herrings or a few oranges according to what we wanted.
I liked taking lessons on fruit for I spent half of the twenty minute or half hour lesson in cutting up apples, oranges, of bananas into minute pieces and letting the children take these treasured bits round on enamelled plates to those who were sitting up 'straight'.
I remember I was not so happy after a herring lesson when I bundled four scaly objects into the staff room cupboard, meaning to give them to a deserving parent and forgot all about them. After a 'closed weekend', Grimsby seemed to be in Holloway and I was received with icy looks when I went into the staff room and found all the staff sniffing their overalls, which had spent a weekend with my nature lesson.
Another nature lesson I shall never forget was one on caterpillars:
After a back aching job of searching for caterpillars and not having succeeded in finding forty-five I took along as many as I could with some leaves in a punctured boot box. When the appropriate moment came for letting the children watch caterpillars (I had recorded this in my notes), I dutifully handed round leaves on which delicate little creatures of beauty wandered backwards and forwards with skill.
The five year olds enjoyed the caterpillars but their little fingers wanted to control the movement of their newly acquired pets and so they picked them up every time they were afraid the caterpillars might explore territory beyond the reach of the desk.
When I went to collect my specimens they were hardly recognisable and I did not repeat this experiment. Next time I wanted apparatus for a lesson on these little creatures I used one of those large pictures showing all the parts of a caterpillar in detail and so enlarged that all the class could see. I fared more successfully with snails for I kept those in my domain and let them crawl all over the blackboard having races to the amusement of all concerned.
Whilst thinking of future nature lessons or mending apparatus in my free time
Governess would be hearing texts in the hall:
"God is love."
"Thou God seest me".
"Children obey your parents in all things for this is well pleasing unto the Lord".
"Speak Lord for Thy Servant heareth," and so on.
Then the children would break into:
"Jesus bids us shine with a pure, clear light,
like a little candle burning in the night,
In this world of darkness so we must shine,
You in your small corner and I in mine."
Or perhaps it was:
"Do no sinful action,
Speak no angry word;
You belong to Jesus,
Children of the Lord."
Carey Bonder was sometimes substituted for Golden Bells (the hymn book we usually
used), and then the children rang out with their delightful fervour:
"Praise Him, Praise Him.
All ye little children,
He is love, He is love" …and so on.
Our usual day was broken up into fifteen or twenty-minute periods as we found concentration could not be maintained for a longer time especially in the lower part of the school. In the morning after Assembly and Scripture we would often have ten minutes singing or saying Nursery Rhymes with actions. Then we would face the 3Rs with great earnestness for the rest of the morning. With the fives, there would be the chanting of the alphabet and the pointing to letters on the board and I remember making up all sorts of games to try and teach new sounds.
"You are going to be letter 'S' this morning." I would mildly instruct the children "and whatever I ask you, you must answer SSSS-" and so on.
We learnt our sounds, had flash cards with sounds and we would ask an individual child to run out and point to a sound and make it speak, and then return to his place. Then we might break off to have plates given out and sometimes little mats made to fit on the desks for lunch. I would call out the names from the packages in the basket and after all the papers had been cleared away, we would have Grace and eat our bread and jam. Two envied children would wash the plates in cold water in a pail and the others would go out to play after I had accompanied them all to the lavatory to see that they did as they were bid.
With the trooping back of the crocodile we resumed our struggle for knowledge, and counted up to twenty or fifty, according to our readiness, with the help of the large ball-frame which I manoeuvred. We clapped, shook, twisted, nodded, as we counted and then drew a given number of daisies (if that had been our nature topic so as to correlate our lessons) either in the air, or on our little millboards. We had to encourage the desire to use the chalky dusters and try to discourage the temptation to spit or lick our millboards to remove the daisies as the washing of the boards was left to the end of the morning; a job for two more fortunate children.
We varied drawing with sand and Plasticine. Each child had a small tray with a thin layer of sand and could draw figure '5' and five daisies in the sand and then, when told to "shake", shook the daisies away. We also had counters and sticks and used them for number. Then after writing some letters in the air - all starting at the door knob for letter 0 and tracing it up to the ceiling and round to the window and back home again, we would be ready for the end of the morning.
In the afternoon we had to develop our senses. We had the little Froebel Gift Balls of
all colours hanging on to thin little strings which were not allowed to come off, and
were treated as something rather sacred in their wooden box. Sometimes we would
choose our colour, sometimes we were given it, and then we held the string carefully
as we swang the ball like a pendulum for Hickory,Dickory, Dock, or made it rise very
carefully up into the air as we sang:
"Here in my open hand you see
a pretty little ball.
And if I toss it carefully
I shall not let it fall."
At other times we had to recognize voices and I would let a child come out and put his head in my lap while I pointed to another child to call his name. He would then have to guess whose voice it was. Or we would have a tray with a mixture of objects and then a duster would be placed over the tray and the children would try to draw what they had seen or recall the objects by telling the class.
If this produced too much excitement, and I think it often did with the class wanting to hurry the individual I had to switch to a quieting trick. I would stand by the table with my eyes closed and call a child to come out down the steps and round the table past me without letting me know when he got back to his place. How these littler mites struggled with their squeaky boots on the unkind boards! But their happiness if they had achieved this feat was marvellous and they would call out, "You never heard me teacher!"
Art was not an exciting adventure into colour and thought. Our syllabus was uninspiring and it was simply not done to depart from the instructions provided.
These were the subjects for different lessons and a thick piece of chalk making a line on the paper could be the end of the lesson. It was necessary, therefore, to spend time on the giving out of the paper and pretending to draw in the air, closing eyes and drawing from memory. Innumerable tricks were used until one day after my carrots had been passed 'unsatisfactory' for a test I risked a change. I brought from home a candlestick of live green colour complete with candle and a box of matches and told the children as a special treat that we were going to draw all three objects. The results were good but were not accepted in place of the carrots, the drawing of which had to be redone for our drawing examination.
Stories were always a golden hour and I think of them with great happiness. My imagination always added to The Wolf and the Seven little Kids, and The Old Lady in the Vinegar Bottle, and I often finished with an untraditional ending, but the children nearly always held on to the end before telling me where I had transgressed.
I dramatised with them afterwards and I'm afraid often stole the plum parts and was 'the Big Bear', or 'the wily fox', without meaning to be selfish. Of course, we had to rehearse, "Who's been lying on my bed?" many times and give constant reminders until, "Who's been laying (pause) lying” - would come slowly out and lose its dramatic force in the last moment.
Another lesson I used to love was musical expression or rhythmic work. I had, been introduced to this work at college and was fortunate in being allowed a free hand in this subject without a syllabus or adverse criticism.
We stepped time and tripped and ran and were quick and slow, or high and low, according to the piano played, and were happy or sad, with the corresponding tunes.
I can see the little pinafores now wiping away the 'real' imaginary tears as I played the Death of Ase. Even though children often copied a leader, yet there was still a considerable amount of freedom, and the little ones were free from the crocodile grouping, and had scope for individuality.
We had little conductors to beat time and to call different groups for different musical phrases, and though we had no drums or triangles, we were violins, cellos, drums and tambourines, with our different rhythmic actions. We ware rushing winds, express trains, wild horsemen, mothers with babies to rock and cuddle, and toys that came to life.
We picked flowers, played snowballs, tossed hay, or swung high on swings, and this was the beginning of a musical drama which drew the children to me in an atmosphere of relaxation which was beneficial to us both.
The singing game was used as a part of the physical work, and we sang Hot Cross Buns and rang our bells as we went round the hall looking up to see if we had calls from any of the houses.
We Rode a Cock Horse, and ended up with a lovely gallop all over the hall, and then we had games like, "This is the way we go to school, etc or "Who'd like a ball like Bobby's? - a bouncing ball, or a flying kite, or a rocking horse, and so on.
We had dramatised songs of the Babes in the Wood, and Cinderella, and one of these songs was usually chosen for annual Prize Giving when each class had to perform.
Children had prizes for good attendance, good examination results, and good behaviour, and they had to be well rehearsed in curtseying or bowing and saying, 'Thank you', which took some time.
It was hard to leave out the deserving little plodders who did not reach a high 3R standard, but I usually had a large tin of mixed sweets in the cupboard and we all had something to suck and soothe sad spirits, after our exhaustions in the hall before the "ladies and gentlemen!" I remember one boy who took a prize book away from a quiet little girl and on his way home tore it into shreds and thrust it down the drain!
We thought a lot of good attendance, and the class that had the highest attendance in the week, was allowed to have the gramophone (for which we had collected for years) in the classroom for the last half hour on a Friday afternoon. I don't think the gramophone was used apart from this time. We listened to the Songs of the Clocks and the Noises of the Farmyard, and were then allowed to go early to the cloakroom before going home.
Sometimes toys and dolls were brought to school on Fridays, and the children were allowed to play with them for the last period in the afternoon.
Reading progressed as we rose in years from the chanting of sounds to wall sheets and later to reading books. The wall sheets ware not inspiring though the children realized that this was a stepping-stone to reading books:
"I am on
Is he on?
No he is not on"
was typical of the first sheet which gradually led up:
"The cat is on the mat.
The rat is not on the mat.
He is by the vat." …and so on.
We had a tin on which was written '0X0' in large letters and this was a word we treasured and 'Jumbo' was another we enjoyed. These were special words apart from our Sheet, and remembered with joy.
Reading books were given out with feelings of joy and anxiety. Every child had the same book and no one was allowed to turn over a page until the right moment.
Sometimes we read altogether with the correct finger pointing and moving as we built up or spelt the word; sometimes teacher read as the class pointed and sometimes each child read one word round the class. Later on a whole phrase or sentence was allowed at a time but the word was supposed to help the child in the process of pointing and in the discipline of being ready for his turn whenever it was sprung on him.
In the top class children had to read aloud with proper pauses to make them punctuation conscious. They did however, have freedom to choose books for silent reading.
At other times, though there was very little choice in the material offered. The thin coveted library readers had to be counted and checked with great solemnity and woe betide any staff who had any books missing when the great day of stock taking came at the end of the term. I have often had visits to publishing firms for a two-penny or three-penny copy of The White Cat, or The Frog Prince, and have even tried to dirty a clean book so that it could pass with the others without fear of detection.
Oral Composition was a subject on the timetable for the younger ones leading up to written composition for the older ones. A large wall picture was fetched from the stock room and hung over the black board and a given time was allowed for the children to study it. Teacher would then ask questions, and answers that were real sentences had to be given by the children selected:
"Where is Bo Peep?"
"Little Bo Peep is asleep on the ground."
There was not time in the fifteen minutes for many children to have a turn but a few persistent children usually managed to call an answer out without waiting, for their waving hands to receive attention.
When the first steps of reading had been mastered, there were picture cards with a few words written underneath and these could be woven into a sentence. Later pictures with questions to answer about them were used, and just now and again free work was allowed on a picture or a story that was known.
