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U3A Writing: The Day The King Died

Lynette Wood recalls her life as a teacher in the days when a school had to share one radio.

In 1948 the war which had so coloured all our lives was over, but conditions were still very harsh, rationing still existed, and everywhere there were still great waste sites in the cities where so many bombs had fallen.

Leaving College and starting to teach in a North London school was quite an upheaval. First having to find somewhere to live, accommodation was hard to find and I had to think myself lucky to get "digs" with a very pleasant young couple with whom 1 shared meals and slept in a tiny room Not very easy for them or me, but fortunately we got on well together. It was in walking distance of the school, a good thing as my rent took almost all my pay. When I hear young people today talking of the need for money I realise how much the world has changed. 1 and my College friends, had to consider ourselves lucky that we had managed to get a good education "under our belts". We were the survivors and there were jobs to be had if one was prepared to go anywhere.

1 cannot remember ever being told what the starting salary would be for a woman teacher so the realisation that years of study would not be well rewarded only really dawned with the arrival of the first pay packet. At least in London it was quite civilised, paid directly into the Bank. It is hard to believe now, but it was impressed on us that we must not take evening, weekend or holiday jobs. Although school hours were short and the holidays long, spare time was expected to be spent in the preparation of lessons, so 1 daily staggered back and forth under a load of marking. It still amazes me how women today manage to teach full time and rim a house and family at the same time .

I had been very fortunate, obtaining a Geography post in a large Secondary School. That at least was new, built on a cleared bomb site, and one of the first schools to have a thousand pupils on one site, sharing it with the junior school, next door.

At my first interview with the headmaster he had impressed on me that there were many "difficult" children in the school, because of the terrible hardships they had suffered during the war. As a typical cross section of the school, the class, of which I was Form Mistress, had children who had been buried alive, lost parents and siblings, been evacuated. I particularly recall a beautiful young Jewish girl, who in spite of all her suffering, worked incredibly hard, The word "trauma" was never mentioned, nor was there such a thing as "counselling" .

I suppose we, on the staff, did show kindness and tolerance to the children but 1 cannot honestly say that 1 remember any great trouble makers among them. Of course at 21 the age difference with my 12 to 15 year old pupils was not very great, or my experience so very much different from theirs. I wonder what became of them all. They must be grandparents by now.

Dealing with the social problems of the children has, I think, always been a part of teaching, the two cannot be separated. Today 'm a changed world with the break up of family life, the teachers are caught in the cross fire of broken homes and in the no doubt poor bewildered children who often find themselves in the same school as step or half siblings. Whereas 50 years ago it was world war that had played havoc with ordinary lives to day it seems as if many adults have pressed a "self destruct button" which ruins the lives of themselves and their children..

On the death of my father I returned somewhat hastily to Newport It was not easy to find a job at short notice and I ended up teaching 7 year olds in a school in Pill. In addition to the teaching, it was the social conditions of the children which played a big part in the job, this time because of the terrible poverty under which they were living. what appeared from the outside to be reasonable houses, told a very different story inside. The class register was the key to this, as realisation dawned that various children had the same address and the discovery that whole families were living in a single room.

The background of one child particularly stands out, he was the son of a foreign seaman and his mother was a prostitute. When the father was away, which was most of the time, he had to sleep on the stairs while his mother entertained her clients.

On wet days the children, many in their grubby, if not filthy wet clothes, slowly dried out in the classroom. 1 can still relive the indescribable smell all these years later.

There were no lunches provided in the school. we had to go to another one 15 minutes walk away. The staff had a rota, no extra pay, to march a ragged column in all weathers to the school where lunch awaited. On one occasion the children had just finished the main course, (no choice but gratefully received) and had just received their puddings, spotted dick and custard. 1 turned around to find that one boy had vanished to the playground which was allowable as soon as they had finished their food. Where, 1 demanded, has Albert gone, to which came the answer "He has finished Miss". I replied "he can't have possibly finished" and dispatched a boy to find him. "Where's your pudding Albert?". "I've eaten it Miss". "No Albert you can't have, what have you done with it? Where is it?" Then a dirty little hand went into a filthy trouser pocket and out came the spotted dick pudding and custard. "Oh Albert what did you think you were doing?" Back came the reply "Please Miss, I was taking it home for our Mam." Well 1 did not know whether to laugh or cry but how could 1 possibly be cross with him.

Newport had not adopted the method of paying salaries directly into a bank. The headmistress received the monthly pay, laid them out on her desk and one by one the staff were called in and almost made to grovel for our meagre reward. She was a dragon of whom staff and children were equally terrified.

When King George VI died in 1952 1 was taking a class for a radio programme for music and movement in the school hall. Suddenly the programme was interrupted and the bald announcement was made that the King was dead, and then silence. Of course the children started asking "Miss, is it true?" Well, somewhat stunned I said "Yes its very sad, sit very still and quiet, I must go and tell the Head".

It was the only radio in the school, and there was no other way of knowing. I knocked on her door and was told to enter. She asked what 1 wanted and I told her that the music and movement programme had been interrupted to announce the death of the King. The sharp and totally in character answer came. "Don't talk such nonsense, get back to your class at once!" Well, one did not argue with characters like her. So beginning to wonder if I'd gone totally mad I went back to the class. Of course the lesson could not go on because the radio was silent.

Some time later the Head must have been informed of the King's death because just before midday she called the whole school to the hall to announce the news. And, you have guessed it, she never did apologise to me. You will understand that she does not rate very high in my estimation, but I know that it would have been wrong if I had not told her. Nothing was the right way with her. She was, I suppose a poor, embittered old spinster who made us all suffer for it.

Shortly after I married and moved to Bristol, where 1 continued teaching. I still have a payslip from there which reads as follows-

Gross Pay: Pension: Income Tax: Nat. Ins: Nett Pay:
31 10 0: 1 11 6: 2 17 0: 0 0 9: 27 9 0:

- and, before you ask, it was for a month !

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