Tuesday, 12 January 2010

A Leopard never changes it spots.

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.


Pondside said...

There are definitely some aspectsof those school days that would be an improvement on today's standards. A friend of my son is a high school teacher and he says that there are days when he doesn't know where to look in the classroom - between plunging necklines, thongs peeking out above low-slung skirts or pants, and the bare midriffs it is a challenge for him and every other teacher.
I sound like an old fogey - but while I agree that respect must be earned, I also believe that self-respect and self are hard achieve without example and some self discipline. There are no schools in our area that would offer an unspoken reference to a young person today.

maggi said...

Although education moved forwards in so many ways and young people are now encouraged to think for themselves I do believe that they have lost the ability to exercise self- discipline and to show courtesy and respect, possibly because they have never actually been taught these things in the first place. Too much emphasis on self I fear.

Mark Kreider said...

What a wonderful account of an era we have left behind. We can attach our selves to the good and romantic parts of it and forget he rest.

willow said...

No hats...no gloves...AND wearing lipstick?! My times have changed, haven't they? A happy medium would be ideal.

Golden West said...

I tend toward the old fashioned, Weaver, and believe there is more value in self respect than self esteem.

C Hummel Kornell a/k/a C Hummel Wilson said...

I grew up during the times you refer to in the USA. Teachers were held to a high moral standard (they could not be seen entering a liquor store or drinking in a bar). They were expected to set examples for the students they taught. I recall a teacher losing her position because she became pregnant out of wedlock. School Boards were tough on their grossly underpaid teachers. Teachers taught classes from 8:30 a.m. (of course they were at school long before that) until 4:00 p.m. In addition, they stayed after school to work with students who needed extra time or to coach or take part in extra curricular activities. Teacher's held their parent/teacher meetings after class in the evening when the hard-working parents were available, not during the daytime hours when they had to take time off from their jobs and find day-care for their children who were released from school due to the conferences. Their class sizes were up to 42 students and there were no aides or parents in the classroom to assist with their duties. They were allowed to discipline us and it was this fact, I believe, that kept us on the straight and narrow. If we misbehaved we could be sit in the hallway to do our work where everyone could see and make fun of us. We could be held after school to do chores in the classroom such as clean chaulk boards and erasers or to assist the janitor. I received a ruler across my knuckles once in the 3rd grade (deservingly so). I never repeated the transgression that brought that about.

I guess where I'm going here is, I can tell you the name of each and every teacher I ever had. Not because they were tyrants, but because they truly cared about the students they taught.
They all made a huge difference in my life and I believe it's as much due to them as my parents that I went on to be a successful, productive, law-abiding adult. Did the ruler hurt? YES! Did the ruler incident help me? YES INDEED! Do I think it was called for? YES.

Have we changed things too much? I believe we have. I also believe the ones who are suffering from it are our most valuable possessions, our Children.

Derrick said...

Hello Weaver,

You have begun another of "your" topics! I think 'the youth of today' have probably been lamented by every older generation across the years. Nowadays we concentrate on the rights of the individual, which means using persuasion and cajoling rather than discipline. I'm not sure that corporal punishment achieved a great deal but I do believe that a teacher's inability to chastise pupils now is responsible for some of the deterioration. Couple that with the reduced status of the teaching profession. But if we are to accept that academic success is improving year on year, something must be working. The standards of the world you describe had their place but if one fell outside the well drawn lines, life could be pretty unforgiving.

Twisted willow said...

My first wife's first teaching job was in a very traditional all girls grammar school. Towards the end of her first day she was asked to go to the heads office at the end of lessons. Thinking she was going to be asked about her first day and given some words of encouragement, she was surprised to be told: "Mrs X, we like to set decent standards of dress as an example for our girls. Don't come into school with a skirt that short again." This was in the late 60s when if you remember - I certainly do! - skirts were frequently what my father used to call pubic pelmets. Her's was certainly not that - probably an inch or two above the knee. But she would never have dared defy the headmistress. She had to dig out an old skirt which was 'suitably modest' to wear the next day.

Reader Wil said...

I am glad those days are over, but I am also glad that my teaching (children) days are over. The past few years I had to teach adults, who were motivated to learn English. That was great!

Poet in Residence said...

There's another variation of your introductory story. I think its Chinese. I'd like to share it with your bloggers.
A man walks into a village and asks the local mayor. "I'm thinking of moving here. What are the people like?" The mayor replies, "What are they like where you live now?" The man: "They are mean-spirited nosey parkers:" The mayor: "Just the same as they are here then." The man goes away. A short while later a second man arrives in the same village. He says to the mayor: "I'm thinking of moving here. What are the people like?" The mayor replies, "What are they like where you live now?" The man: "They are friendly and very helpful." The mayor: "Just the same as here then."

Arija said...

