The Hod carrier in flip-flops
After completing my teacher training I got a placed in the pool of recruits in the London Borough of Hillingdon. When I pitched up in July 1991 on my first day as a “probationary” teacher I in my newly assigned school was joined by a 35 year old ex- hod carrier, who had also just retrained and joined the profession.
William Davids was a huge bloke who had switched codes from a blue collar trade to a white collar profession so to speak. He had done a few things since studying Maths at Bristol University and the last job he had was in the building trade. We both had the Bristol connection – he knew about Natch cider and Clarks pies, so we hit it off immediately.
As an individual he was very strong willed with an inherent sense of right and wrong. If a system was flawed or unfair in his eyes he would always question and rebel against it. He kicked against the system. Management did not like him much because of this.
He was a generous man with his time and energy. He loved working with students who were willing to learn, but could not stand the odd one who would not bother at all. Kids loved him. One year he did a great version of Right Said Fred’s “Deeply Dippy” that brought the house down at the Staff Talent Show in Charities Week.
Despite being teachers in different faculties our paths crossed a lot during the working day. We both started as Year 7 form tutors and followed our pastoral groups right the way up to the 6th form. We both had long commutes to work and so got in early. We always met at the local greasy spoon before school on Fridays for a fry up before the weekly staff briefing. I remember that we also used to jump in the car and buzz down to Southall for a curry before a parents evening as there was little time to get home and back in the interval between the end of school and the start of proceedings.
We even did break duties together on the playground. Which had its ups and downs. At least we saw the kaleidoscope of outdoor conditions that the British weather can bring.
Not one to turn down a challenge. He would be up for anything slightly rebellious.
William and I used to sit together at the back of the Friday morning briefing – it is strange how schools survived on calling together staff once a week to discuss and inform the staff of major issues within the school.
Now briefings are called daily in most schools. It means that this meeting is no longer a milestone event that it once was.
After one meeting William and I got talking about dress down days that were a regular Friday occurrence in the private sector. We could not agree on what a dress down day meant in our workplace in terms of what would be acceptable attire. There was an unwritten rule that you could wear pretty much what you liked on a normal day, so if we dressed down, how far should we go?
Through further discussions William and I decided to push the dress code boundaries each Friday and see what reaction we got. It was a good day to try it as we would be seen by all staff and may cause the desired reaction.
We did our experiment in stages we started by not wearing a tie on the Friday of week 1. Then it went to no tie and no morning shave in week 2. A polo shirt replaced the more formal shirt the following week and still nobody batted an eyelid, so we pressed on with our quest. It continued for weeks and we had progressed to a t shirt, shorts and trainers accompanied by an unshaven face, but I called a halt when William suggested ditching the trainers for flip flops for the following week. Teaching whilst looking like a beach bum was fine with me but it was not a sensible thing to be doing science practicals “open –toed.”
William carried on the baton for one more week, and I think we took a photo of him sat in briefing in his beach ware as well as his flip flops! He always pushed the boundaries.
When I got my first job in a West London comprehensive there was only one other Chemistry teacher in the school – Roy Bollard. He was a well organised bloke who was a pioneer of the use of audio visual equipment. He moonlighted as the school’s sound and light technician and as a consequence was involved in drama and musical productions as well as some legendary discos. He was the bloke who also did so much to underpin the well-oiled machine that was “Charities Week”. He operated the lights and microphones for the shows, auctions and other events that took place in the hall.
Roy was dynamic enough to use an OHP in his lessons, which was cutting edge in those days. Pre prepared acetate slides were the equivalent of a modern day Power Point presentation. Roy had his own take on using the OHP. He had a huge roll of acetate mounted on his projector which became an organic scheme of work. He started writing in September on the top of the plastic scroll and worked downwards till the end of the academic year. So it became a huge time line that essentially grew into being the scheme of work. After a few years of doing the same thing he instinctively knew where a lesson was on the scroll and could wizz the whole roll of clear plastic to where it was written.
Now the cleverest thing that Roy did was adopt the simplest filing method I have ever seen. In those days you did not have e-mails, SIMS and all that jazz. You got memos on paper, in fact everything was paper based. Roy had one single pile that he put all his paper work on which sat right next to his OHP. It soon piled up, but made sense as he knew where everything was, he just had to sift through the pile to find it. The filing system had three rules:
- Anything you get given on paper you read and put on the top of the pile
- Anything you need later you find in the pile and deal with it but put the memo back on top (see rule 1). As a result the new and important stuff would be at the top and all the rubbish sank to the bottom
- When the pile reached the same level as the top of the OHP ie a about the height of a 30cm ruler, he would get a bin, lift up the top half of the pile and sweep the bottom half of the stack of paper from the desk and into the bin. Sorted!
I was thinking about how times have changed so looked back at this
I started my professional career in teaching on 8th July 1991 at a West London comprehensive school and I was thinking….
