In another life (the 1970s) I was a primary school teacher.
Teaching was all I ever wanted to do.
‘Ever’ being after I gave up on being a train driver, cowboy, spaceman, truck driver or the bloke who cuts the grass in the park.
I had to decide at the end of year 10 what academic stream I would take, Humanities or Science. I was pretty good at Science but Humanities was the course to take to deliver me into a primary school classroom. I never considered a secondary school career, I only ever wanted to work with little kids. It seemed to me that that was where the ‘teaching’ was.
It also seemed to me that that was where the learning began and I wanted to be in on the ground floor.
Teacher’s college was fun but getting out into the world was what I was yearning for.
NO STUDENT LOANS FOR US.
In those days there was a shortage of teachers so the government paid us (a very small amount) to complete our diploma and in return we promised to work for them for three years. We had to teach wherever they sent us, and for males that usually meant a one teacher country school.
In my case it meant a school in St Albans which, at the time, was on the extreme northern edge of Melbourne and was full of non English speaking migrants.
I was just happy that it was not in the country.
I really hated the idea of being stuck in some backwater and having to play cricket and football for the local team.
I’m a city boy and grew up in a tough suburb and the city way of life suited me just fine.
Sitting around listening to farmers complaining about the weather seemed like hell to me.
Naturally I have learned that country life is excellent, but you have to remember that I was young and I had a lot to learn.
I had four wonderful years at St Albans East primary school but moving to Belgrave after we bought our first house meant a two hour journey to St Albans every day. I left in the dark and came home in the dark, slept through Saturday and got up late on a Sunday and it all started over again on Monday!
For six months I wasn’t sure what colour our house was because I never saw it in daylight!
Something had to be done so I organised a transfer to a school on our side of town.
The school , which no longer exists (Jeff Kennett had it demolished and it is now townhouses) was called Warrawong and was the alternate Blackburn South primary school.
Talk about a culture shock!
St Albans East was full of migrants and the kids were great. The parents were extremely grateful for anything that we did for their children. They valued education above almost everything else and the parents worked themselves into the ground to make sure that there children had an education.
On the other hand Blackburn South was full of struggling middle class families who thought the world owed them a living.
The staff were one click this side of brain dead and my school principal was a back stabbing idiot.
My ego was such that I didn’t see any of it coming. I thought that everyone would come to understand how wonderful I was and all would be right with the world.
It didn’t work out quite that way.
It was possibly the LONGEST year of my life.*
MY WIFE STOPPED BELIEVING ME.
This school was so insane that my wife stopped believing me as each night I would come home with an even more amazing story.
I will not bore you with all the stories here as I plan to write a short book about my experiences but I will tell you two stories.
THE SPOTTY LIBRARIAN.
Firstly, just to get you started, here is the story about the school librarian.
I really should have worked out what I was up against right at this point but I didn’t, I was too full of myself and my grand plans.
So, at our very first assembly the Librarian notices that the children are not lining up in straight lines so she proposes that she be allowed to paint a white dot on the playground assembly area; ONE FOR EACH CHILD!
One white dot for each kid.
I thought it was a joke, but no, she was serious and everyone in the meeting agreed!
I was the only person who did not raise their hand, I was too stunned to speak.
It gets better!
The school principal gave her permission to paint the dots and the Library stayed closed for two weeks while she completed the task!
No one was outraged; they all thought it was a good idea!
Now comes the story that I wanted to tell you that was suggested to me by reading the newspaper article quoted at the end of this story.
It’s forty something years later and nothing has changed!
THE GREAT SWAP CARD RAID OF 1976
By the time this story took place I was fairly shell shocked by everything that had gone on.
Eventually I stopped going to staff meetings as I just couldn’t take it any more. I remember working out different ways to get out of the place on a Monday night (staff meeting night). I needed to be creative as the Principal saw my absences as a form of rebellion (which it was) and she did everything in her power to stop me from getting away.
Anyway, there I was, pre rebellion at a staff meeting with drool coming from the corner of my mouth when I hear a motion put forward to ban swap cards.
The kids at this school were really good kids but the staff were afraid of them. Possibly they believed that the kids would work out that they were incompetent.
The kids didn’t care that the teachers were hopeless, they had never known anything else. They just wanted to get on with their lives and maybe have a bit of fun along the way.
So, the motion passed (big surprise) I spoke against it but by now no one was taking any notice of me or anything I had to say.
A couple of weeks later there was another motion.
This time some bright spark wants to organise a lunch time raid in the playground to catch any kid with swap cards.
Naturally, the children had ignored the ban.
The dingus who put forward the plan wanted to have teachers at every door leading out onto the playground (there were a lot of doors) and at a precise time (yes we actually synchronised our watches) we were to burst through the doors (his words) and round up any errant card swappers. These children would then be sent to the assembly area (where all the white dots were) and would be made an example of in front of the whole school.
THE TIP OFF.
I was friends with a lot of the children in classrooms other than mine so I spread the word about the raid but even so there were about forty odd kids who got caught.
The teachers were very disappointed that the ‘haul’ was so light.
I was amazed that anyone got caught.
How dumb do you have to be to get caught after the word has gone out?
This happened in the middle of the year and by now my good wife had started to think that I was making up some of these stories. She wondered how these crazy things could keep happening.
HIDING IN THE BUSHES.
As I mentioned, it was not long after this that I stopped going to staff meetings and I can still see the principal staking out the car park waiting for me to attempt my getaway!
The newspaper article that prompted this post.
* The stress of teaching at this school caused a rash to break out on the side of my face which progressed to the point that it closed one of my eyes!
Terry Barca is a writer based just outside of Melbourne.