Dictation was given every week at this stage too. Two or three sentences to begin with were written on the black board and learnt by the children, and later the number of sentences was increased. The words were spelt altogether and then there was silence while the words were looked at individually, and finally there was the lowering and turning of the board while a few children with craned necks tried to follow until it was too late.
'Three lined paper' was given out and dictation started with the saying of one word at a time by the teacher and the writing and then covering up of the word by the child.
There were always some children who hoped for success by quickly writing down all they could remember that was on the board, but this was really taboo and was thought to be another form of cheating.
When dictation was over the papers were turned over and one row of children called out for marking at a time while the rest of the class sat with arms folded waiting judgement.
When all was marked the board was lifted on to its pedestal and the mistakes had to be rectified. This was a slow process and to avoid many mistakes I would often over- sound the words to help in the spelling, but I never seemed very successful with this part of the curriculum.
Work went on with changes that were hardly noticeable at the time. Great social changes were taking place however, and teacher and child warmed to each other as unemployment spread through the families and there was a great wave of poverty.
We knew our children and their families well for the school was a unit ranging from Infant to Senior in two departments, and so we did not lose sight of our pupils and could follow their growth and development often meeting them in the playground or hearing about them from other departments. My mother would often have a bundle of clothes on a chair when I got home and a few eggs in a box which she had persuaded friends to give her for one or other of my little ones, and I was often instructed to pop a custard pudding in the oven, to take along as well. I joined the King's Cross Philanthropic Society for a time and was enabled through their kind generosity to see that more than one family had coal and food tickets besides money to help them along a difficult patch.
Changes both social and educational had been gradually taking place during the years and though there were many revolutionary ideas some of these had slipped unobtrusively into being without very many explosions.
'Little children should be seen and not heard,' was a phrase beginning to carry less weight in meaning. In the Handbook of Suggestions for 1927 freedom of speech was being advocated. We were told that opportunities should be given for children to talk with one another during the intervals of rest between lessons.
For the three year olds it was suggested that opportunities for talking should not be restricted to a few so-called 'conversational lessons', but rather, most of the school hours should be devoted - especially with the youngest children- to "informal conversation between teachers and scholars."
Though these remarks were in connection with the teaching of English through speech training, yet the whole emphasis on talking rather than silence was being stressed.
The whole idea of reading was changing too. The first steps in reading were to be regarded as a game. No longer was the word to be the unit of reading but the phrase, and reading aloud was to be: "the practising by a group of children, under the guidance of a teacher, of clear and effective rendering of a particular story or poem."
The object in reading was "to give others pleasure”. We were told that what was really needed was, “the complete disappearance of the traditional reading, the lesson which consisted solely of setting child after child, often in a large class, to read aloud a few lines in turn without previous preparation, while the rest of the class were required to follow word by word."
Physical work changed too. Chasing games requiring real strenuous effort, and exercises of a more rigorous nature than those previously used, were introduced.
Bending and stretching arm and leg movements gave way to whirling windmills and jumping rabbits. Standing in team lines gave way to free spacing over the entire hall.
The singing game became less of a dramatised song and more of an action song, and dances with real movement were taught.
And what of art? What of the drawing of a pencil with or without a point? We were now told that "in the past much wrong teaching had been given and a distaste for drawing had been created by attempts to teach young children to draw models set up before them often commonplace, even ugly, and devoid of aesthetic interest."
Children were now to draw from memory to express ideas already formed in their minds. Colour as a dominating influence in awakening a feeling for beauty could now be recognised and its importance in a child's life was at last realised.
We were warned about children's drawings becoming stereotyped and told to have continually changing conditions so that fresh observations were required. For example, a pear was not always to be drawn in the conventional position with the stem upwards, nor a cup with a handle to the right — a pear was to be on its side, a cup hanging from a nail etc. We were also told about grouping and letting children learn to group a large coloured ball beside a smaller one, and so on.
The suggestions as regards Nature Study were again helpful. We were advised not to use our Nature Study lesson as time for anything that might be described as formal botany. This lesson was not the time for counting petals or comparing stems!
I think I remember the changes in the Baby Room as the most marked of all. Large toys were gradually appearing and formal work was reduced while free play with prams and dolls and balls was introduced for a short time each day.
Dolls' tea parties were sometimes held with little lettered biscuits and cakes, and tables were laid with vases of flowers and children were encouraged to be room conscious. Polishing rags were used by little hands every day to keep the door handles shining and the tables free from dust, and flowers were looked after in jars without labels, and dustpan and brush was used to remove all traces of sand or wastepaper.
The drinking of milk was a new addition to the mid morning lunch and a halfpenny worth of milk could be bought by those who wanted it and was provided free for those who could not afford the cost.
A change which I did not appreciate, was the reorganisation of the junior and senior schools. We had always sent our infants upstairs to the girls' and boys' departments and had been able to keep in contact with them and hear of their progress through the different members of staff who taught them. I knew my children well and also the majority of their parents and was very sorry when the seven year olds were sent to junior schools in the neighbourhood. Some of them returned to our building as seniors later as our school was reorganised into an infants' department and a senior mixed department.
Many of the children were worried at having to face a larger world and the boys in particular were anxious of facing a boys' school with masters, and they had had fear of the stick which was used frequently at that time.
The headmaster and headmistress of the junior schools to which the children were going came before the promotion of the children to see their examination papers and to ask them a few questions. 'Bright children' were sorted out as future scholarship candidates and were sometimes marked for special classes to be given extra attention. I hated parting with my infants and always felt they needed more protection at this young age.
The years before the war were unsettling, and when finally the 'Pied Piper' played his tune we left London with sinking hearts wondering what future life held for us all. We were so parted, and reshuffled about when we reached the destination that had been kept secret from us that we lost contact with those particularly entrusted to our care and taught groups of children almost unkown to us.
We taught in huts fields, cycling clubs and village schools, and normal life as we had known it was at an end. Although, there were many hardships frustrations, I felt some satisfaction in a greater freedom that I had ever previously experienced and the breaking down of all traditions acted in some ways as a stimulus.
The lack of space in the hut where we eventually taught necessitated finding open spaces - a real field with grass and trees for hide and seek, and there was joy in being able to shout and sing without fear of disturbing other classes. What a joy too to have a small groups of mixed ages to teach individually and then to gather several groups round the untamed piano to sing hymns and songs like a large family!
The one fire never heated us, the few lavatories seldom worked, there was little apparatus and very few books, but much was gained in the close relationship of teacher and child, and something greater than number bonds or the teaching of spelling was established.
On returning to London after six months of evacuation I once more had small groups of children to teach in different buildings. There were happy experiences and less happy ones but one school in particular where I spent some of the happiest days of my teaching career comes to mind. There were three of us working at this school which was in an overpopulated part of London, near a main railway station in a zone as regards bomb warfare, but what fun we had with the different groups who came in the morning and afternoon. We had fifteen or sixteen at a time and after a little individual work in the 3Rs we played, acted, or listened to the gramophone according to our varying tastes.
Here was life with real individuals, real friendships and family groupings. Lessons were not directed by a dictator, movements were not controlled in immovable circumstances or interests forced upon a class mass. There was apparatus to choose from and the children chose readily.
Friendly youngsters worked alone or with others as they wished and there was great variety in a session without timetable or syllabus and where the only restriction was the 'moaning warning' which forced certain rules on us all.
A great deal of time had to be spent in one large classroom shelter with a gramophone and some books and apparatus, and a screen behind which was our emergency lavatory. Sometimes we were here long after school hours and then after seeing any child home who had not been fetched by his parents we would ourselves on foot, or in car or cart, or bus, or whatever was available find our way through the streets that were still standing to our homes. We went and came different ways each day according to which streets were roped off end never knowing if our homes would be standing or not. We could not think of the future for each day was a day to be lived as happily as possible in the realization that at any moment our whole life history might be changed or ended.
It was extraordinary that the children, often without sleep or fresh air, should show signs of energy and enthusiasm and be able to work without irritability. They often burst into song and 'Lambeth Way' reached farther afield than its own boundary. I was amazed too, at the possibilities of concentration of these young children after having worked in a school where we changed lessons after fifteen minutes or twenty minutes because we thought it was impossible for the child to give attention for a longer period.
I can remember two children in particular, who had gone to fetch a pail of water for washing some pots in the classrooms. They failed to return and I went in search of them. As I looked through the glass panes at the washbasins, I saw two little 'Chars' with their aprons rolled up as kneeling mats, dealing with a running river on the floor. I did not let them see me but returned again before the end of the morning to find one child still wiping up - the other one had deserted - and the whole floor looking clean and moderately dry. This child had tackled a situation with initiative and resource and had not run away from a difficulty which would have frustrated many an adult.
There were Fridays when we mended apparatus or prepared more apparatus in the mornings without the presence of the children and in the afternoon attended meetings with members from the divisional office and the inspector and had talks and help from them. I enjoyed these afternoons with the opportunities they offered for exchanging, ideas with other teachers and discussing what we had heard and thought they were most beneficial to us all.
A further evacuation broke up all this work and once more I had the experience of setting off with the children - this time cleaned, doctored, and examined with meticulous care in every way, as previous reports had been damning in their filthy live conditions. This time we found ourselves in Wiltshire where I spent a few weeks before returning again to London. It was fortunate for me that I was asked to return to the same school where I had been so happy, but alas this time my stay was cut short.
One morning after a night of noise and wide destruction from bombing, a car stopped me on my way to school and offered me a lift. I was looking for yet another way to walk, as so many streets were roped off and the occupant kindly drove me to my destination. He saw the rubble and the flattened classroom where I had spent the previous afternoon and quickly drove on before I was really conscious I had passed my school.
I went on to the divisional office meaning to return to find out whether our children were amongst any of the casualties of the previous evening but there was no opportunity. I was sent to a city school to get details of a party of mothers and young babies who were being evacuated early the following morning and I was not home until late.
Early next day after walking along streets paved with broken glass, we left before the, world was fully awake to deliver mothers with young babies into the care of a hospital just outside London and where they were to stop before continuing their journey farther on the following day. They were brave and friendly, and it was touching, to see one young soldier who had hidden amongst the mothers take leave of his wife and a very young baby who had been fetched by ambulance from a London hospital that morning.
For two or three months I now became Registrar and some days without stopping registered Mothers and children who wanted to leave town. At one school a policeman controlled the long queues and frantically wrote names and addresses etc. and gave instructions when the families were to be ready for departure.
At the end of the day the numbers had to be phoned through to the office or if telephone lines were difficult I travelled to the city to hand in the numbers for evacuation. Saturdays and Sundays too, we stood by to register or watch departures or look up trains and routes for travelling parents to visit their children who were away.
After the great rush came a lull when numbers trickled backwards and forwards trying new spots and returning home again to venture forth if noisy nights were too disturbing. I spent my days in a Rest Centre where homeless folk were housed and I had little to do though I had to be on duty through the week and most weekends in case I was needed.