When I started teaching:
- Kids stood up in the Hall when the Head walked in to start an assembly.
- The Headteacher in my first school always taught a GCSE class, turned up to department meetings, wrote reports etc. Just to keep his toe in the water.
- Some staff would go down the pub at lunch every day, without fail. The Clay Pigeon used to take a copy of the TES on a Friday from the news agent as so many staff went there at lunchtime on that day
- Every parents evening you were served a hot meal before the appointments started or alternatively you could claim travel expenses for a return journey to and from home.
- Wine was always served at all INSET day lunches.
- Reports were…
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Staff talent show.
The Staff Talent show was something that students eagerly anticipated for weeks leading up to Christmas. This lunch time performance was hotly contested affair, which always took place on the Thursday of Charities Week (See Those were the days Part 26).
The winner was chosen by a panel of judges that was not quite of the same caliber as that from X-Factor. Teachers used to dodge the honour of appearing on this judging panel as it always used to end in tears and tantrums from the Staff band in particular if they did not come out on top.
Your brief as a judge was basically to decide if the Staff band had done enough to defeat a less talented, but very determined bunch of reprobate teachers (mainly teaclub members) that locked horns with the band every year. Other groups of staff performed various party pieces, or mimed to tracks of the day from performers such as Rick Astley. Invariably these side acts were poor and often slightly toe curling. Therefore it always boiled down to a straight shoot out – The band versus the “Tea Club Boys”.
The Band was pretty tight and would bash out an Oasis cover or something similar. The Rake 2 for further stories from the band’s exploits.
The lads in opposition knew their limitations, but would use props, bribes, humour and what talent they had to try and win over the audience. One year they built a life size Cadillac out of MDF for their performance of Grease Lightening.
The vision that I still have of one of their best shows was of the four of the reprobates lined up, wearing tutus, leotards and ballet shoes performing a series of demi plies to the soundtrack of the Sugar Plum Fairy. The whole front row of the audience was screaming in shock and blind panic every time the lads bent their knees to lower their torsos gracefully and sweep their arms upwards. This was due to the fact that one of the teachers had burst his tights in a rather crucial area and so every time he stooped down his scrotum squeezed out of the hole for a gentle airing! This was the cause of the screams of terror from the Year 10 girls who were copping an eyeful of this in the front row.
Back Row – Opalka R, Roberts B, Denial R, Cosby P, Raitt C, Atkins G, Chadwick P Front Row – Soneji P, Simpson P, Springford M, Prosser D , Morgan S This photo was taken on the Saturday of the Leicester/Loughborough double header. We had the luxury of a sub. Good job too as Brian Roberts (aka Shergar) had to go off after about 10 mins when his hamstring popped like a piano wire as he gallopped after another lost cause. I cannot remember who came on to replace him, but I do recall Brian standing on the side of the pitch for the whole afternoon, all wrapped up in a couple of tracksuit tops and a big coat against the chill, barking out advice and the odd quip when someone tripped over the ball, or another shot sailed off target. We won that game with a late goal. It was a bit of a bad tempered match, but as a team we had a reputation for being a bit of a bunch of brawlers. The Sunday game was much more civilized. We played Loughborough Grammar on a beautiful pitch, a complete contrast to our own which doubled up as car boot fair venue at weekends. It was no surprise to find bits of coke can and shards of coat hanger dispersed over own playing surface as the debris from the previous weekend’s boot fair would get cut up and scattered by the gang mower before the game. Colin Raitt scored an absolute screamer on the Sunday in a 6-1 demolition. As a player Colin was more of a reducer than a producer, but when the ball bobbled out to him from a corner he just ran on to it outside the box and for once put his foot through the ball sweet as a nut. It was one of those time stood still moments – I can still picture in my mind the ball leaving his boot laces now. The ball went like a missile through a whole body of players and was still rising as it hit the back of the net! I know that our Colin is no Bobby Charlton, but the ball left his boot from about the same position as Sir Bobby and took a similar path and trajectory. You had to see it! Colin was a lovely bloke, who had an engine on him that was due to the fact that he used to cycle everywhere, including back home to Scotland in the holidays. He had this wonderful talent for kicking the ball with his knee; totally uncoordinated, I think that it is called dyspraxia these days. Without question this one and only career goal was a wonder strike and was certainly one for the scrap book. Needless to say he got mobbed after the ball zoomed into the onion bag. Good times Link to Facebook page worth checking out
Not only could Jim Chinnor teach, but another string to his bow was he was in charge of the school’s “Charities Week”, which was an absolute blast. Charities week was traditionally held on the last week before the Christmas holidays.
This whole week had a semblance of chaos about it, but it had a tried and tested format.
