by Carolyn Newman
LONDON — Rules and duties for teachers in a 1955 London private boarding school would cause today’s teachers to fall in a faint.
Our teachers’ house doors were locked at 10 pm. Any teacher planning to be later had to line up outside the headmistress’ door before school to request a house key.
By the way, that headmistress was the supreme authority – she owned the school.
No talking with students’ parents.
Supervise the girls writing home once a week.
Teachers were to spend part of their weekends filling the student desk inkwells with ink. Teachers got red and black ink.
Walk the girls to church Sunday mornings. Keep them respectful – no giggling – even though the youths from the boys school sat right in front of them.
When students were in school uniform, they were not to be seen eating on the street.
Once a month, girls who had family close by went home for the weekend. It was my frustrating duty only once to see to this procedure. I took 11 girls to walk to the bus stop. Then it was a mile by bus to the train station into London. Bus fare was 2 1/2 pence (cents) a mile. But I had 9 girls at half price and two plus me at full price. The conductress couldn’t figure the total fare, and I certainly could not as I hadn’t yet mastered 12 pence to the shilling, but the girls finally did the math. Meanwhile the old lady behind us muttered about these children today don’t know their math. (Yes, there was a half-penny coin.)
We reached the train station. I tried to fold my umbrella with no success, especially as I had four-year-old Gillian’s doll under my arm. The matron had thoughtfully wrapped the doll in brown paper tied with string. But every time I moved, the doll cried, “Mama!” Seeing my desperation, a proper British gentleman, with his own umbrella carefully furled, walked over, tipped his bowler hat, and said, “Pardon me, madam. My wife has an umbrella like yours, I can collapse it.” Tipped his hat again and walked away. We got on the train – all 12 of us – thankfully the school had given me prepaid train tickets. At Charing Cross station I was to stand under the clock with the girls until parents came to claim them. Yes, all parents showed up that day.
Effects of World War II bombing were around us, and the teachers told me their stories. The boarding students slept between sand bags during the blitz. Eventually the word came to evacuate the school to the countryside. Each girl was to bring a suitcase she could carry herself and a postcard addressed to her family. No one knew to which village they were headed. Once there the girls were lined up, villagers took as many girls as they could for the rest of the war.
Even ten years later, in 1955, there were shortages. Paper was scarce. Government notices arrived in a tiny envelope with a printed request to open carefully and reuse.
My attempt to go back in time, to live in and teach in an almost Victorian era school, was not the happiest year of teaching.
And yet, if I could sit on the porch of the old Sporleder Hotel for six hours in the 1870s and to listen to the old timers talk about the Indians coming to Plaza de los Leones to trade, to hear the trappers’ stories, to meet the travelers using the ancient trail, I would do it. But only for six hours.
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