There were new problems now to be faced. Anxious fathers came for vouchers for cheap fares and for instruction as to how to reach almost unreachable spots all over the country. Mothers came wanting clothes to send to their children who needed more than one change in their billets and then all too soon came news of mothers or fathers who had been unfaithful and we had all sorts of requests made to us.
There was little we could do at the Centre but we gave what comfort we could and generous members of the staff often provided money for the long journeys to help a mother or father who was in trouble.
I had welcomed the social contact which registration gave me - the meeting of all sorts and conditions of people - and was glad of different experiences away from school for a time. It came as a bombshell one morning when I had a phone message asking me to leave the Centre and go to help in a mixed school of juniors and seniors that same afternoon.
I did not feel at all brave as I climbed to the top floor of a dismal building past firemen who were housed on two floors and whose engines filled the playground. When I reached the top floor, out of breath and with a feeling of bewilderment, I was greeted by a teacher in charge, who told me of all the difficulties under which the school had been working.
The classes were very crowded, standards of cleanliness had deteriorated quickly with the nights spent in the tubes or shelters, no playgrounds could be used except for the roof playground and altogether life was not easy.
I had never taught outside an Infants' School and although I was given a mixed group of girls and boys with ages ranging between eight and ten, they seemed very big to me.
There were two junior and senior classes; one class of infants on the top floor and two infant classes on the first floor; the rest of the rooms being allotted to firemen housed in the school. They had one room as a bar: some rooms as their sleeping quarters, the one lavatory, and washbasins in which an Ascot had been erected especially for them. We felt aggrieved that we were not allowed to use the cloakroom within our building but had to use one on the roof where the children had their lavatory too. As our two air raid shelters were on the first floor we were constantly on the run up and down the stairs with our boxes of work, during the many air raids that we had.
The children were of course at all different stages of progress. Many of them had been evacuated two or three times and had had many periods away from school altogether. Infant work and infant technique were needed but great understanding had to be shown all the time so that the children were not too conscious of the low level of their work.
We had not a great variety of books but the local library was very helpful in sending boxes of books along and these we kept at school as the children, could not read easily at home or in the shelters.
We spent a great deal of time encouraging the children to be clean, punctual, and as nicely dressed as possible with the shortage of soap and coupons. I took two of the classes for Physical Work on the roof but the children were sorely restricted with no other playground and they badly needed a great deal of fresh air, after being cooped up in airless places with blackout for so long.
I was asked one day if I would take my class along to the Recreation Grounds not very far away and did so with great success. The swings, see-saws, shoot, and climbing apparatus provided plenty of amusement for all, and I was amazed at the amount of energy the children soon began to show on these visits.
Most of the children were glad I think to be back in school though there were many attractions to be found outside. Bombed sites were exciting places in which to discover hidden treasures and many spent hours tooth combing fresh sites. One boy I remember became very attached to a horse in the neighbourhood and did not at first like it when school claimed him and he had to leave the stable for a desk, and the brushing down of his friend, for work in an exercise book. He came in late many afternoons with wisps of hay attached to his coat showing that he had spent part of his dinner hour with his four footed friend.
Stealing was rife and standards had to be built up anew but fathers were at the war and mothers working and many of the children had to be left to the ravages of a war-time upbringing. Wit was quickened and brains sharpened in coupons trade, and shops that would exchange coupons in advance were well known.
I often found a bar of Lifebuoy in my bag from a friend in the class and once I was very touched when a wee girl asked me on the stairs, "if I lived with a man or all by myself?" On questioning her I found she was not concerned as to how I lived but whether I could make the margarine ration last out: At the end of term she brought along a packet for my bag "with best wishes from Mummy". It was difficult to know what to accept and almost impossible to inquire into the 'black market' situation for at all costs I felt I had to let the children feel I was a friend, and the building up of truth and honesty was a slower process than was the knocking down of homes and the disruption of family life.
We played at shops but there was more drama than arithmetic in the 'under the counter' situations and I wondered how to get more real life into the routine number lessons. Many of these children could not work addition sums of money on paper but they were safe with their own money in the shops and bought what they wanted without being had. Home life and school life seemed poles apart, as was the language of the street and the language of school.
With the return of more and more children in 1943 we needed more room in the school and so the firemen had to relinquish some of the rooms and we were now divided into Junior Mixed and Senior Mixed on two separate floors with two different heads.
I remained with the transition class, as it now became with the eight year olds and was one of a team of three women under a headmistress.
Our air raid shelters were now on the ground floor and we used them constantly with the advent of the flying bombs and doodle-bugs. The children made little fuss as they picked up some work and ran down the stairs as if the procedure was a perfectly normal one and they showed few signs of un-control even when whizzing sounds seemed on top of us.
It was still impossible to think of school work as important in any way except for keeping up normality in a crazy world and for giving the children fellowship, and an opportunity to be at peace with their fellows in a community baffling against high seas of destruction, and struggling to hold on to a few precious possessions that were worth saving from the jaws of the tide.
A land mine wiped out many homes and the neighbourhood was laid low in dust and rubble. There were many deaths and casualties in the district and we were all, teachers and pupils alike, sharing in the devastation of home or loss of friends.
We planned one day to give the children a party and with our own saved up coupons and those secured for us by some nearby shops we were able to buy bread and cakes without stinting. We kept all news of it secret and spread the food out in the air raid shelter in case there was an alarm. Playtime was just ending when the alarm actually did sound and the children ran straight in to the old haunt.
The cries of delight were almost more than we could bear as the children saw the spread and they tucked in without any thought of what was happening to the outside world.
Another change at school took place two years later and that was the separation of boys from girls, and the removal of the eleven plus to other schools. We held an examination for the leaving juniors and fresh organisation was once more needed.
It was sad parting with the boys and I remember one boy in particular who suffered from dreadful temper storms and who also had an impediment in his speech, and who had relied on me to help him over his difficulties.
As he left the classroom he put out his hand and taking mine in his deposited innumerable crumbs – the pressed contents of a rock bun which had been held tightly in his hand.
With fewer raids, more staff, and the gradual disappearance of the firemen, school began to take on its previous pre-war role and syllabuses were mapped out once more and timetables were set out in style. We were made conscious that children must reach a certain level in their studies before leaving the junior school and that we must do all we could to raise the standard of the 3Rs.
The telephone which had been installed for the firemen was removed, the Ascot Heaters were taken away and we were left with bare necessities which did not help us to raise social standards in a neighbourhood where facilities for washing were very difficult and where the luxury of a bathroom was almost non-existent. As we now had to take a large group of children daily to a communal feeding centre which was a good ten minutes walk from school, we needed to provide the children with more washing accommodation.
The whole social side of living began to take a more dominant part in educational life and I felt welling up within me a greater need for harmony between living and learning, and for learning to become living, and living learning. I tried to encourage the little tea monitor to become a smart 'Nippy' and feel the responsibility of handing tea graciously to a member of the staff or visitor as important as the working of a sum. Friendly co-operation with the cleaners, caretaker, and milkman, were just as essential as learning to read, and learning to help others as important as the Scripture prize.
Sometimes two or three children would prepare different topics for the history or geography lesson and give little talks to the class. In so doing they shared the knowledge they discovered from the library or shop or home, and were able to give to other children and at the same time receive from them.
Drama was stimulating and refreshing s we lived through our own plays or acted Jam for Tea, and The Billy Goats Gruff, and how tenderly was portrayed The Christmas Story without any feelings of self-advertisement.
And so life became richer in some ways as we said goodbye to dropping bombs and sinking ships, but there were all the loose pieces of broken humanity to be knit together, broken apart, and reset again, and people were trying to live at peace with only the weapons of war at hand to help in the difficult battle.
Living at peace, with the roofs leaking, and the blocked in windows, the shortage of food and utensils and insurmountable social problems, had now to act as a stimulus in the fight against the defeatism of victory, in the casting away of old lamps for new.
It was at this stage that we welcomed a. new headmistress to the school. It was her first headship and she blew in with energy and hope with colour and pattern, to give shape to the dream picture of her first school. She made the most of her coupons to dress to please, and the children loved to comment on the new hat or change of garment.
We sorted out all the piles of class readers that we had had to endure and had in their place a gradual influx of new individual readers. We had big fat brushes to replace our little thin wispy ones and large sheets of paper with masses of powdered paints, and the sky not the earth was the height of our ambition.
I had not enjoyed painting when we had each tried to reproduce one daffodil or tulip on a wee piece of paper, but now when the children spread themselves on the floor or under their desks and dragons with flaming nostrils, and giants and fairies, acrobats and circus animals took shape on their canvas, the results were exciting and stimulating. I can see two girls now with some ceiling paper pinned up against the wall designing some dress material on to its lifeless surface and working without stopping for the whole of one morning until the paper was lit up with gaily coloured flowers. This co-operation of work and design was as important as the result produced and was valuable living.
We planned a book on Sweden. I had cards and posters that I had collected from a holiday in that country and the children collected material to put together to produce a book.
Some children just cut out and stuck in advertisements from Swedish magazines - warm clothes for skiing, wooden houses covered with snow, boats etc. while others wrote bout the trunks of trees floating down the rivers, or Swedish dancing, or the winter sports.
Others painted forests or lakes, and the work achieved was the result of many children. One child had attempted to paint a scene depicting winter sports but her picture was disappointing and she was just giving in when two children near her on the floor volunteered to help her.
We also painted Christmas cards to send to Sweden and we received some back which helped us to establish in a little way the beginning of an international understanding.
Many of the fathers had travelled widely in their war service and we were able to contact these countries through their experiences and through books. Fruit and other foods, which had been scarce during the war years, were gradually appearing in the shops, and so we collected orange and apple papers, date box pictures, and kept these in a class book while we found out all we could about our exports and imports.
We started to measure. One of the staff painted and enamelled Venetian blind lathes and with the gaily coloured blue and red rulers we measured and painted feet and yards of hair ribbon and dress material from printing paper which one of the children was able t bring from home. We produced another book, with dolls' dresses, cut out and painted to different ordered lengths, and dolls of different heights, bricks of different sizes, and engines and other toys.
We had a six-foot measure pinned on our wall so that we could keep a record of our growth and the children delighted in measuring our visitors, and especially the Caretaker who reached the summit of our measure, and needed a child on a chair to measure him.
We had a shop in the room with soda, potatoes, dried beans and alabaster fruits to weigh and boxes and boxes of merchandise to sell. Sometimes we all went to the shop bringing away two or three packets at a time and making out bills for our goods; at other times groups of children bought and sold, and two or three children weighed up orders.
There was the telephone that the Headmistress brought in one day as a surprise for us and to which was later added a real order book with carbon paper. Orders were telephoned, and bills made out and the shop grew with price lists, and our book swelled with orders.
We changed the grocery shop to a bookshop but books were not quite so exciting at this stage and so we changed to a drapery stores with our ribbons and materials but we returned again to the general tuck shop. Peas and beans were died in coloured inks for sweets and beads and bricks came in useful for other goods besides our boxes. The boxes were replenished when they got too battered and the children soon reached a standard in their School Stores and threw away anything torn or not clean.
