I have been following the blog of Jennie Fitzkee for some time now. Jennie is a teacher in America, and she teaches the youngest children during their earliest experiences of school. Her posts are truly inspirational, and I would love to have had a teacher like her. https://jenniefitzkee.com/
Reading about her class often makes me reflect on my own time at school in London, so I thought I would write about that today. When I started school in 1957, I was five years old. I remember I didn’t want to go, unlike some children. I didn’t fancy having to do what I was told, or be surrounded by strange kids, and adults who might tell me off. I was an only child of course, and used to a fairly easy life. But I had to go, and my Mum took me along to that first day at Deptford Park School.
(Photo copyright Stephen Craven)
The huge Victorian building was scary enough, and I held on tight to my Mum, shedding lots of tears. But when I was escorted inside by a kindly lady teacher, I soon settled down. Inside the classroom, there were lots of things to do, and I noticed a small wigwam had been set up in the corner. I crawled inside there, and hid for as long as I was allowed to. But school wasn’t so bad, and I didn’t need to be dragged there the next day.
Not long after I started, my parents moved. It was a relatively short distance in the same area of South London, but the school catchment area was different, so I had to change schools. After just getting used to one, I had to start all over again at a new one. Not much past six years old, I was transferred to Alma School.
(Photo copyright Stephen Craven)
It was another old Victorian School, but I was ready this time, and not nearly so frightened. And there was a bonus in that many of my new neighbours went there, as did one of my older cousins. I settled down very quickly in that school. We still had an outside toilet block, (it was 1958) and I was now having school meals at lunchtimes too. We had free milk back then, and had to help to fill the inkwells on the desks, as we still used ancient ‘dipping’ pens, with metal nibs. Most of the teachers were quite old. They didn’t just seem old, but were actually old. Much older than my parents at least. I learned the basics of writing in a joined-up way, and how to write an essay. I was taught numbers, sums, and times tables, learning by rote and repetition.
Discipline was strict. Talking in class was frowned upon, and bad behaviour could be punished with being caned across the hands. We were a little afraid of the teachers, to be honest, and also scared that they would tell our parents if we were naughty. There was still a morning assembly every day, as well as compulsory sports and gymnastics every week. By the time I was almost eleven years old, and ready to go to the school where I would stay until I was seventeen, I had won some prizes for writing, and developed a pretty good relationship with quite a few of the teachers. I also had a group of close friends, and was sad to discover that none of them were moving to the same school as me.
In 1963, I went to Walworth School, an easy walk from where I lived.
Although this had some Victorian buildings too, it also had a modern central block, recently built. As you can see from the photo, it was rather out of place, looking like a 1960s office block, in the middle of the main school.
I have written before about how great that school was. The young teachers with fresh ideas about education, and a wonderful attitude to the children in their charge. The enthusiasm, the urge to inspire the pupils, and to develop young minds. I was lucky that I made that choice.
It is almost fifty years since I was last a schoolboy, but I never forget the time I spent at school, the teachers who taught me, the buildings, and the unfamiliar surroundings that became such a familiar part of my life. If you are at school now, cherish it.
They will be the best days of your life, if you let them.