AH yes, those were the days of sitting outside the principle's office shaking in your boots will it be the stra, the cane innumerable detentions, having your parents called in...??? Instead of all that you get a stamp or star in your exercise book and thank your lucky stars you got away unscathed, but did you get away unscathed and your spirit unscarred just by the fear f God while standing outside that dreaded door?
I am not an advocate of backboard jungle nor of military discipline imposed on sensitive children.
Adults so often feel that they are there to mould the children in their care rather than giving them an encouraging environment to promote their natural talents and turning out worthwhile human beings instead of any number of frozen peas.

Cindee said...

I think it's a pendulum effect. We swing wildly away from one norm to the opposite and then we swing back, but not quite as far. Eventually, things level out.
I think that the condition of the classrooms at present is deplorable, especially in High School. Half the girls dress like hookers and the boys act like gang members. They are disrespectful and obnoxious. But luckily not ALL of them are. I, for one am waiting for the pendulum to swing back the way of formality and discipline.

Heather said...

Oh Weaver - those were the days! We seem to have thrown the baby out with the bath water. There must be a happy medium but how to reach it? I can remember when classes of 30 pupils were becoming the norm and everyone was shocked. My father remembered there being nearer 60 pupils in his class and the teacher never had problems over discipline. We have become sloppy in so many ways, and I include myself in some of them.

Cloudia said...

Remember asking if a proposed film was black & white?

When it was loony to call someone and ask where they are?

And all the wrenching wars over hair-length for boys! What was it all for?

Ah, we're cultural repositories & treasures, you and I...

Aloha, Friend!

Comfort Spiral

BT said...

Such an interesting topic, Weaver, I'm not surprised that Living With Twisted Willow has replied. I attended an all girls grammar school and everyone respected the teachers and especially the Head Mistress. She never raised her voice and could reduce you to tears in an instant! She also knew every girl's name and their parents. She also cared.

The teachers wore smart clothing too, Twisty, and I think that truly helps to gain the respect of pupils. There was no cane, no physical punishment but it wasn't ever required. I could no more teach now than fly because of the dreadful behaviour of many of the children. I had cause to see many of these year 6 children mostly, in a school and they could be frightening at times.

Of course I don't know what the answer is and I abhor physical punishment, but the way things are going, soon we'll be very short of teachers and the children will rule.

deb said...

Oh what a set of memories that post sparked, I went to an all girls grammar, which measured the length of our skirts and the height of our heels. I learned how to walk down stairs in a ball dress without looking at my feet and how to make perfect pastry. I also never learned that girls couldn't or shouldn't do maths or science and was amazed to find that girls generally didn't. I am glad of that education, I can usually make polite conversation when it is required and had a good enough grounding in the classics and languages to not feel a complete idiot. My children have many more class choices, but I often feel they are just dipping their toes into the water, not really going broadly anywhere. Although I am glad I'll never have to wear our school dress again, it was an awful combination of turquoise and brown madras plaid, and required a straw hat to boot! BUT I do wish my children (we live in America) had to wear some form of uniform to school, sum of their peers go in their pajamas, and I really feel they are not prepared to go out into the world and look for work dressed like that!!!!Thanks for a trip down memory lane, always provocative around here!

dinesh chandra said...

School days always memorable.
Good story.


Dinesh Chandra

Elisabeth said...

I think we have a tendency to remember aspects of the past with a fondness it does not aklways deserve.

Have you read any of Alice Miller's writing, Weaver. See: http://www.alice-miller.com/books_en.php?page=7

Miller talks about the ways in which discipline can in fact be a form of abuse perpetuated through the generations. There is a problem with the type of strictness and repression we endured when we were young at school and there is also a problem when there are no restrictions at all.

Children need a balance and consistency.

It must be very hard for teachers these days when children come from difficult environments in which parents whatever shape or form they take are not always available. Equally the work of teachers is unrecognised.

Teachers are under paid and undervalued in the community just as the work of childcare and parenting is under recognised and under valued. It's a societal problem. We cannot blame the kids, the teachers or the parents. It's a complex dynamic and perhaps also connected with the speed of technology and change.

There's so much more I could say here, but mostly I'd like to put in a plea that recognises the old days were a function of their times, as are the present days, and maybe we do well not to judge the present by the past standards anymore than we ought not judge the past by present standards. They are different worlds.

rallentanda said...

Academic standards have regressed in the humanities in the last thirty years. The standard of literacy amongst professionals including the legal profession is woeful.I'm of the sex drugs and rock and roll generation but at least I was given the stability of a sound value system and an excellent education.This is wealth.

All schools should be modelled to a greater degree on the top fee paying private schools with the same expectations of staff and
students and parents.

The Weaver of Grass said...

as usual, when I think of a discussion subject to put on my blog, I seem to have opened up a can of worms. Wonderful lot of comments - and all shades of opinion I would say - just like the whole of society. Do please take the time to read them all as every single one makes a valid point. I am not sure how i feel about the whole thing - but I do think that teachers working in our inner city schools are suffering - and deserve our support for working in such difficult conditions. Thanks for taking the trouble to think this through and leave such valuable comments.

Rachel Fox said...

I just love that line about hats and gloves. Ladies...what were they thinking!