Our number work was going along happily, but we were not all reaching a sufficiently high standard and so I looked around for further stimulus. Alongside with our shop we had the lovely coloured shop-books produced by Miss Hume with the sums to work out at the toy, grocery, or greengrocery shop, or general store or café.
The children scarcely ever worked the set sums in these books, for the reading was too hard for them, and so I labelled most of the articles in the books so that they could recognise the word with the price. They still preferred to choose what they wanted to buy, and as the articles were usually bought singly this was not satisfactory.
One day I tried new tactics. We all had a lesson together with our shop books opened at the Café and we spoke of all the nice dishes and what we would like to eat. I then suggested they should take me out to dinner or tea, and they could choose from the menu but be sure to order two of everything. Our bills developed in this way and became a little more complicated.
Another day we chose two waitresses and with kitchen paper aprons and caps they waited on us. Two other children and myself donned our coats and hats and entered the restaurant and ordered our meal while the waitresses worked out the cost on the blackboard so that the class could see and keep check.
Then we divided up into groups letting some children play at restaurants with proper bills while some of the other children read or worked sums from their books.
A stage further went with a 'help yourself'' restaurant. One child brought some very pretty paper cartons and we filled these with paper salads and mock hard-boiled eggs etc. and let children move along the desks helping themselves until they received their accounts the other end.
The year went on and we hardly moved from money sums. The children showed no inclination for anything else but I don't think the time was wasted. The children were happy and not bored and I think they needed a slow rate of work.
On Friday afternoons the children brought dolls, or toys, or books, and had free play for a great amount of the afternoon. They searched my cupboards while I was busy with attendance slips and registers, or heading reading, and produced dusters, towels, ribbons, odd material for lining bags, braid or anything else that took their fancy, and used these materials for free drama.
I kept apart, usually, and watched from afar as desks were pushed together for operating tables, and nurses and doctors appeared equipped for their tasks with rulers, scissors and pieces of kitchen paper cut for thermometers etc.
A few children read undisturbed through all this noise, not paying any heed or attention, and some played on the floor on two medical blankets that my headmistress had allowed me to keep when she saw how often the children used them. We had made some mattresses pillows, blankets and sheets for some cardboard cradles, which we had painted with gay patterns and these we kept for our doll play.
I gleaned many ideas from this free play and from the dressing of dolls and the putting of them to bed, and saw how we could utilise this play. I begged some real medical cards and some spatula and suggested we had a clinic for mothers and babies.
Two children dressed up as nurses and measured the height of the babies (a little far- fetched perhaps, but it did not strike the children as funny) and weighed them on our big scales. Two more children wrote the names of the babies on the cards, their addresses and particulars, and the telephone found a place and, also, there was need for a cafe, and time for conversation between parents.
I think we reaped more drama than number from this venture, but it provided material for writing and for further telephone conversations, which I was using to help our story writing.
Reading was still a great problem and we had to do all we could not to get discouraged and not to let the children think they were at a standstill. Whenever she could the headmistress would come in and we would divide books so that the children thought they were advancing, more quickly than they were, and we gave encouragement the whole time.
I enjoyed the intimacy of the story hour when we left our desks and sat in a large family group on the blankets on the floor and used them as magic carpets to take us far away from London to China or Peru, and then back to earth to hear more of Hungry my cat.
Hungry was a stray black cat who made friends with me in the garden and I think must have been rendered homeless after a raid, or his people had moved away and left him.
I called him Hungry because his appetite was never satisfied. He had had many adventures and the children were never tired of hearing how he fought and injured his tail, how he tried to escape from the vet by climbing the chimney, and how delighted he was to cuddle on top of my bed near the hot water bottle at night.
There were frequent requests for more of Hungry until his sad ending when they realised my unhappiness at his death and did not ask for him again for some time.
They loved stories of animals and so I tried to encourage an interest in the Zoo and used that subject as a pivot round which we could work.
The Headmistress, always ready with suggestions and help, immediately came in and helped some of the children to make plasticine animals and then cover them with alabastine bandages until we had elephants, camels, penguins and monkeys around our classroom.
Others painted giraffes, elephants, rhineroceroses and. penguins and then cut then out and mounted them on a long frieze, which stretched right across the room. This looked most effective and gave us pleasure for quite a long time.
I wrote four little booklets from the Zoo, on Lien Ho the panda, who was a great favourite with the children, and we searched for books on animals and two girls in particular wrote some interesting work on many animals.
Beryl who was a good reader studied by the hour finding out quite a lot of information but Judith could not read and yet was wanting to write. It was lovely to watch her as she brought information from home and then went to Beryl again and again for help as she wanted to record her facts.
Nearly all the children kept scrapbooks and they soon had a fat collection of pictures that they had found in magazines or newspapers. Some children named their animals or wrote about them but many just cut out and stuck their pictures in their books.
They had shown interest and chatted about their work to others and myself, and their chatting was a valuable contribution and was recognised as such.
The Headmistress was again so very helpful in always being ready to answer the knock on her door when a child was brimming over with excitement and eager to pass on some of her information.
I never hesitated in causing an interruption for I knew the Headmistress would never allow a child's enthusiasm to be damped if it could be encouraged still further.
The Zoo wandered farther and farther into the Jungle, and. left Regent's Park for darkest Africa and the Steppe Lands, and then, as we were losing our way around the Globe, an open evening for parents to see our work helped us to retrace our steps homeward and round off our journey.
The Headmistress again came to our aid and with sleeves rolled up got down on the floor with the children helping them to cage their animals, or answering their questions as to how to make the trees look as if they had shadows, etc.
Our Open Evenings were always most rewarding any many mothers and fathers hurried from work so as to come and see the work, of the children.
At Christmas time my children presented the Christmas Story one afternoon to some of the mothers and fathers who were free to come and watch and it was lovely to see the confidence with which young children took the stage as their classroom and converted it with their dignified simplicity into a rough stable where love held sway in the birth of the baby Jesus.
Each class entertained the school every Christmas with some form of dramatic work or choral speaking and the standard reached was usually a very high one. Our dressing up cupboard was ransacked beforehand and all available little fineries added to the enjoyment, and it was surprising to find the amount of resourcefulness that some of the children possessed.
Sometimes we dramatised stories, using our own words; sometimes we used set plays. Quite often we used stories from Rhoda Power's Ten Minute Tales. 'The Squeaker, The Prince and the Apple' was a favourite we used several times.
Many children were able to help with the part of the Story Teller and as a grand finale for the marriage of the Prince and Princess we had bridesmaids and pageboys who came in to help stage a grand wedding such as the children always appreciated, complete with wedding march and, a few drums, bells and triangles. In this way all the children could take part and feel they were an essential part of the production.
In the classroom we dramatised many of Clive Samson's Acting Rhymes and Speech Rhymes. The children found these great fun. Part of our physical work was rhythmic drama when we were elves and fairies, witches and pipers, wooden dolls, and toys brought to life.
I left the eight and nine year olds and wandered a. little higher into the world of the ten year old. I had had very little experience of this age and welcomed the change in many ways. At the same time too, I had to face a further change - a big one - and that was the advent of a new headmistress.
Staff and children alike were very sad to say goodbye to the leader companion who had worked with us, cheering and encouraging us at every turn, during those after war years when so often we were near to slipping back and soiling our feet in the 'slough of despond'.
She had helped us to resurrect talents, which had been latent without stimulant and had always been conscious of our strength without showing an awareness of our weakness. With honour and kindliness she had spirited the children into throwing off their war time standards of dress and cleanliness, and had encouraged them at every opportunity by a happy remark on a pretty frock, a lovely clean jumper, tidy hair or clothes, or nicely kept nails.
At the morning assembly, which had been brightened by the introduction of many new hymns which were 'Songs of Praise' and not 'dirges of mourning', birthday children awaited their good wishes with dresses fresh from the bagwash and shoes rubbed if not shining.
In a district where the drabness of life was predominant with overcrowding, little beauty of surroundings, many unhappy homes and many serious problems, there was a great need for the school to stand as a refuge, the teacher as a friend.
The chief role of the school was not to produce good readers or mathematicians, not to develop skills or give knowledge, but rather it had the great responsibility of introducing light into darkness, happiness and purpose into misery and aimless living.
I remember one boy so clearly that I had when I first went up to the school. He was an illegitimate child, brought up by an overworked grandmother, and he used to stop in my room every playtime to open windows or sharpen pencils, and while he was busy he always asked for a problem to think out in mental arithmetic.
I never realised he came into my room to spy out the land and was horrified when one of the staff found him with the contents of the Red Cross tin. He had helped himself to this money we found afterwards for some time and had even paid another boy, who was a little mentally retarded, 'Hush pennies' to keep quiet about the thefts. This boy was evacuated more than once after this episode belonging nowhere and to no given person, and when I last saw him as a tall youth going to work he looked a picture of misery without a glint of happiness in his face.
Then there was Tina - a lively child with dark brown eyes and hair, and a lovely little body that could move with grace and charm. She seldom came to school. She could not read at ten years old, and few children played with her. Sometimes she was dirty and scantily dressed; sometimes she was in velvet with high-heeled shoes. She walked by herself, causing trouble wherever-she went, holding secrets she could not divulge, and never being able to confide in anyone. She was useful in warning her mother when 'the cops' were about and we knew her mind was in no fit state for learning.
There was Flora - a friendly child whose mother had been in trouble more than once through making toffee apples and sweets and selling them without coupons in her basement. There was a grown up sister who 'left her baby to be looked after by Mum', but Mum soon tired of this paid job and left the babe with Flora and went out to earn elsewhere.
Flora came to school very irregularly taking turns with a younger sister in looking after their baby niece and doing the family shopping. I have often seen this child with her arms laden with the heavy groceries that were the week's ration for the family. Flora had to be sent to a home eventually for she stole and got into many scrapes doing a great amount of mischief.
Jane was a fair, delicate child, the eldest of many children. She was a capable, practical child able to help her mother in childbirth and look after the family. Mother was an ill woman who was warned as to the dangerous effect on her health if she went on having children, and when another baby was on its way, and we were ignorant of the fact, Jane was so very difficult at school that she was almost impossible to manage. She had the family burdens on her shoulders and knew at ten years old the tragedies, not the joys of motherhood. Now in her teens she is the mother of an illegitimate babe not escaping from the long, arm of tragedy.
There were the countless others, seeing themselves off alone in the mornings from homes where mothers and fathers had already left for work, and returning to homes where there was no time for a bedtime story or a goodnight cuddle.
I can remember Yvonne a child who had been so spiteful and unresponsive coming to school one day with a bilious headache. She had doctored herself with Aspro before coming and then in the middle of the morning had had to give in to a severe bilious attack. We had some difficulty in finding out from the child where the mother worked, but we succeeded, and one of the staff went to fetch her. The child was blamed by her mother for buying too many lollies on her way to school, and was taken off with an ill grace. We heard the child beg her mother to stay with her in the afternoon but the mother said she could not leave her job and we knew Yvonne would be left to see to herself.
