Last night, while browsing through a book, I came across this story:-
A Spartan was journeying to Athens and as he walked along he met and came face to face with a stranger. They passed the time of day and then the Spartan enquired where the man was heading. "I am going to Sparta." he said. "Have you come from Athens," the Spartan enquired? The traveller said he had, so the Spartan asked him what the people of Athens were like, as he was on his way there.
"They are not nice people in Athens, you won't like them, they never smile and are always ill-tempered," he said. "That is why I have left Athens and intend to live in Sparta. What are the people like there?"
"I am afraid you will find the people much the same there." replied the Spartan.
The moral being, of course, that one takes oneself wherever one goes and things will always be as you see them.
I was instantly taken back to one of the first schools I ever taught in - in the days before Comprehensive Education. This was a girls only Secondary Modern school and this story was a favourite of the Headmistress, who told it each year to the intake at assembly - always making the point and emphasising the moral to be gained from the story.
This Headmistress, who shall be nameless, was a stickler for good manners and had been made in the same mould as the Matron from the nearby hospital. These ladies were a force to be reckoned with and were not to be questioned lightly. Let me desribe to you morning assembly.
At 9.10am a bell was rung. In each form room the whole form stood to attention. The form monitor led the way and the whole form filed out in single file and walked quietly down the left hand side of the corridor to the assembly hall - the form tutor bring up the rear of the crocodile.
This, it goes without saying, was all done in silence. Once in the Assembly Hall the girls sat without speaking and the form tutors filed onto the platform and sat in a half circle, leaving the chair in the centre for the Headmistress.
At a given signal from the Second Mistress (a slight incline of the head) the Head Girl would leave the Assembly Hall and walk down the corridor to the Headmistress's Office and knock on the door. We could hear this clearly from the Hall and when we heard the Headmistress's door close the whole school, teachers and pupils alike, rose to attention. The silence continued as the Head walked through the Hall and took her place on the platform. Only when she sat down would we all follow suit. If, on the way through the Hall, there was any kind of whisper, cough
or movement, she would stop and the end of the row
, look down to the offending pupil and say,
"Perhaps you would like to go and sit outside my room. I will speak to you after assembly." and the offending girl would creep out.
Those were the days, eh? Of course, they are long gone and most people would agree that not a moment too soon. And yet, and yet...........those girls always got good jobs when they left school. A mention of which school they had attended usually meant that they got the job. It is an understatement to say that they had guidelines which they followed but they knew exactly where they stood - and I am not sure that that is a bad thing.
When I attended Teacher-training college I had a Lambretta scooter to get to college each morning (this was West Midlands College in Walsall) and before I could go wearing trousers I had to get special permission from the Deputy Principal. She listened to my story about wet weather, poor road conditions and riding a scooter; she deliberated long and hard and finally issued her verdict. I could wear trousers as long as a) they were worn with decorum and b) I changed into a skirt before attending lectures!
Now it seems that anything goes both dress and behaviour wise and, of course, we can't turn the clock back can we? But I would like to know what you think. That there are severe discipline problems in many schools is a fact Have we perhaps gone too far in the opposite direction to the rules and guidelines I have given above? Is there perhaps a happy medium? And if so, is it possible that we can ever attain it?
Going even further back into the history of teaching - a friend's mother qualified as a teacher after leaving University in the early thirties and actually taught at the High School which I attended in Lincoln. When she began her teaching career, she and her friend who started on the same day as her, were invited to the Head Mistress's evening soiree for new staff. They went and felt slightly overawed by the whole thing. The next morning, there was a notice onthe Staffroom Notice Board, which read: "Will the two young ladies who attended last night's soiree without hats and gloves, and wearing lipstick, please report to Miss..............'s Office at breaktime.