Penrith High School in the 50s (8): the teachers
Most of the teachers at Penrith High School, although of uneven teaching quality, were a decent and dedicated bunch of people. Some were memorable, others not so much.
I found a photograph of the teachers at Penrith High School when I was looking through some old documents. Why I had a photo of the teachers but none of my own class photos is beyond me.
The photograph would be of the 1954 or 1955 staff. I know this because Mr Graham is in the photo and he didn’t come to the school until 1954 and Miss Fardell is also in the photo and she left at the end of 1955.
The teachers who I remember are listed under the photo. The others I have either forgotten or never came into contact with.
Front row, left to right
x, Miss Butt, x, Mr Cameron, Mr Eason, Mr McGregor, Mr Harrison, Mr Brown, x, Miss McEwen
Second row, left to right
x, Miss Gould, x, x, Miss Fardell, x, Mrs Reynolds, x, x, x, Miss Baldwin peeping out
Third row, left to right
x, x, Mr Mullane, x, x, Mr Coughlan?, Mr Horton, Mr Sharp?, Mr Jones, Mr Curry
Fourth row, left to right
Mr Dooley, Mr Sheridan?, Mr Allison, Mr Edwards, x, x, x, Mr Duncan, Mr Stockton
Fifth row, left to right
Mr Graham, Mr Ewens, Mr Baguley, Mr Crockart, Mr Penman, Mr Eyles, Mr Murray, x, x, x
I may have some of these wrong. If any reader can correct me, or fill in the missing names, that would be good.
These teachers did it hard. The only teaching aids that they had were a blackboard, white and coloured chalk, and a blackboard eraser. No electronic whiteboards, no overhead transparency projectors or computerised slideshows, and until the sixties, no television sets that could allow a teacher to get some breathing space by having students watch something on the screen.
And of course, there were no computers, tablets or mobiles. If teachers needed to make a phone call, they had to get the okay from the headmaster to use the office phone or find a public phone. There was one across the road.
There were no photocopiers or laser printers. The only way to duplicate anything was to use carbon paper which would produce at most three legible copies. There were Gestetner machines, A Gestetner was an archaic printing machine that involved mixing chemicals to enable printing. It had a handle to run off copies. The process was very messy and required the user to put on a dust coat or risk ruining their clothes. The process was more trouble than it was worth but that is all that they had.
And teachers had very limited resources for research. Google and Wikipedia were decades into the future and it was either the encyclopedias at Penrith Library or a request for help to Miss Fardell in the school library.
Administration communicated with the students by means of an antiquated public address system that worked most of the time. Otherwise, you learned what was going on at Assembly.
From what the teachers said, the Education Department was not much help.
The teaching style was simple – the teacher spoke and the students listened. There were few innovative teaching techniques. After the students finished writing down what the teacher had said or had written on the blackboard, they generally worked on their own. There were no teams or groups, apart from in science, and little demand or opportunity for independent research.
There was a lot of work written on the blackboard for students to write down. The keener teachers would write on the board before class or during recess or lunch. The others would write on the board during the class with their backs turned, allowing students to copy it or clown around. Too much noise and the teacher was likely to whirl around and admonish the offenders or hurl a piece of chalk or anything else within range. It is surprising that no one lost an eye.
It was amazing how some teachers could sense, without seeing, who the offenders were, or perhaps it was just a case of rounding on the usual suspects.
Chalkboards were filthy things and every now and then a student would be asked to go outside and clean the blackboard erasers. This was done by clapping two erasers together, sending up a cloud of chalk dust which could not have been good for the lungs.
And much of the learning was rote learning – repeating things until they stuck in the memory. I know that this has gone out of style but it was an effective if a tedious way of learning, although it did not lead to a great understanding of complex material. It worked best with matter that one needed for reference such as the periodic table in chemistry and formulas.
Departments and teachers
The teaching staff was divided into departments, although some teachers had a foot in several camps. Mr Curry, for one, was in both the Department of English and the Department of Classics. Mr Jones was multi-departmental, being in the English, Classics and Modern Languages departments. He was also an expert in English schoolboy comics and books but that’s another story.