Holly was a delicate child who could not shake off the winter bronchial colds and was awaiting a stay in a convalescent home to help build up normal strength. Mother was 'expecting', coal was short and the winter was still severe. As I went out one dinner hour I saw her dragging along a sack of coal with her pinched face and insufficient clothing, already sacrificing her strength for the extra addition that was to come to the family.
Poverty was responsible for many ills but it was by no means the greatest foe to be fought. Children were being born into homes where mothers, already overworked and in overcrowded apartments, could not welcome babies with love. Fathers had returned from the front and were strangers to their wives and children and there was a great deal of adjustment to be made without outside help. Some children resented the presence of their fathers in the home, some wives found it difficult to give up the reins after a certain freedom in running the home, and some fathers found it heartbreaking to see their own children turning from them without love or affection. There were many broken homes, many disturbed children, and very much unhappiness, and there were no ringing peace bells to comfort for those sounds had died away and were forgotten.
One very disturbed child who was illegitimate with a Canadian father she had never known, and a very deaf mother who had left her in a home in her early life, was a great trial in the classroom. Ill at ease, obstinate and unable to make friends, she needed love and patience without end, and it was not always easy to cope with her and the forty-four others who also needed love and careful handling.
There were some children who were being spoilt in their homes, others were being far too repressed - some who were receiving no guidance or discipline of any kind, and some who were having a fairly healthy and normal upbringing.
School dinners helped many children. These had been introduced during the war years, and we took many children every day to a Meals Centre where they were able to have a good substantial meal. It was tiring walking through the streets through fog, snow, sleet and rain and often the children were unsuitably clad for the weather, but they enjoyed the companionship of the other children and a meal prepared for them.
Many of them looked undersized and undernourished giving the appearance of being very much younger than they really were. They soon tired and had not the stamina of sturdy youth. Many were of low mentality and were in need of special education but this help was not forthcoming with all the varied problems that had to be faced. The neighbourhood around the home was their world and there were few expeditions away from its vicinity. The local cinema was always well patronised on Saturday mornings and often in the evenings, and the various pubs would be visited by many of the parents while the older children looked after the baby or toddlers.
The occupation of the fathers was varied. Some travelled distances to their work in the docks, or drove lorries to different parts of the country, some worked as coalmen, sweeps, builders, bricklayers, road sweepers, dustmen or shop assistants.
The mothers or older sisters who went to work helped in the local cardboard box factory, or as machinists, or in the making of Christmas decorations, paper flowers or toys. Some cleaned offices early in the morning and later in the evening, and some made up cut out garments at home or helped in the local shops. There were others who remained at home looking after the prefab, flat, or rooms, and preparing the midday meal for the family.
There were few facilities for washing in the old houses that were let out often to several families, but the local bagwash depot was a godsend, and meant a higher degree of cleanliness and could have been achieved in the home. The children were usually responsible for the fetching and carrying of the rather heavy bundles, and the teachers would often take care of the bagwash ticket in the table drawer along with the money for the bread or fish and chips. There was an eel cafe in the district where the children often went and had eel liquour and bread and of course the Fish and Chip shop supplied a real need.
Many of the basements of the houses were damp and not fit for habitation and it was surprising to find looking down on them now and again, the beautiful miniature garden in tubs and pots tended by green fingers that could have reverenced and nurtured a little plot of land that should surely have been the right of such an inhabitant.
Large china dogs and paper flowers decorated some windows with the long lace curtains hanging on either side of the large sash windows. Uncleared bomb-sites, full of stones and rubbish, were unfortunate playing sites for youth, and cats and dogs nosed among the untidy rubble. There were many pets in the neighbourhood - dogs, cats, rabbits, birds, and even chickens were kept in some backyards.
It was pathetic when the rag and bone man visited the neighbourhood and offered china, or day old chicks, in exchange for the shrunk vests and old clothes that were brought out to him. I remember one little boy who ran the home and picked up some of his clothes without notice and rushed to get a chick that had only a few hours of life, I heard afterwards.
There were the salesmen, who tempted some parents on the doorstep to buy all sorts of books and encyclopaedias on the instalment plan, and parents were often guided into unwise buying while really hoping to have books of educational value.
Funerals were a picture in the neighbourhood with their masses of flowers on the horse-drawn hearse and carriage. Large wreaths with "from our street" written in flowers were often displayed on the doorstep for all to see who had contributed, and weddings usually meant several long skirted bridesmaids, pageboy and white bride with all the Etceteras.
Peace celebrations and Coronation Street parties were the result of months of collecting and hundreds of pounds were collected on these occasions. One father got into difficulties with the large sums of money for which he was responsible, and unfortunately disappeared from his family and the neighbourhood.
Decorations strung across the road from house-to-house with tables lining the centre of the road and covered with enough food and many meals, were scenes not to be forgotten. Presents were bought wholesale and were distributed to all.
Christmas time was always an expensive time, and large amounts were paid into clubs during the previous months to draw out for Christmas. Food, drinks, toys and clothes were bought without thought of cost and often without thought of value. Television and wireless were bought on the hire purchase system and were enjoyed by quite a number of families.
This reckless living often appeared wicked or senseless, yet it helped many to colour their drab everyday existence and it was achieved after long hours of work and was a desire for some of the pleasant things of this world.
With the recklessness was a great generosity, which was shown in many ways. Most of the parents appreciated what the school was trying to do for their children and would often send little gifts for the teachers of Christmas time or at the end of the term.
Sometimes mother had had 'a bake' and some little rock buns would be sent along to have with the 'Break' cup of tea. Flowers would always be forthcoming for decorating the hall for prize-giving, and for harvest festival they would be a marvellous array of gifts.
I remember once when brandy was difficult to obtain. I was trying very hard to procure some for my mother who was ill, and went into one of the local shops with a bottle and asked if they could tell me where to go as I had had many unsuccessful attempts. In a moment 'grandma ' behind the counter called up to her son, "give the lady some brandy from our bottle under the bed, Bert ", and I went away without being allowed to contribute anything towards the contents of my bottle.
If clothes were needed for any child who was going away for convalescence, help would at once be forthcoming, and if the child had to go to hospital, gifts were always ready for sending from one mother or another.
Of course there were discouraging occasions when clothes were collected for a needy family and they were not used but sold speedily and the children concerned were not, therefore, helped. Only a few families acted in such a manner however.
There were the notes too, which came, unfortunately, to say children had to be kept at home because they were ill, when frequently they were looking after younger brothers or sisters who were ill and so prevented mother from being away from work.
Our girls often had to run the home when a new baby had arrived, and many of them were quite capable in looking after many of the household jobs, and were good at baby management.
With problems such as I have described still continuing more or less in their intensity we lost our leader with her courageous outlook and now we welcomed another Headmistress.
It was her first headship and we had mixed feelings of curiosity and suspicion as we wondered what changes she would make.
It was not long, however, before we realised that we were again most fortunate in having with us a live personality, one of tireless energy, with interests that were far reaching, and with a real love for our little cockneys.
Again, there was the lessening of authority between head and staff, between staff and children, and a greater freedom in the running of the whole school.
A very big emphasis was attached to physical education and every encouragement given to the reverence and strengthening of the body. Working in vest and knickers and barefooted helped to maintain a fairly high standard of personal hygiene among the girls, and the parents were excellent in seldom grumbling though the children went home with black feet after their physical work in the hall.
We were advised in our syllabus to give a great deal of freedom in our physical work making it a recreative subject where criticism was not given until some possible, if only slight, praise had first been bestowed.
Some of our younger children and my ten year olds were used four or five times for demonstration purposes in front of an audience of teachers at the Physical Training College in Paddington. They were not chosen because of any outstanding ability in physical work, but they were responsive and imaginative, and the Inspectress who used them thought the experience would be stimulating and encouraging for them.
I had a large mat in my room and during odd intervals children came out when they wished and practiced forward and backward rolls, handstands and wheelbarrows etc.
They soon reached a fairly high standard and found a joy and dignity in movement. They were slick in moving apparatus and preparing for lessons and gained confidence in feeling that they could do something well, and were proud in giving a little demonstration of their work to the rest of the school.
Ample opportunity was given in every physical lesson for imaginative and creative work and the children loved to think out movements with their sticks, hoops, or bodies, which were different from those of other members of the class.
Working in groups consisting of two, three, or four, children, they showed initiative combined with harmony, and an almost uncanny telepathy which produced some very interesting co-operative work. They were good critics and were able to appreciate good work when they saw it.
Travelling in an L.C.C. coach to Paddington was a thrill and the rides were merry ones revealing all sorts of interests. Evening dresses in Baker Street received much attention and many exclamations, and there were many humorous incidents. Two or three children suffered from travel sickness, and one in particular persevered through all our outings taking a 'Qwell' before she got onto the bus.
The girls revelled in discovering the drinking water in the cloakrooms and searched for lavatories and explored anywhere within their reach. Worn out with excitement and movement at the end of the demonstration they travelled home too drowsy for action and some even fell asleep in the coach.
Drivers differed in their patience with the children and in their love for them and the girls were quick to realise the changes. One driver was persuaded to go past Madame Tussaud's at the request of one strong character, and another having lifted one child down the steps of the coach was invited to repeat the process with many more of the children.
Once or twice I treated the children to half of a Swiss bun each en their return back as they were so very hungry. One driver saw them eating and very crossly said, "No eating allowed. This isn't a picnic party!" To my amusement no eating was seen, not a crumb was visible, but the Swiss buns disappeared and I know they found the right direction.
We had a young and active member on the staff, who took more than half of my class & swimming during the year. The children loved these outings, and learnt to swim with pleasure and enthusiasm.
The lack of real stamina prevented them from winning races or swimming for any length of time. This lack of robustness also prevented them from going far in netball, which they now started to play during the winter months. They could not understand when other schools came to play a match with them why the other girls were so very much bigger in size, and this fact constantly puzzled them.
These children needed a great deal of help to give them confidence and security before leaving. They had one and a half years more to spend in the junior school before facing secondary education and many of them were very backward, many of them were very maladjusted, and there were few children without a handicap of one kind or another.
I knew that not many of them could ever reach a high academic standard and our new headmistress, fortunately, put stress on living before learning and never let the 11+ examination stand in the way of education.
We tried to give the children opportunities of broadening their horizon and encouraged as many interests as possible. I remember taking a party of them to the Tea Centre in Lower Regent Street. We took a bus to Piccadilly and it was a joy to watch the children's excitement as they pointed out shops, theatres, and places of interest as they glanced from side to side on the top of the bus. Their enthusiasm was contagious and before we reached Piccadilly we had many passengers chatting to the children and telling them items of interest.
