Classroom 1962-94

CLASSROOM  1962- 1994

I arrived back from Oxford with a 3rd Class degree of which I was not proud but reckon was about right.  I had enjoyed my stay there and had had some very influential experiences

At Ampleforth I studied theology as well as beginning my teaching career.

The theology was given in two subjects, Dogma, Fr. Basil Hume, and Morals Fr. Barnabas Sandeman.  There was later some canon law under Fr. Barnabas, and some Fundamental theology with Fr. Edmund.  We had two lectures a day and round them were fitted our ordinary teaching.  I do not remember doing much theology outside the lessons, but felt inspired by Fr. Basil especially with his links between the modern sacramental theology and the scriptures.  Morals intrigued us all as our text book was in latin, Genicot, and classes consisted in having a translation of the text given us by Fr Barnabas.  As the dates were 1962-6, there was increasing discussion and complaint about the lack of personal understanding over the moral issues, and too much law.   We never studied Liturgy – we had done Rubrics with Fr. Cuthbert Rabnett in the novitiate, and we never studied preaching.

I started with Junior House (aged 10-13)  teaching the period of the English restoration. which Id continued with from  several years.  I did not get the hang of teaching at this  level naturally and though I became competent, I was always uneasy with them.  I remember later the first encounter with taunting I received when I was called Steptoe after a TV character and had to endure the signature tune.  This was the first time I experience a phenomenon which continued to dog me throughout my teaching years.   People would shout nicknames at me from windows, from hallways at all sorts of unexpected moments, and I was never sure how to deal with them.  I came to ignore them totally, but it never stopped.  I soon began to teach ancient history and this continued until I gave up JH in the early 70s only to return to it when I was appointed to  JH in 1977 and continued to teach the same subject right through to 1992.  By this time I had got periods of History up to about  1215.  From the first I was into slides and different methods of communication, and had always the interest in developing overhead transparencies, and using tapes and videos.

The next History task I had was to teach David Lacey who later became a Diocesan priest of the Birmingham diocese O Level History.  It was a new subject, and I was very green. I cannot remember if he passed – I doubt it.  I never received any training or help in my teaching neither then nor later, I was only sent on one course which I enjoyed, but I was always interested in presenting the subject in different ways so I was always changing.  This led to an enormous amount of work, and when  I  began to write notes to easy my way it eh classroom, I covered hundreds of pages.  Notes were the way which Fr. Cyril used and he was very influential with me.  I  came to adopt his note system, but it involved huge nervous energy and long hours gutting books and compiling notes.   I later began to think that this was a very labour intensive way of teaching which few others did.  But it meant that I was always on top of the subject in class, and the boys had texts which were suited to them and to their exams.

I was able to have through the rather chaotic way in which periods were allocated to specialise in two main A level periods.  The Period 1603 to 178Os, and the 1815 period to the 1914.  ?This was in English history . And i also taught associated special subjects.  Another aspect of this was the possibility of developing Economic history which I also taught. This was 19C and with the industrial revolution context I was particularly interested.  The Butterley  history with its significance for canals and railways. the Poor Law and factory legislation i always found interesting.  I began to understand the political history of England, and much more of the foreign policy.   However the period which I was most successful at was the  Stuarts and 18C.  In one of my lower classes four boys unexpectedly go As and I had to coach them, inadequately, for Oxbridge.

In the O level classes  I found myself doing courses n American History, and also 1660 period, but mostly it was 19C English and European history.  This was the time when the O level syllabus was examined with two one and a half papers with mostly   essay questions Then a documents was introduced, and by the time I finished the O level had a project which the candidate chose – the quality of this project from most of my class was so good that I regarded that this particular paper was the best of the O level systems.

GCSE came next and our period was 20C history. with special subjects of US history and Russian Revolution.  GCSE theory began with the question what should candidates aged 16 be able to do as historians ?, and then set out to assess how much they knew.  the old system had begun with University levels essays which had been scaled down to A level essays, and then these scaled down again to O level, and these had been scaled down to the lower forms.   This meant that the aim was the University and the various stages were steps up a ladder.  The new system began with a more coherent series of questions which was answered by the assessment – use of documents, use of technical historical terms, knowledge of the facts and empathy.   However in the Midland Examining groups it was decided that there would be one exam for all candidates in GCSE.  this mean that the range was huge, but mor importantly that the language of the examination paper would have to be so simple that all would be able to understand it all.   thus the documents questions were soon so simple that they provided no challenge in documents to the bright candidates.  It would have been better to have had two papers one of  which had a lower limit of passing of garde C.

When I first joined the department I had Fr. Hugh Aveling as Senior Master.  He was a scholar and the content of his lessons was brilliant.  This was because he was able to make the material understandable and the quality of his notes to the classes was outstanding.  I had to take over one of his classes when he fell ill in 1966.  It was not a success, and I floundered in a subject which i knew very little about – Queen Anne.