Each department had a head teacher whose duties were never clear to me. The teaching departments were:
Languages (Modern and Classics)
Art and Music were also departments but they only had one teacher each in those years. I suppose those teachers qualified as departmental heads but wonder if they got the extra money that departmental heads were paid.
The Physical Education department consisted of a sports master and a sports mistress. I don’t know who was the boss there. Maybe they took it in turns.
The headmaster and deputy headmaster ran the school and each had their own office in the main building. I don’t remember if they had any administrative staff working for them but, if they did, it was very limited. I do know that the girls in 4C, the class for budding typists and secretaries, were always being asked to do typing for the heads and teachers.
It would have been dressed up as good typing practice for the girls but it was necessary because of the lack of resources.
With a few exceptions, teachers were respected by the students and any backchat was cheeky rather than offensive or menacing. I can recollect only one incident where a student struck a teacher and that student was one of the very few bad kids at the school.
This did not prevent the student body from being unruly or mocking the teachers, and nicknaming teachers was the order of the day. At least by the boys.
That said, students were fairly docile and well behaved and, apart from the occasional fight in front of the bike racks, there was little violent behaviour. Misconduct was soft-core.
Many teachers also lived locally and in a small town knew and were known by many of our parents. The possibility of parents learning of their child’s misbehavior through social contact with teachers discouraged bad behaviour. It could be awkward to attend a social function with your family and bump into one of your teachers. Awkward for them too, I would imagine. And walking past a house and seeing your teacher mowing the lawn in shorts or carrying out the garbage bins just didn’t seem right.
Many of the teachers had nicknames and those who didn’t were referred to by their shortened first name (Mick Coughlan, Ernie Penman).
There was no system in the conferring of nicknames. Some were derived from bandleaders or musicians (Spike Jones, Les Brown), some from physical attributes or the lack of them (Muscles Mullane, Fatty Horton, though he wasn’t really fat), some because of the way they dressed or the opposite (Bodgie Edwards) and some defied explanation; they just were (Corky Duncan). There were very few women teachers with nicknames. I dont know why.
I don’t think that there was any malice behind any of the nicknames, even the seeming cruel ones like Miss Wobblebum. They were just students’ ways of dealing with a situation where they were exposed to these authority figures for concentrated periods of time over several years.
Students never addressed teachers in person by these names. It was always Mr Cameron or Miss McEwen, or Sir or Miss, the latter irrespective of marital status. And in the unlikely event of one of us bumping into a former teacher today, that is how we would address them, irrespective of the situation.
That was symptomatic of that age. Younger people called their elders Mr, Mrs or Miss unless they were related to them. The rules today are much less formal, but I am always surprised when someone from a call centre, whom I have never met or dealt with before, addresses me by my first name. It doesn’t matter but I suppose that the etiquette of my youth is ingrained into me.
It is probably a generational thing because my nieces and nephews refer to me as Uncle but their children call me by my first name.
Most boys were also given nicknames by their mates in proper Australian tradition – names like Bluey, Wiggy, Drippy, Sqizzy, Mozza, Tiny, Butch and Diesel. If they did not have nicknames, they were generally called by a shortened or lengthened version of their last name – Bowdo, Browny, Woodsy, Maido and so on. Boys rarely gave nicknames to girls but girls may have had names for other girls. We would not have known.
Naming the students
Teachers too used names as a strategy. If we had all been consistently addressed by our last name, as they did in some private schools, or by our first name, there would be no issue. Teachers would, however, indicate their irritation or anger at a student, or the degree of their like or dislike of them, in the way they addressed them.
If a teacher consistently addressed one student by their first name and another by their last name, you would know that the first student was favoured but the second student was not liked or respected.
And if the teacher used the first and last names together, an admonishment or a sarcastic remark was surely coming.
We tend to remember our teachers, the very good ones and the bad ones. It is the ones in between who are likely to fade most from the memory.
Previous Penrith High School post
Penrith High School in the 50s (7): school dances