Before going down Regent's Street we walked along looking at the lovely pictures and maps in the Tourist shops, and saw where the Royal Academy stood, and then two or three children spotted a large and charming advertisement for Yardley's Lavender. I could not move them for some time, as they stood rooted to the spot watching this large hoarding and others that took their fancy. Finally, we moved on to our goal and as we mounted the stairs of the Tea Centre and were welcomed by two kind gentlemen I was tickled by the delightful manners the girls immediately showed.
They moved like little princesses into the small cinema where they sat sedately and drank tea as if they were at an afternoon tea party. They enjoyed the cinema show and were then divided into groups and taken round to see the exhibits. We returned by Underground as the children wanted variety in their outing and they chatted contentedly with each other all the way back.
We were fortunate in having a very active Library near us, which encouraged reading by introducing all sorts of interesting chats and films to the older juniors on books and well-known writers. We were able to enlarge our library readers and the headmistress stimulated further reading by having The Children's Newspaper and some interesting magazines available in our little library.
We had been able to give up one small classroom when our numbers were reduced and had for sometime kept this room for quiet reading. We had gradually built up a little library and sometimes we took the whole class in to read or to get used to looking at books, and at other times girls went in to read by themselves. It was not locked during the playtime or lunch hour and if a few children wanted to browse there during those times they were allowed absolute liberty.
We had small class libraries too, so that there could be a constant change of book, which meant a variety of vocabulary; an essential for good reading. I felt sorry that often when, parents were willing to buy good books for their children they had not the chance to do so as there were no good bookshops in the vicinity of the school. At Christmas time, therefore, I suggested to about a dozen girls who I knew loved reading that we would have a shopping expedition.
I contacted a good bookshop and arranged for a number of suitable books with a variety of interests to be on show. Parents were very good in giving their permission and saying how much they were willing to spend on books.
We set off early one morning in December and travelled by tube to our destination. It was very interesting to watch the children sorting through the books; deciding on a choice and then changing their minds, but in the end most of them were satisfied and showed good judgement. Only one child was unable to make up her mind and did not buy anything and I did no try to persuade her to do so.
We left the shop armed with our precious parcels and went to a small cafe where we had tea and buns. The girls were charming all the time and rushed to a flower shop on our way home to buy violets for the headmistress and myself with money that they had not spent. I tried this shopping expedition again later with some prize-winners who were not book minded, and went to a shop that had good pictures, art books, and painting books and felt it was a worth while outing.
I took a party for a course of visits to the Geffrye Museum. The numbers had to be limited, unfortunately, and as I could only take twenty-four at a time this meant nearly half of the class had to be left behind. We had a very sympathetic and understanding specialist to bring the museum to life for us, and the children were thrilled with excitement with every visit and showed their appreciation in some excellent art work, which materialised after these visits.
I recall one child who had not been able to join us because of numbers but who was able to come on one visit because another child was ill. She disappeared during the afternoon, and I was anxious, as she was not a child on whom one could rely with implicit confidence. I went to look for her and she was quite absorbed 'wandering through the centuries.'
In spite of school visits there were still too many of the children who had not been far away from their own homes or streets, and it was difficult to find ways and means of getting them out of their own little world.
When painting classes started on Saturday mornings in one of the L.C.C. Parks I took a group to the first class and many of the children kept up these Saturday visits during the year.
I promised some large scrap-books for any who were interested in keeping records or pictures of any spots in London that they chose to explore and a group of girls got together to discuss plans for outings. They said Kenwood House was to be their first outing. As they were not allowed into the house without an adult I promised to meet them outside the house, but they were to travel there by themselves. I was thrilled when I approached the house to see quite a large group of them, waiting complete with food and lemonade bottles.
We went inside and looked around and several girls bought picture postcards to remind, them of their visit. We sat outside afterwards and had the most friendly picnic that I have ever had and then we wended our way back through the woods to the trolley bus where they waved from the top until they were out of sight.
This excursion was the only one on which I joined them, and they planned and pursued others on their own. One child was more dominant than the others in the planning, but she found out the way and the expense for the proposed trip and others were glad of the leadership.
They went to Trafalgar Square, the Tower, the Festival Hall Gardens, the National Gallery, and other different places. Some of their books had original paintings or a collection of picture postcards and showed a beginning of discovery.
I bought two or three simple guides of London, a children's map, and some pictures of different buildings, and left them on our library table and they were all used.
The headmistress used these visits to stimulate interest throughout the school and every Monday morning after the Assembly any child who had gone out with her parents, or with a group of friends, came on to the hall platform to tell the other children of her excursion.
On Thursdays, after Assembly, the headmistress would often keep the school in the hall to let children read out any piece of written work that they had done well, or to recite any poem of their choice that they had learnt from their own anthology.
The children enjoyed listening to the others and also, taking part in this work, and good speech and sensible criticism developed as a result of this procedure. Groups of children often at this time, too, demonstrated mimes that they had prepared during playtimes in the week. Sometimes these were entirely free and sometimes directed by the headmistress. Without any fear of self-consciousness, different children gave of themselves each week and there were very few children who did not take part at these times.
There were other opportunities when different members of the school could feel that they were definitely helping in the running of their own community. One Thursday each month a school service would be taken by one of the classes. With the help of the class teacher, hymns readings, prayers, or poems would be chosen and often a contribution by recorders would be arranged also.
With the top class I based much of my work round these services. Around the subject of 'Reverence for Life' with the great figurehead of Albert Schweitzer as our inspiration we based our religions work and writings, art and music, and many children read little stories that they had written on the special part of the life of this great man that particularly interested them.
One or two children sang a hymn by themselves and the class sang apart from the school. This service added meaning, to the hymns or songs learnt, and a dignity and reverence was felt as the special contributors took their places on chairs in front of the school.
Another time we took the work of the L.C.C, as our special subject. What had been achieved in fifty years stood out in a compilation of pictures representing fire services, ambulances, schools, parks, work of sewerages, etc. There was room in a work such as this for a variety of tastes, and children who could not read or write were not excluded from giving to these services, but on the other hand the service was enriched because of their added contribution in one way or another.
A Harvest Service was a golden opportunity for all to take part and I am going to give examples from some of the work of our contributors to give an indication of the work achieved.
We thank you Lord for our Harvest
With fruit and all things good,
Especially when the flowers are out to
nod there coloured hoods.
The birds do stag for joyous sound
The fish they dart about, and where
The sun appears by day the children
start to play. The trees they bloom with
light green shade and everywhere is
bright. The river waters are so clear
and golden harvest time is here.
Thank you God for harvest time
Thank you God for birds that sing
Thank you God for fruit and fish
Thank you God for everything.
Thank you God for flowers that grow
Thank you God for colours bright
Thank you God for men that sow
Your world is such a lovely sight.
When cornfields have their golden gown
And rivers sparkle clear
You'll have it whispered round the town,
Harvest time is here.
A PRAYER FOR HARVEST
0 Heavenly father thank you for the wonderful things you have given us like wheat and flowers and fruit please bless other people who cannot see the glory of harvest the colour and brightness of your world, thank you God for the men you have sent to us to help to produce these lovely harvest things. Everybody give thanks unto the Lord. Amen.
When leaving time came the top class prepared their own service without any help except that of having an accompaniment played for then on the piano.
These services were most impressive occasions, and when a child chosen by the class mounted the little platform and directed the school and led the prayers we were always very moved.
The feeling of security shown by the children on these occasions was due very largely to a happy relationship between children and staff, staff and head. Bound up with this relationship was also the knowledge that all service was of value; all gifts of importance, and all contributions made to the community of greater worth than any task done for self-interest.
I am sure good school community living is only possible when there are bonds of trust between child and teacher, and teacher and head. Unfortunately, trust cannot be built up in a hurry; time is needed all through the day to be ready to be tested by the other members of the community; to be able to stand or fall by their judgement.
I always started the day by sitting at my table ready for any child who wanted to come in and chat. The keeping of the dinner register is not as important as the daily contact with lives; lives, particularly in some areas where there is a crying need for friendship in a complex world. While a child marked the dinner register I listened or chatted to my young companions.
Early morning contacts I always found were most revealing. A child who has been left to have breakfast alone, see herself off to school; and perhaps, leave the bag wash on the way, has often expressed anxiety. To be able to share a trouble, or joy, with someone is part of living - enriched living - and I felt children and teacher, as of course staff and head, needed this close contact.
This contact varied with the need of the child; some days a child would be ready and wanting to come in to school and continue some unfinished work; often, however, a need for adult contact was necessary before the mind could be freed for school interests.
The spoken word was given, in this way, too, a place of importance. Here was oral composition. Many children could not express themselves in writing because of writing and spelling difficulties, so these moments were a chance for self-expression.
Too much stress on the written word can check flow of thought, and with many it can even impede thought altogether. To write before one is ready to write is as evil as walking before the legs are ready to support the weight of the body. There are too, so very many forms of self-expression that it is impossible for all to use the same form with success. The beautiful poems of 'the unlettered Caedmon' have been preserved by those who could write but he himself could never have sat down and transcribed his thoughts. "He kept in his memory all that he could learn by listening, and even as a clean beast chewing the cud, he turned it all into the sweetest verse. And his song and his verse were so winsome to hear that his teachers themselves wrote them down from his month and learned them."
[ Page 87 A Treasury of English Literature. K. Warren.
Old English. 700-1200 ]
In the same way as the joy of writing can be denied by a forced and premature stimulation to those who are not ready for the technique, so too, can the joy be denied to those who are ready to practise this art.
Thoughts have to be curbed as the discipline of concentration is fostered, but they must not be deadened or destroyed by too great restriction.
Thoughts spring to life, like bursting, buds to flower, and it is ruinous to creation to stay the new birth until a certain appointed time. When children have reached a stage when they are simply bursting to write a story or poem, even at an hour that has been allotted for other tasks, they surely need a sympathetic hearing.
I always left two large books for the writing of poetry hanging up in the classroom, and when any child felt like writing a poem she was free to take down the book and do so. Some of these poems were most revealing and portrayed characteristics that were not visible elsewhere.
Each term I gave out long lists of story titles and when a child was wanting to write on any of these subjects, or on any of her choice she was free to do so. Sometimes I would suggest a thought for a poem but more often than not I left the time and choice of a subject free.
Children who could not write, stories because of reading and spelling difficulties filled their notebooks with illustrations from wireless stories, or talks and some of these books were delightful records of work. Some wrote with strange spellings and no visible punctuation but there was colour and imagination apparent, and no stereotyped style adopted, or dull matter given for the sake of an imposed task.
I always tried to treat each literary effort as a little creative piece of work requiring respect for its thought, and to show that I had appreciated reading it only left gentle and kindly remarks.
I was again blessed in being able to send along to the headmistress when I realized a few children were needing more stimulus to enable them to justify their own standards. She would come in and take most of my class while I took a group of ten or twelve children apart and helped them in several ways. Perhaps they were feeling towards power of description, or were searching for vocabulary to express a new experience.
We would sit round a table and very freely pool our thoughts and help each other.
