While I was facing the stresses of a new job, John was still researching cars. He liked the look of the Ford Focus but without the internet was not getting very far. He visited two car yards in Chasetown without any luck. We only had one more day before the rental car was to be returned to Birmingham airport. He also made an appointment with Carol’s doctor so we could be accepted on his list of patients.
A week later I made an exhausted diary entry as I was too tired each night to do anything but fall asleep. I noted the things I found to be different from my school in Australia.
Children bring a ‘kit’ to school for ‘games’ which includes ‘pumps’. After they finish they remove their pumps which are covered in mud. I must remember to take two pairs of shoes in future. Children also have gym, which consists of setting up complicated and colourful apparatus and then rotating from one station to the next.
The first week was spent giving ‘Spellings’ every day. These tests are marked by an assistant and are the same words tested in the SATS test in Year 6 along with Reading, Writing, Numeracy and Science. My Australian accent was as strange to the childrens’ ears as their accent was to mine and some even tearfully told their parents they couldn’t understand the words the new teacher was saying in Spellings. Hmmm, now I have to develop a Midland’s accent.
If you want to use the computers for something which ties in with your other schoolwork you can’t because you have to teach what is in the school program. I wanted to do some art related work but instead we had to do simulations, which consisted of clicking on musical instruments and hearing them play.
School dinners are served in the hall (after the gym equipment is put away). Children go out to play, rugged up in their winter coats, and are then called in for dinner. Years 3, 4, 5 and 6 go in last so often have not finished when the end of lunchtime comes. As a result I have the class returning in dribs and drabs for about 15 minutes.
Reading this 17 years later makes it sound as though I was super critical of the school. I actually thought it was very well run. The children were well behaved and the teachers very supportive. The strict adherence to curriculum was a by-product of a previous era of extreme freedom in which standards slipped considerably. When my husband taught in London in the 1960s he used his NSW curriculum as there was no guidance on what to teach.
My greatest problem was the teaching of numeracy as I had to learn new ways to perform mathematical operations using number lines. I decided to change my research topic to the teaching of Numeracy in Primary School.
Meanwhile John had secured his new pride and joy, a Ford Focus. Over budget at £6,500 it was only twelve months old and had belonged to a government agency. We could go exploring each weekend to make up for the long days spent at school.
Our visit to the doctor had unintended consequences. All those people sneezing and coughing around me caused me to feel very ill by the end of the first week. I had already picked up the local expression of ‘feeling poorly’ and I was. A planned trip to Birmingham was delayed and instead we drove to Stafford, explored a ‘Tall House’ over 400 years old and had lunch at The Vine. On Sunday we visited Uttoxeter where I would have been living if the second exchange had gone through. The town was large and historic but did not appear to be thriving. Some buildings were three or four hundred years old and seemed to be barely holding together.
By Sunday night my throat was like razor blades but I hoped I would be able to teach the next day. On Tuesday I felt so bad I asked the deputy if I could have Wednesday off to rest my voice and go to the doctor. He arranged immediately for my class to be split so I could go home but that meant that guided reading couldn’t take place that afternoon. For one of my fellow teachers guided reading was more sacred than Lichfield Cathedral so my feelings of guilt were substantial.
I was able to get in to see the doctor at 5.35 that afternoon. He immediately wrote a script for antibiotics and suggested I rest for a few days. However, after one day at home I felt I had to go back. A week later the sore throat was as bad as ever but the doctor refused to give me any more antibiotics. He told me to take a week off work but how could I do that? The following weekend we planned a visit to Stratford-on-Avon, staying in a youth hostel, but I couldn’t even summon enough energy to look inside Shakespeare’s birthplace.
Arriving early at the Youth Hostel we found the heating would not be turned on until 6 o’clock so even lying on the bed in the freezing cold was not an option. Somehow I survived a miserable night in the bottom bunk of our cell like room.
As I had no medication John took me to the casualty department of our local hospital the next morning where I was given stronger antibiotics before driving home. It was felt in England that the over prescription of antibiotics was rampant and was diluting their effectiveness. I didn’t get tonsillitis very often but I knew what I needed when I did. Strangely I haven’t had it in the sixteen years I have been back home in Australia.
One of the helpful suggestions given to me at school was to eat raw garlic. It was thought this might help my throat. I tried it and all I can say is don’t do it. It made me feel so sick I almost forgot about my throat, and that is saying something.
Here is an extract of an email to a friend. Yes, we finally got the internet up and running much to our delight.
Dianne, It’s the weekend!!! I had Monday and Tuesday off and struggled to school Wed Thurs Fri. What a relief to stop. I have never been in such bad health. I like John’s suggestion of shipping me off to Samoa like R L Stevenson but I don’t want my grave there. We had “loads’ of snow on Wednesday and the roads froze on Thurs so they were like skating rinks. The schoolwork is building up. Parent interviews are in a week and a half with inspection of books, report sized comments on Maths, English and Science and a Monday evening devoted to timetabling parent visits so they can see all their children’s teachers in close proximity.
(Because we divided the children into three groups for English and Mathematics we taught children from the other two classes as well as our own. As a result we had to timetable the parental visits so they could see all three teachers within a similar time frame.)
Interviews are from 4 ’til 6 on Tuesday and 6 ’til 8 on Thursday. The following day is pupil free with a week’s half term holiday after that. I’ll need it. NSW primary teachers don’t know how good they’ve got it.
Maybe current NSW teachers will dispute my comment but in 2004 the amount of time spent by teachers at school in England far exceeded that of NSW teachers (based purely on anecdotal evidence). It was more common for teachers in Australia to leave school early and take work home. After all you can’t get much done in a baking hot demountable. You could actually reduce your heating bill by staying at school in England.