A Miscellany of Memories – Part 2
Teachers joining our schools now would be amazed to learn that in 1974 the word induction was unknown and new teachers simply turned up on the first morning and got on with it! I knew I would be mostly teaching Classics as the assistant to the Head of Department, Barrie Fleet, but that I would also have a few spare periods to help out elsewhere. I remember being asked at interview what else I could teach and I quickly said I was happy to have some English classes, my reckoning being that as I could speak the language (even if the GTC registrar had not really been convinced!) I could probably teach it. I was promised I would be given one of the younger classes to make it easier for me and I was happy with that.
On my first morning I met Tom Fraser, the Head of English, who was expecting a new colleague but seemed slightly surprised that it was in fact the new Classics teacher who would also be teaching in his Department. He said that as I had 5 periods to offer he had assigned me to a Higher class. I had no idea what that meant but guessed that it would not include the younger boys I had been promised! He then gave me my timetable and I suddenly realised that my first-ever teaching lesson in Stewart’s Melville would be in front of 22 Fifth Year boys starting their Higher English course. I was sent out to a portacabin in the back playground and Tom assured me I would be fine!
It is worth mentioning at this point that, although I had studied English throughout my education in school in Dublin, I had never encountered Shakespeare in any guise at all – I think we had concentrated solely on the great Irish writers. Anyway, I made my way to the portacabin to meet with 22 very large, chatty boys who looked me over and I imagine thought I would be a pushover. I briefly wondered what I had let myself in for and why I had ever claimed I would be happy to teach some English. I pretended to be fairly cool and relaxed and casually asked the boys what textbooks they had been asked to bring on the first day. One of them said ‘Macbeth’ and I asked my first ever academic question of SMC boys:
‘And which of his books are we studying?’
I guessed from the laughter and incredulous expressions that my answer was not what they had expected but managed to bluff my way out of what was potentially my first and last day as a professional teacher! Actually I think the boys just thought I had a good sense of humour and did not realise that I had never heard of what I soon learned to call ‘the Scottish play’. That afternoon I went to James Thin’s bookshop and bought a copy of Macbeth for beginners! I ensured I was always a page or two ahead of the class throughout the year and in the end they seemed to do OK in their exam. And I’m still here!
You will not be surprised to learn that teaching Latin, Greek and Classical Background was definitely my main classroom passion. I am naturally competitive and was really keen to persuade as many boys as I could to choose Latin and also, in some cases, Greek when they were selecting subjects for their two-year O Grade courses. The challenge was to find ways to tempt them not to choose History, Geography and other competing subjects over Latin. I soon decided that overseas tours open only to those taking O Grade or Higher Latin would be a good place to start. No-one seemed to mind a very new, young teacher organising tours and there were certainly no Health and Safety briefings or Risk Assessments – parents simply signed a Consent Form and we were good to go!
Next week – Overseas Tours