Some Alternative Views Of Teachers
Writes C. George Taylor 1931-36 Canada
As a fairly new member of the Association I have read the articles and reminiscences with interest. One thing becomes apparent in that there is a general tendency to eulogize the staff, which may be due to the human failing of remembering the good times and forgetting the bad. My memory of some of the staff is at variance with that of some of the writers so no doubt some readers will view my comments with a degree of reservation. I am the first to admit that I was never a model prisoner or otherwise student and the assertions by some of my elders that “school days are the best days of your life” left me with the impression that their elevators didn’t go to the top, or alternatively they were leading a very unhappy adult life, Nothing has occurred since to change my opinion. I suppose if the subject matter didn’t appeal then I took little interest the inevitable result being average marks in some subjects and almost none in others, certainly not generally the fault of the tutors, Further, I remember that I was the recipient of numerous impositions over the years along with regular weekly detentions, none of which I resented unless I thought the punishment unwarranted as was occasionally the case.
Though not a strict division in my experience the teachers on the science and maths side were more tolerant, patient and indeed pleasant than some of the literature teachers. Of course there were exceptions, Pop Millard, who I think was slightly hard of hearing likely due to his WWI service in the Royal Artillery, would very occasionally digress from the syllabus to tell us of his wartime experiences. Then again on one occasion he was heard to say in an unguarded and uncharacteristic moment “Oh well, I suppose we better get on with this rotten stuff”, a sentiment probably endorsed by the majority of the class. The “rotten stuff’ by the way was Milton, I wonder if anyone read it after leaving school.
Cooke was another exception and for the most part easy to get along with, but he could and occasionally did lose his temper and without any warning. The result of this was that someone received a very heavy handed box on the car. If it happened today I suppose parents would sue, but at that time it was probably forgotten by the end of the afternoon. I am not sure but I believe Messrs. Millard and Cooke were the only two English teachers that had the misfortune to have me in their class, nevertheless I feel I did learn something from their efforts. I have little memory of Waugh, Brampton, Linn or Bradshaw and no recollection at all of Jackson, Peet, Kempster or Taylor, all of whom were staff members during my school period. All I remember of Bowers is that he had a habit of losing things but specific instances don’t come to mind. Constable was certainly one to be wary of. I vaguely remember Mr. Jarvis and I think he was scout master as for a short period I acted as secretary to the scout troop. How I came to be talked into it remains a mystery I would much rather have joined the bridge or poker clubs had they existed.
According to the staff list in the Gazette #6 there was a Mr. Lovelace, Jan-Easter l936. I remember someone who was present for one term only and I thought it was earlier, but if the list is complete then I am mistaken. Whoever it was had the nickname “Frankenstein”. The film of that name released here in November I93I and likely very soon after in England was widely shown and the title known to most people even if they had not seen the film. Although “. Lovelace (if that was he) in no way resembled Colin Clive (Frankenstein), he did bring to mind Boris Karloff’s makeup due to his height, hairline and features, very unfortunate as he was a very pleasant man. Due to the confusion as to exactly who Frankenstein was, he was given the wrong nickname. Davenport and McNelly left soon after I started at Moseley and in retrospect the latter may have left on the verge of a nervous breakdown trying to teach me French.
Gasser Jones I knew well as I used to help him at his home in Acocks Green, doing odd jobs, gardening, etc. He paid very generously and the cash was very welcome in what were still depression days. Remuneration from Mr. Jones enabled me to add items to my collection of 78s which otherwise would have been unobtainable and I succeeded in acquiring from someone in New York a Bessie Smith, a Duke Ellington and a Bix Beiderbeeke, none of which had been issued in England at that time.
Gillespie and I never hit it off, and apart from hating his subject I always had difficulty in understanding what he was saying. I think he must have spent a lot of his leisure time thinking up boondoggle exercises, some of which verged on the impossible for anyone weak in agility. Parbury, never one of the popular teachers was noted for having favourites (and the reverse) During one year his was the first period on Monday morning, and if that wasn’t ordeal enough every week, within minutes of the commencement of the period I had the distinction of having a “C” (I think that was the lowest category) entered in my record book. Welford usually took an active part in the school plays and at the time seemed to me to be a very accomplished performer. I liked his classes as I always appreciated his sarcasm, not I think enjoyed by many.
During my 5 years at Moseley the most disliked staff member was without doubt Smith who for a stoneface would have rivalled Buster Keaton. A very unpleasant and vindictive character. One had to very careful and avoid encounters outside the classsroom at all costs both on and off school grounds. The slightest infraction would bring forth an imposition of lines which on presentation would be painstakingly read and if an error in spelling of one word was found the whole lot had to be rewritten. Finding an error probably made his day. Most the staff closed their eyes to minor misdemeanours but Smith made a point of looking out for them. I was personally involved in one case and advised in another using that experience, the details of which now escape me, when a delegation attended Mr. Robinson who listened without comment to the complaints of what was considered unfair treatment, finally saying “I’ll look into it”. Naturally we were never informed of what took place but in both cases Smith was reversed. In those days it was rare to adopt such a procedure but occasionally it did happen. Could similar circumstances occur today? I don’t know.
Most people during school years have probably questioned whether certain subjects had any practical use, particularly if the scholar had no aptitude for it or them, and on a personal note it was perhaps unfortunate that I never studied Latin (though having a mental block on languages other than English I probably wouldn’t have learned much anyway) as after WW2 I had to pass an exam in it. That I found extremely difficult and in fact having learnt “ex post facto”, “decree nisi”, “corpus delicti” and a few others, I never at any time used Latin again, and have long since forgotten all I ever knew. Physical training and sports were then compulsory and I spent a lot of my time which could usefully have been allocated to furthering education, planning how to escape the torture. After I think about 2 years there was an option to take swimming instead of cricket and that was welcome At least Mr. Cooke taught me how to swim. Somehow I managed to escape playing rugby after the first few weeks of term one and eventually I was on the list of “permanently excused” How that happened I never did find out and naturally never even considered an investigation.
There have been comments about the organ. In my time it was on the balcony of the library but no access as the balcony doors were always locked. However on one occasion a bunch of us climbed up what I think must have been the iron support to the balcony and decided to try out the organ. A friend throughout school days. I lost touch with him during the war, W. H. (Bill) Smith (is he still with us?) did the pumping and several of us tickled the ivories. This not surprisingly brought forth Mr. Robinson who without waiting for anyone to say anything ordered everyone out. We all expected the consequences to be serious but nothing ever happened.
Unlike several contributors to the Gazette I am unable to call to mind many specific happenings of interest but one odd thing comes to mind, though at this late date I may have some of the details wrong. I believe Mr. Robinson knew the name of every boy in the school and on one occasion part of the class had to go outside to the front gate to await transportation. I now have no idea where we were going. We were supposed to assemble and then walk to the gate but most of the pupils did not meet at the designated place and could not be found. After waiting around was detailed by I think Mr. Cooke to go and ask Mr. Robinson who was standing talking to some people on the drive by the parking lot if anyone had passed on the way out. The answer to this question was “no” and that definitely no-one had gone that way. It transpired that the whole contingent had walked within a few yards of the headmaster on their way out and though he may have known them by name their presence escaped him.
Undoubtedly there were some pleasant times, in fact I did enjoy some subjects and it would be wrong to leave the impression that I hated every minute but for me it was never a utopian situation. So why did I join the Association? There is a degree of nostalgia involved of course, but apart from this there is an interest in reading of other people’s experiences and how they coincide or differ from one’s own.