"Let's all look as if we are too tired for work!" I would sometimes suggest. The heads would fall to the folded arms on the table, or the bodies would be thrown back in relaxation against the backs of the chairs, or a yawn, or a stretch of the arms would indicate a feeling of heaviness. A child or myself would then express tiredness in a similar visible form while the other children watched and called out words or phrases which might produce a picture of inertia. So we helped each other through mime and word to gain descriptive powers both orally and in writing.
Another form of self-expression, which the children loved, was that portrayed in the modern dance. I have often thought of too great feeling and extreme sensitivity as almost a form of maladjustment.
The artist can control his feeling and use its strength through every hair of his artist's brush. The singer can capture new sounds through the depths of his voice. The pianist with his fingers can caress the dead notes of the piano into warm life; the writer can use words to recapture beauty or recreate personality, the ballet dancer can give voice through her movements to stories of life down the ages. But there is still feeling that cannot escape into any of these channels feelings so strong that it is like a motor letting off steam without being able to move, like water sinking through sand and not being able to be caught or held by a thirsty traveller.
This great sensitivity, which is present in many children, can he caught and used and can be made to bring form and beauty into bodies that may not be finely chiselled with the craftsman's tool, not shapely moulded by the potter's wheel.
It always gives me a thrill to watch children express strength and weakness in such a variety of free movements; to reveal spaciousness and confinement in one change of position; to portray the different textures as shown by the artist's brush so delicately by every muscle in the body.
Sometimes the children laughed at me as I stood with eyes of wonderment wondering how their bodies could be so transformed to express a unit of thought.
To watch each child without set exercise create her own movements of balance, or stretch or twist is a real delight. Great control of body is achieved and a great knowledge derived of the possibilities of each individual body.
Apart from the great physical gain and opportunities for creative work, were the chances for co-operative work, which were so beneficial. Working in groups without music and often without any given rhythm gave chance for leadership and teamwork.
Sometimes to a given theme, sometimes to a theme of their own choice, they would compose a dance themselves and with no outside timing of any description they would sense a pattern in faultless time without always seeing the movements of the rest of the group.
I remember a particular group of six one day that the class and I stopped to watch. Working with control, dignity and grace of movement, they portrayed a dance in such a way that the whole hall was hushed almost into a hallowed reverence and when they had finished there was no stir of movement, no sound for some time.
Sometimes gramophone records were used and children would react to the music heard in any way they liked. Often they would link up with partners or other groups and pool ideas but there were many who always liked working alone.
One day when the children were almost exhausted after some of their vigorous move- ments I told them to lie down and rest while I left a Rumanian Carol on the gramophone for them to enjoy. Before two bars had played they were kneeling, sitting, standing, or lying and with bodies scarcely moving were rocking a baby, or with some slight action revealing the presence of a small infant. When the record had played I asked them only to use their fingers, as I knew they were tired; and I was amazed at the delicacy of touch and the varieties of little movements as they caught with their fingers the whole atmosphere of the lullaby.
Growth is often accompanied by twinges of pain and there is often acute discomfort in mind and body as thoughts push their way into immaturity like teeth cutting their way into baby gums. To stop growing is to die; to rest too long without shedding skin after skin, thought after thought, is to die also. To be ready at the right moment for new teeth to bite into hard crusts is to be ready for living. 'Living readiness' in a teacher is discernible in an eye that can catch new shades from old colours; an ear that can catch new harmonies from old tunes; in a mind that can stretch backwards and forwards.
In the last century ideas on education have grown so rapidly that it has been difficult to keep pace with the quick changes. Sometimes it has been just possible to recognise the new growth; sometimes the growth has bean metamorphic and has needed new 'screen eyes ' to visualise the picture. The swing doors that opened a new world to me in 1919 have gone on swinging backwards and forwards revealing different pictures through the years, and with oiling and adjustment they will continue to move into the future.
Social changes have been as rapid in their growth as those of education and have left baby steps behind as they have marched ahead with giant strides. The little toddlers of my first school could not be seen today. Bundles of rags and filth have been buried, and though there is still dirt of body and uncleanliness of hair, the majority of children have a far higher standard of personal hygiene than did those of 1919. Facilities for washing at the public baths and the launderette, and the use of the bagwash have helped mothers with the pile of dirty clothes and have relieved them of some of their difficulties.
Large blocks of flats, the building of housing estates and the general improvement of living conditions have given greater impetus to the making of homes than did the converted attics and basements which had been homes for too long. Playing fields for children and gardens for adults are still to some extent dreams of the future, bat babyhood cannot reach manhood in one stride without disaster. George Lansbury with his fatherly concern for youth will never be forgotten as the children's M.P. To watch little people on the swings and down the shoot, and paddling in the pond or sailing their ships, is an experience not to be forgotten and these open air play gardens for children are vital in our social growth of to-day.
Mass production of furniture and clothes, though losing individuality and taste to some extent, have enabled a larger proportion of people to have decent homes and clothes than in earlier years. Hire purchase terms have their drawbacks, but they have helped to provide for the new family and they have raised the standard of living.
Less unemployment, higher wages and holidays with pay, canteens for feeding and the National Health schemes are necessary strides forward. Clinics for Mother and Child Welfare, and nurseries where children can be happily and lovingly housed are compulsory needs and need to grow in strength. With the disappearance of so many of the physical ills of children and adults it is quite easy to forget some of the scenes witnessed in childhood; the fever cart, the tubercular child in the long chair carriage, the bonneted lady or bearded man of sixty-five or over, who was wheeled slowly in a bath-chair by a devoted servant or hired man who saw that the shawl and blanket kept cold air from their precious passenger.
Better physical and mental health are still goals to be won, and offer opportunities for further research, but what fields of victory there have been in the last fifty years, and I feel proud of belonging to this great century!
Transport during this half century has grown from the horse drawn tram and the developed 'Puffing Billy', to streamline vehicles of speed that carry us, before we are almost ready, to any destination. Moving staircases take us below ground, cars with their mighty horsepower glide past the handsome four footed animals who used to carry us so nobly on our little journeys. Planes soar like birds and drop in flight to leave us in the cool north, the sunny Mediterranean, or the humid tropics. Great liners carry us with our cars and cargo across seas and oceans, while submarines rise up from the deeps like fish of prey.
East can meet West, North can come South, in days, not months or years. This living contact with different nationalities must surely lead to more pooling of thought, to greater knowledge of different peoples, and with greater knowledge there is a chance of greater understanding. The sharing of knowledge between peoples and a joined effort in research of nation to help nation would be a growth worthy of the coming years. If fear and distrust could be stamped out between one people and another and our war resources used for the furthering of peace, we could soon leave our baby teeth to be pushed, perhaps painfully, to make room for our wisdom ones which are of longer duration than those first precious signs of development.
War has deprived us of much of our manhood. I have watched the effects of two wars. The first World War, I saw through the eyes of a child. The gloom of mourning was present, though I did not realise all the horrors of the aftermath of war until I saw the second World War through the eyes of an adult.
As a teacher seeing the broken homes, the tortured minds, the lowering of many standards, the unhappy children and the whole frustration of a living death, I now want to look forward and leave the rubble caused by unsatisfied man to a smouldering bonfire.
Man needs help; help of body and mind. Science alone cannot lead man through the difficult stages of life. Psychology and education are necessary; body and mind cannot be separated in healthful living. For complete living, however, a Master Mind is needed to guide and control man through his stages of growth and the Brotherhood of Man and the Fatherhood of God give completeness to immaturity.
Peeping once more through the swinging doors I linger as they reveal new pictures of childhood through the last years. These pictures show an increasing respect for creation. There is a special class for the under fives in a large room leading out into a play garden with lavatories, wash basins and cloakroom complete for these special little people. A friendly pussy or a jumping rabbit move about in a little world that regards these children as the salt of the earth. Swings, ropes, 'Jungle Jim', see-saws and masses of waste material are there to be used if wanted. There is time to build many castles in the air, knock them down again and move about with ease in timeless space unhindered by bell or fitful authority.
Dribbling in from the garden are little groups of friendly people anxious to leave the big outdoor apparatus and sample the indoor treasures. One little boy wanders to an easel and taking a fat paintbrush quite firmly in his hand dips it into one of the little pots of paint, and with pride and confidence moves his brush across the large sheet of coloured sugar paper. Satisfied, he leaves his 'art', and finds a large lump of wet clay on a large tray at which two other children are working helped by a kind, overalled teacher, who listens patiently while her little friend tells her of his painting.
In the corner of the room three children are busy in the 'Wendy House'. Working together with ease and chatting as they move, they are preparing a meal for their dolls. The cloth is laid, flowers are on the table, and a real teapot filled with water is used for filling the cups while the dolls have a last wash before a meal.
Outside the Wendy House is a solitary little four year old lathering her undressed dolly until its shape nearly disappears in snowy, soapy whiteness. Two little girls are in the centre of the ream with another easel on which is stretched a large piece of flannel and their little nimble fingers are placing all coloured sizes and shapes of felt on the easel so making a pretty picture as they choose their colours from a little straw basket. They work in perfect harmony unmoved by the noise of harsh sounds near them as hammers knock pegs through holes, or as a boy with a large straw hat on his head dashes past with a sword in his hand.
An hour passes and the groups are still busy. Now and then one child moves from one interest to another. Some gather round the teacher and sing with her or listen to a story, and then a kindly helper comes forward and leads a few eager three and four year olds to wash before dinner. They know their pegs, for they are marked by a special fruit or animal for easy recognition, and so they easily find their own towel.
Washed and ready for food they come back to find some of the tables laid for their meal and they sit down while little helpers wait on them carrying plastic plates with tasty food which is soon eaten.
Refreshed by food but tired from morning busyness these little people rest from their labours on canvas beds. Some clutch books and dolls or pegs that are for the moment part of them and sing or talk to their possessions as they doze lightly or sleep.
If we stay outside the swinging doors and look away from the nursery class we can see happy mothers coming along with prams and babies to fetch their little folk who have spent a happy day actively living.
What sort of living was it thirty years ago when screaming and kicking children, terrified of leaving their mothers, were passed into me and the door shut as the unhappy mothers were quickly hurried off?
I thought with others that we were lessening the shock for the child if his mother was made to disappear quickly, and he had to settle down in a room where children matched colours, traced letters, sang nursery rhymes, and when very good, had rides on the rocking horse! Little legs and arms eager to move were constantly restricted, and the authority of the teacher had to be exercised to restrain the natural movements of these young children. But what changes there have been in this direction!
Growth has gone on and though development has sometimes spread in all directions and seemed for the moment formless, yet shape has emerged.
Look again through the doors, and this time see an Infants' School. Note the soft rubber flooring as the door opens and see the rows of coloured coats hanging on the pictured pegs. Two or three brightly coloured little doors lead into lavatories and then as one passes round a corner still in the classroom, a friendly sound of chatting and banging is heard.