In fact how Jim pulled it off each year I will never know, but he knew how to delegate effectively; each Year 11 form took responsibility for an event during the week. Jim briefed them and let them loose on their projects. Publicising the events, production and sale of show tickets, the rehearsals (where a lot of the weaker acts were weeded out), booking the Hall and such like were jobs that the kids had to do. It was all part of being a Year 11 student. They just did it.
There were student talent shows set up for lower & upper school kids to have a shot at the big time in front of their peers. These shows were held at lunchtimes – tickets were sold by Year 11 students.
Two of the members of Scouting for Girls played at one such school talent show and one lad brought his Dad down to play at another show!
The staff talent show was the highlight of the week – that is another future post I think.
Tickets for the Charity Auction were always particularly sought after. Held for a double period between break and lunch on the Tuesday, the auction was presided over by Reg Ball, a deputy head who was an auctioneer and antiques dealer in his spare time. The auction was always a hot ticket, because possession of one got you out of lessons 3 and 4 on that Tuesday.
The Year 11 form in charge of the auction would write to businesses, sports clubs, even celebrities to ask for donations of goods and services that they could put up for auction. In the days before e-mail and the internet it was amazing to see what the kids gathered in for the event.
Musical chairs competitions were always arranged some time during the week and they were often brutal, almost gladiatorial affairs. Jim Chinnor somehow always managed to organize and control these sessions without a hitch . He would get a whole year group down into the school hall and make all the students to cough up a quid to enter. Then Jim would get about 100 chairs slung out in the middle of the hall, get the 240 or so students from one specific year group to trot around the outside edges of the hall and you can guess what happened when the music stopped! Anyone remember that children’s television programme hosted by Mike Reid “Run Around”, if so you catch my drift.
Risk assessments and health and safety were not de rigueur then needless to say. The students got whittled down to a single winner in a cauldron of noise and pure energy. The din in there could be deafening as the tension built with students cheering on their favourite.
On one occasion in the final play off one student, who clearly could not get to the last chair in time, pulled the seat away from the winner as they tried to sit down. This made Jim mad as hell. He tore into the guilty student whilst the rest of the year group looked on. Half way through his rant he spat out his false teeth and in a blink of an eye caught them in one hand and popped them back in place without pausing from delivering his verbal dressing down. It was one of those jaw-dropping moments where you double take and turn to the person next to you and ask, “Did you just see that?”
Old School Science
There used to be a position in the teaching profession that had a very basic job title – “senior teacher”. As opposed to the modern terms such as “assistant vice principal” or “associate head teacher”, the position of senior teacher was a post that was simple and easy to get to grips with. The position could be quantified by the fact that it merited an “E allowance” on the old pay scale.
You were experienced, respected, and on the ball if you were a senior teacher. They knew what they were doing. Some were gun slingers (do we call them behaviour managers now?), some were planners and organisers (suppose these folks are now SIMS/curriculum/timetable coordinators today), but one thing that they had in common was they were all superb classroom practitioners and had a bit of presence about them (were they old school ASTs?) All I know is I do not see them around these days – dinosaurs I suppose, killed off by the “fast trackers” and well-dressed office types.
Jim Chinnor was a senior teacher who remained in the same school long enough to teach the kids of the kids he had taught a generation before. Physics was his specialism. He was a legend.
Jim was a pure magician when it came to holding a class’ attention. The way he held most groups’ interest was through his anecdotes and stories that related to the science theories that he was teaching and he also loved a good practical – as most kids do.
He had a special way of demonstrating to students the principle of heat conduction in a metal bar. The bog standard way is to stick drawing pins onto a copper bar using wax or petroleum jelly. (See video below) When the bar is heated with a Bunsen at one end, the conducted heat travels down the bar and melts wax so the pins drop one by one as the heat is conducted along the bar.
Now Jim Chinnor loved the spectacular, so he adapted the method above by using white phosphorus rather than relying on waxed pins. White phosphorus burns almost spontaneously in air; it has to be stored away in a sealed container in a locker or chemical bin outside of any building. Phosphorus was used by the RAF in the incendiary bombs dropped on German cities towards the end of World War II. It is nasty stuff and has to be treated with respect.
The brainwave that Jim had was to put small pieces of white phosphorus on the copper bar which would catch alight in turn as the warmth from the bar became enough to start the reaction of phosphorus with air. Jim made two mistakes when doing this demonstration for his students, firstly he did not set out the equipment in a fume cupboard and secondly he forgot about the stock bottle of white phosphorus and left the lid off it.
Jim was chirping away to his group when suddenly he realised that the stock bottle of phosphorus had been left open too long and the air had got to the volatile chemical. The whole bottle caught fire belching out loads of noxious fumes and because the bottle had not been put in the fume cupboard the room quickly filled with smoke. By now the bottle was too hot to pick up and put in the fume cupboard or taken outside, so a rapid evacuation took place. All the kids got out without any mishaps, but the bottle continued to burn and fumes spread up through the ceiling into the room above the lab, leading to mass panic in a German class. The fire was eventually put out, but not early enough to stop the chemical mess from spreading around the lab and the room above. The building got condemned by a HSE inspector and it was a week before the whole place got cleaned up!
