In recent days I have been distracted from pandemic mania by a blast from the past. Double vaccinated, assured my husband who is up for heart procedure in a couple of days in COVID Free, an invitation to join a facebook page about the school I worked at as a first year our teacher, beginning in 1973 till 1977 has really shaken up the memory chips in my brain. I was 22 when I started teaching. I had been trained under a teachers’ college scholarship for four years and had a bond to teach for 5 years before I could resign. Resignation was never an option for me but I did manage to get out of the last 12 months of my bond to go to a system I was part of for the next 40 plus years.
The urgency to start to earn a wage was made greater by the fact that I was the mother of two children by the time I finished my training. We had a mortgage which ate into my scholarship allowance of $24.00 a fortnight and my husbands wage of $75.00 a week. Our mortgage was what seemed like an insurmountable obstacle for the next 15 years or $10,800!
So I had to work “outside the home”.
I had attended Catholic schools all my life and had no real idea of what went on in State Schools. At my final practice teaching experience, my supervisor, having found out I attended not just a Catholic school, but a Catholic Boarding school, warned me I would never be a teacher. “You cannot go on with histrionics in classrooms like your Nun teachers did. I’,m coming back tomorrow and if there’s no improvement I will fail you.” The lesson I had “taught” was a mess. I knew it. It was an english lesson based on an Ogden Nash poem. “English method” for four years in training had been pretty sparse. Music teaching was my main qualification and focus and I knew I could do that. The next day I showed him and he apologised all over the place!
My practicum started two weeks after I had given birth to my second child, a son who weighed in at 11 lbs 13 ounces. My supervisor was a playwright. Years later, when my son was working for a local theatre company, he was stage manager for one of this playwright’s productions. He met me again. Commended me on the talent, skill and intelligence of my son and was very happy to hear I was a teacher and a good one at that. Of course he had no memory of my histrionics! It was one of those rare and wonderful opportunities when a chance to bring back a memory for a person who had nearly crushed the spirit out of me through his misjudgement empowered me to the point of an occasion of sin ( you can take the girl out of the Catholic but you cannot take the Catholic out of the girl!
I found the character of the state system different but no better or worse. There were dress regulations for staff, especially for the women but they did not stretch as far as no patent leather shoes in case the shine of them reflected your underwear, inciting the male hormones! The colour red was discouraged but that was about it! Te school was much bigger than any I had attended but it was well run and disciplined. The huge number of staff meant that getting to know everyone was impossible and the “compulsory” once a fortnight morning teas in the food tech rooms did little to create staff collegiality. Union meetings were always well attended! I like this!
I would have stayed but I met my nemesis in the manual arts trained former pit manager who became the “Subject Master”. I had been appointed to the school with a colleague from the Conservatorium. We were good friends. She was more clever than me but my piano playing was a bit better than hers! So I was appointed accompanist for the choir. By that time a third music teacher had arrived. She had been at the school before. She was experienced and a good teacher. The Subject Master relied heavily on her. She ran the choir.
One morning a rehearsal was called for period 1. I was taken off class to be there. I had woken up with odd pins and needles in my fingers, driven to school feeling a bit unusual, conversation with my travelling companion found me walking into black holes where words should be or using words that were utterly inappropriate. I knew they were but I could do nothing about them! I managed to get to the classroom and wrote some instructions up on the board for my class to follow. When I looked at the end result the words were all over the place! Up hill and down dale! Round in circles, waving all over the board. No matter what effort I made I could not get it right. I gave the instructions orally to the person who was to supervise my class… I think
The choir mistress, stuck her head through the connecting door and reminded me that I was late. I told her I was feeling a bit odd but set myself up. The song they were preparing was “They call the wind Mariah” from “Paint Your Wagon”. The accompaniment begins with huge, loud, crashing chords in the bass – both hands. Multiple bars of quavers. I knew the work well. I got myself ready and started to play. It was as if a stamped of wild brumbies had crashed through the door across the keys. I stopped. The glare from the conductor was like a laser beam. Some small twittering among the “choristers”!
“We’ll have it again, thank you Mrs Roach.” came the arctic blast instruction. Our relationship had deteriorated considerably so perhaps she thought I was taking the mickey.
Second attempt….brumbies had morphed into a buffalo stamped and the kids twittering became uproarious laughter – who wouldn’t?
“I think you should leave” and I did!
I don’t know how I drove home. I got to the front door at Mum’s house and she was horrified!
“What’s the matter?”
“Pyjamas showed me the apple tree……apodjsdpfuepofupowfjkf!”
She roussed on me for being so silly. I had no words. I had no way of telling her everything I knew and remembered about the horrible experience! Mum put me to bed. I had the headache from hell and I vomited non stop for about 15 minutes!
Doctor arrived. He thought it was a migraine but sent me for a brain scan. This caused great hilarity among my male siblings who suggested the prospect of finding one might be a challenge! But they did find one and there was nothing there. “Classic grand mal seizure”!
I carried a brown paper bag with me for the next little while in case it should happen again! nearly 50 years later, it hasn’t but it was my first big learning experience about the dangers of “soldiering on” when you should be on sabbatical!
I was replaced as choir accompanist!