One child with sleeves rolled is washing some dirty dishes at the sink. Near her a child is busy making some little cakes. With her small scales, her recipe, and her ingredients in front of her she is stirring her mixture with a wooden spoon before filling the little patty tins that are reader for use. When the buns are made she will take them along to the friendly cook who is seeing to the school dinner in another part of the building, and will let the child use her oven.
Seated at several tables are boys and girls with beautifully illustrated reading books. Each child has the book for which he is ready and which he can enjoy reading. In a corner of the room is a little 'clothes horse library' and here are two children handling books from the pockets of material which cover the horse, and choosing books of their own choice. At more tables there are children working sums with little boxes of apparatus or cardboard money.
And round the teacher's table is a group of children waiting for individual help and chatting while they wait. A shop stands near and here there are fruits and sweets made in clay by the children and painted to look appetising, and children are busy buying and selling with baskets and money. Round a little corner two young artists paint at easels oblivious of the rest of the class as they concentrate on their free painting.
One boy is hammering hard, but his hammer hits real nails and there is no foul play. Here is social friendly living of a small community, with freedom to quarrel and fight, but a harmony is apparent in this classroom as each little individual is offered the chance to grow, and a friendly teacher strains to give individuality its place and treats each head with reverence.
One more peep up a few steps with light walls of varying colours past a hall where youngsters of nine and ten are playing on their own recorders complete with music stands and down a light corridor into another classroom. Large windows let sunshine and air into a bright happy room that resembles an art gallery with its pictured walls.
The artists are not painting at this moment. A group of children are in the library corner searching for information through encyclopedias and others books. Some are busily writing at their desks and others are chatting to the teacher while yet another group with cardboard, gum, newspapers and boxes, are busily discussing a model that they are going to make together.
Some children are in the playground below with chalk, measuring rods, and paper, working out areas from their chalked drawings on the asphalt They are undisturbed by the half dozen children who are acting near them preparing a. short sketch to give in front of the class. All are occupied with purpose and have something to contribute to their fellow classmates.
These children, with freedom of speech and movement, freedom of choice of interest, unhindered by timetable or restricted, by lack of space, are having an opportunity for an education right for childhood. This opportunity is still denied to many children, however. We look back with horror to the stepped classroom with its rows of filled desks seating sixty or seventy motionless children but we need to look forward to better conditions than many classrooms still provide today.
With thoughts on my return to the classroom I cannot help thinking of changes that I would still like to see in this enlightened age that has done so very much to improve many social conditions.
My register for next term is already compiled; the forty five names that I have entered into my book of remarks are before me and are, as yet, unconnected with face or gesture, with interest or skill.
Parents do not always find, it too easy to understand their own children, and often wonder at the complex and divergent nature of those they have conceived and nurtured. The experienced teacher, with years of contact with children and a loving understanding of them, cannot hope to understand and help forty-five different personalities.
The growing child needs the helping adult at varying times and stages which cannot be pre-arranged by bell or clock, and with our growing knowledge of children we should be ready with leisure to listen and help. How often do the forty-four get left for the one lost one? How often does the one lost one get found but there is not sufficient time or opportunity to stop and point to the different signposts of direction and so the finding is of only a transitory nature?
It is hard for a teacher to have to deny so much to so many, and it is unfair on the next generation who are being denied their rightful heritage.
The delicate relationship which can be built up between teacher and pupil, and which varies according to the age and need of each child, is a subtle relationship, which has to be nurtured and maintained with gentleness and care. The eye and voice of authority, which had to be used so such in the past to control large numbers is a technique which demands obedience and saps initiative.
With smaller groups of children an atmosphere can be created where the teacher as leader, friend and member of the community, can allow those in her care to have sufficient freedom to learn through living; to make mistakes if necessary and to use their own initiative when possible.
In an atmosphere of leisure, there is a chance for each child to realise his interests and discover his gifts; an opportunity for the shy child to have time to develop confidence; for the child handicapped by family or personal problems to find help from the secure relationship which time and understanding can help to establish between adult and child, and pupil and pupil.
Fear is a self destructive and contagious poison, and I hope the school of the future will never know the cringing child or the humbled teacher, weakened by a cruel authority which uses fear not love to command.
I hope too, no school will be so large that neither head and staff, nor staff and children, can fail to have opportunities of getting to know each other. Staff like children need knowing, and I don't think it is always realised how much a little social contact means to a member of staff, and how a kindly word or friendly inquiry can alter a whole person's outlook on life.
To be able to talk over difficulties and share enthusiasms, to know that you can have a. burst pipe or a lost purse and be able to communicate the fact to an understanding head is surely part of the art of school living. Teachers, as well as children, need constant encouragement for there is very much that is very frustrating in teaching, and a ready word from someone at hand who is free from a life of organisation, is always helpful.
I hope too, in the future there will be more time and opportunity for different educational departments, and different schools, to get to know each other in the strive for a growing knowledge and understanding of children so that all those concerned in the welfare of education can give and receive from their colleagues.
To grow with knowledge that is itself ever expanding, is to know part of the meaning of education. A mind without knowledge and one that is content to remain unchanged cannot contribute much to society. Acquisition of knowledge, however, is not the final goal. Too much stress has often been placed on knowledge and intelligence.
Scholarships to schools and universities are worthy of record only if those who win these prises are fit and ready to share their knowledge and use their intelligence so that the struggle for further truths and greater enlightenment may go on for the betterment of all mankind.
If in educating our children we can give them time to be children; time to find out their special contribution to life, und having found their gift to invest it in work for the betterment of mankind, we shall have no cause to feel we have failed in our task as teachers; no regrets for the preparation we have given to our future citizens, the men and women who will carry on the torch when our eyes are too dim to see the light any longer.
Books read for general interest
Books read for general interest
in education & in connection with college lectures
PUPIL AND TEACHER
SOCIAL CONDITIONS IN NEW SCHOOL
FIRST APPROACH TO TEACHING
MEMORIES OF READING, NUMBER NATURE ETC,
FIRST CLASS OF MY OWN
THOUGHTS OF COLLEGE - LECTURES ETC. SCHOOL PRACTICE
LIST OF FIRST APPOINTMENTS
IMPRESSIONS OF FIRST SCHOOL
TEACHER AND STUDENT.
FRIENDLY AND UNFRIENDLY SCHOOLS
NELLIE DALE'S READING METHOD
HANDWORK -FURTHER CHANGE.
NEW SCHOOL-HEAD AND STAFF
SACREDNESS OF REGISTER & TIME BOOK
STANDARDS OF WICKEDNESS
PUNISHMENT & N0TES OF LESSONS
TEXTS AND HYMNS
SOUNDS - LUNCH - NUMBER-WRITING
SENSE TRAINING - ART
STORIES - MUSICAL EXPRESSI0N - SINGING GAME
PROGRESSION OF READING
ORAL COMPOSITION - DICTATION
SOCIAL CHANGES. p>
CHILDREN TO BE SEEN AND HEARD
TALKNG RATHER THAN SILENCE
FOR THE 3 YEAR OLDS
CHANGES IN READING
ART - NATURE STUDY
PLAY IN BABY ROOM
REORGANIZATION OF JUNIOR AND SENIOR SCHOOLS
5. WAR YEARS
STIMULUS OF FREEDOM - WORKING IN GROUPS
CONCENTRATION AMIDST DISTRACTION
HELP FOR TEACHER
DESTRUCTION 0F SCHOOL BUILDING
EVACUATION OF MOTHERS AND BABIES
WORKING AS REGISTRAR
DESTRUCTION OF RELATIONSHIPS.
IN SCHOOL AGAIN
DETERIORATION 0F STANDARDS
CALL OF THE BOMB SITE
SCHOOL COUPONS, BLACK MARKET & UNDER THE COUNTER
FLYING BOMBS AND LAND MINES
PARTY IN AIR AID SHELTER
REORGANISATION OF CHILDREN AND BUILDING
WELDING OF LIVING & LEARNING
NEED FOR BRINGING TOGETHER OF BROKEN HUMANITY.
NEED FOR STIMULUS AFTER WAR
PAINTING WITH COLOUR AND
LIFE-BOOK ON SWEDEN
SCRAP BOOK ON FOOD SUPPLIES
MEASURING WITH INTEREST
SHOP AND TELEPHONE-NUMBER BOOKS WITH MEANING
HELP YOURSELF CAFE
GOODBYE TO OUR LEADER
ROLE OF PARTICULAR SCHOOL
CHARACTERS IN SCHOOL
BOY WHO STOLE
TINA THE LOVELY
FLORA THE HOUSEKEEPER
JANE THE PREMATURE MOTHER
YVONNE THE DEPRIVED
HOLLY THE DELICATE
PROBLEMS OF HEALTH AND MIND
OCCUPATIONS OF FATHERS AND MOTHERS
BASEMENTS FOR LIVING
DOOR TO DOOR CANVASSERS
CLOTHES FOR HOLIDAY AND HOSPITAL
[ Names in the above section have been changed to protect identities ]
EMPHASIS ON P.E.
P.E. WORK AND COLLEGE DEMONSTRATION
TRAVELLING TO PADDINGTON
SWIMMING AND NETBALL
NEED FOR SECURITY
EXPEDITION TO TEA CENTRE
WORK OF LIBRARY
BUYING BOOKS FOR CHRISTMAS
GEFFRYE MUSEUM VISITS
PAINTING ON SATURDAYS
VISIT TO KEN WOOD
OUTINGS AND HALL TALKS
ILLUSTRATIONS OF A HARVEST SERVICE WRITTEN BY DIFFERENT CHILDREN
LEAVERS SERVICE -ALL SERVICE OF VALUE -BUILDING UP OF TRUST
CLOSE CONTACT OF TEACHER & CHILD IMPORTANCE OF SPOKEN WORD
JOYS OF WRITING NOT TO BE FORCED OR THWARTED
HELPS TO DESCRIPTIVE WRITING
SENSITIVITY OF MODERN DANCE
CO-OPERATIVE WORK THROUGH THIS MEDIUM.
GROWTH NECESSARY FOR LIVING
SOCIAL GROWTH - CLEANNESS
BUILDING OF NEW HOMES
MASS PRODUCTION & HIRE PURCHASE
GROWTH OF SOCIAL SERVICES
NEED FOR GROWTH IN FELLOWSHIP OF NATIONS
EFFECT 0F WARS
MAN'S NEED OF GOD
PICTURE OF A MODERN NURSERY SCHOOL
A PEEP BACK AT A NURSERY CLASS
PICTURE 0F A MODERN INFANTS' CLASS
LEARNING WITH INTEREST FOR THE 9 & 10 YEAR OLDS
FREEDOM FOR THE FEW
LIMITED PROGRESS WITH 45 IN CLASS
POISON FANGS 0F FEAR
NEED FOP GROWING UNDERSTANDING OF COLLEAGUES & CHILDREN
KNOWLEDGE IS GROWTH
IDEAL FOR EDUCATIONALISTS
GIFTS USED FOR THE BETTERMENT OF MANKIND.
Reproduced with kind permission of the copyright holder (c) Basil D. Power [ 2005 ] UK