Today you would not see such a practical attempted, but an “interactive” visual aid would be shown to the class instead, ie another POWERPOINT©
But watching the video below you can see why Jim tried to jazz up the demonstration a bit!
Count out and count back in again.
At one time I taught a fantastic student who I will call Zed. Zed had been diagnosed with autism at an early age, this did not prevent him from doing well at school. To look at Zed was very small in stature and he had a soft voice that was almost a monotone. Zed liked telling jokes and riddles that were often homemade and told very slowly. He walked with hunched shoulders, almost in a scuttle and was a well-known character in the school. Typically of someone with autism, Zed was a talented mathematician and he also had a real interest in science.
Crustaceans were a source of fascination for Zed and he was a great authority on crabs – kids would often ask him questions about the trivia he knew on this subject.
Simply put he was a lovely lad, but you always had to look out for him. In most lessons Zed did receive in-class support, but due to his nature it was an absolute liability when doing practical work. This was a lad who was knocked over by traffic three times when walking to and from school over the years, once pretty seriously. I lost track of the times that Zed dropped something, burnt himself on hot equipment, or fail to carry out a task in the right sequence.
When Zed was in year 11, I had a free period when he had PE on his timetable and this was when I often used to come out and play football with the group for recreational purposes. This was something I did for years at both the schools I worked in. If I could wrangle it, I would come out and have a knock about once a week with a random Year 10 or Year 11 class – it was a great release and the kids loved it, as I often commentated during the games we played and generally took the piss.
The games we played in Zed’s class used to take place on the tennis courts which were concrete at that time, but just about all weather. Zed did not play football, but what he did do was run for the whole lesson around the entire perimeter of the sports field. This was something he loved to do at the same pace – he would speed up when our football went over the fence as he would always fetch it for us. At the end of the hour when bringing in the lads I would always shout to Zed to stop running. You had to time it right has he always insisted on completing the lap he was on.
Unfortunately after one tight match with an exciting finish I forgot to tell Zed to stop and come back in and this lesson was period three. I realised my mistake about 10 minutes into lunch. There was no PE lesson on the field period four, which meant that when I went out there Zed was still on his feet, but only just, still jogging around the field. Luckily he was just tired out and I had not killed him – we both shared a laugh at what a donut I had been as we walked back into school together. It was a lucky escape and so as with the scissors dished out in classrooms, the same goes for kids – count in and count back!
Watching the current crop of sixth formers trying to park their cars as close as they could to the school the other day made me think back to a lad I taught who always tried to park his car well away from the school gates, rather than close to them.
This story starts with RM* and I, who were both teaching GCSE Science to Year 10. We always shared groups others did not want; it became a sort of trademark. RM had a “way” with bottom sets; he had defined rules and unbelievable classroom management. His philosophy was based on issuing those that stepped out of line with a “good whelping” and sticking to his lesson planning of “if in doubt, copy out.”
In the lab next door I just got work out the kids through chivvying and cajoling and could only dream of having our shared groups under the same short leash as RM. But our partnership worked.
One day about half way through the school year a new lad arrived in my class. It turned out that he was an Iraqi refugee who had entered the UK via transit from Hamburg. Just because I could speak German it meant the powers that be dumped him in one of our shared GCSE wagon load of monkeys. I quickly found out that his lad could not speak much German and RM only spoke estuary English, so next day my “old school” colleague tried a different tack in his lesson.
Whilst the class silently copied out the notes on Plant Cells from Jones & Jones ‘O-Level Biology’ RM wrote down “6CO2 + 6H2O = “ on a piece of paper. He pushed the paper over to the lad who quickly scanned RM’s message. The lad knew a bit more about photosynthesis than his new peers, because he wrote “= C6H12O6 + 6O2”and slid the answer back, whilst holding RM’s cold stare. The class scribbled away in silence. RM tried a few other equations and quickly found out that the lad knew far more than an ordinary Year 10 student.
It took a while for the school to realise that the lad in question was older than originally claimed until he was sighted on a number of occasions driving to school in a Vauxhall Cavalier. What caught peoples attention was the fact that the lad was behind the wheel whilst still wearing regular school uniform! It turned out that he just used the school as a means of getting some qualifications whilst he sold cars from his “Uncle’s” car lot in West Harrow.
* RM – aka Richard Michaels the old school Biology teacher and my erstwhile mentor.
Been thinking about CJ lately. A proper teacher from the Old School. Keep on rockin’ in the backstreet boozer in the sky Big Man!