Saturday, November 23, 2013

Woorndoo Primary School - sweet memories.

The local Historical Society updated their Facebook page with this photo yesterday and it transported me 30+ years back in time to when I was teaching at Woorndoo Primary School. I taught at the school twice, once when it was a two teacher school and again when I was the Head Teacher (and only teacher!)

I found a photo of myself and the kids the year I went solo. Geoff challenged me to remember their names and I did it easily. In fact with all but one little fellow, the names rolled off my tongue as if I was back there doing the morning roll call. Shelley and Kerry Bourchier, Kylie and Narelle Milward, Simon …and his little brother Coulter, Megan and Prue Wentworth, Jason and Jodie Hill, Kate and David Mudford, Ricky-Russell the Keilor twins and a single Jervies' child, Bruce. I remember these kids (as I do most of the kids I've taught), so well that I could probably recall their reading scores and favourite stories if I tried.

At 24, with 3 yrs teaching experience, I was responsible for planning, teaching and assessing the entire curriculum for all 15 kids spread over 7 grades from Prep to Yr 6. There were no specialist classes and no planning time for me. Mind you, there were no staff meetings to worry about either 😉 I bought all the supplies, paid all the bills, balanced the books, administered first aid and supervised every recess and lunchtime. On the days when Bruce's mum didn't come to clean, I did that as well. I had complete autonomy over everything. I even got to choose the wall paint colors and I did the contrasting trim myself in my spare time. Actually, this was probably a bad thing because I was going through an 'autumn tonings' phase at the time and in retrospect the peach and russet together made a pretty nauseating combination.

There was no need for behaviour reports or time out rooms because no one misbehaved. In fact the only behaviour problem I had was that, having been given the responsibility of ringing the bell, Kate  took the job so seriously that on the (rare) occasion that I wanted a second cup of tea or had to make a phone call, she got very upset if I asked her to let recess go for just a wee bit longer.

Bullying was unheard of. With so few kids you couldn't afford to be off side with anyone. I don't know how the kids picked teams for cricket but I know they shared Kylie because she was better than everyone else! Luckily she was also the best sport I've ever taught and she always made sure the little ones got an extra bat.

In the mornings we spent 15 minutes (or 50 depending on how much fun we were having) doing compulsory exercise. To this day I blame my frozen shoulder on the fact that I tried to outlast the kids in outstretched arm rolls. We skipped rope and hula hooped - I remember that little Narelle in Yr 1 could hula hoop all day if we let her. She could also read anything you put in front of her and write stories that would put my current Yr 9s to shame, which is probably why she's called Dr Milward now!

Many times in the ensuing years I've chuckled (or sighed) to myself when parents question the idea of composite classes or vertical groupings. This was the ultimate in vertical grouping and it worked like a charm. Every child worked at their own level. It was all about 'stage' not 'age'. Even then I abhorred one size, fits all text books and with my trusty Gestetner duplicator, (oh how I miss the smell of duplicating fluid in the mornings!), and a box of colored chalk, I designed all my own work sheets and filled the blackboard with hand writing patterns and maths puzzles. While I taught one group, the others would work at their own task, at the same time absorbing everything I said to the teaching group. Just as I do now, I expected every child to work beyond their perceived potential and mostly, that's exactly what they did. The little ones learnt from their older role models and the big kids took their responsibilities vey seriously.

Despite my youth and inexperience, it was accepted that I was in charge and I was given the utmost respect from the children and their parents. I was an integral part of the community and I was nurtured and cared for, just as I nurtured and cared for their children. Many days I would know it was lunch time from the smell of homemade chips or scones being bought across to me from Maureen Hill next door. I was never short of cake for afternoon tea and Roma Keilor's apple & quince jelly kept my breakfast toast covered all year. If something broke (or my car had a flat tyre) I only had to pick up the phone and one of the dads would come and fix it for me.

We had a rickety gas heater in the top classroom but there were no fans or air conditioning so when it got really hot in Summer I used to fill a wading pool with water, then we'd all put on our bathers and sit in it while I read to the kids. Or we'd fill up mine and some parents' cars and head off 15 miles up the road to Lake Bolac where we could use the real swimming pool for lessons. Inevitably, I would spend the whole lesson trying to keep the twins from drowning- they had no buoyancy due to their complete lack of body fat! To this day they are the only kids I haven't been able to teach to swim.

Science and Nature Study lessons meant a walk down to the creek to look for tadpoles or collect specimens for our Botany books. One year we collected hundreds of taddies and put them in a tank in the downstairs classroom. I forgot about them over the September holidays and came back to find the whole place hopping with frogs!

The District Inspector came twice a year to check that I had everything under control. He checked my accounting (unbelievably I was never a cent out) and tested the children on their spelling, times tables and hand writing! I had to present all my courses of study and my weekly work program. He'd sign off on those, wish me well, and disappear until next time. The only time I ever looked like being in strife was when he rang unexpectedly one day while we were all out playing playing hide and seek. One of the Bourchier kids answered the phone and when he asked for me she said, 'I'm sorry but she's up a tree somewhere and we can't find her!' I was indeed up a tree, one that had a magnificent, panoramic view of the playground so I could keep an eye on everyone but still eat my lunch in peace.

At Christmas time we put on a concert. It was an awesome, community occasion and the start of my love for and understanding of how important Performing Arts is in education. We spent a little bit of every day of term 4 practicing to fill an entertaining hour and a half with singing and dancing and silly skits and at the end of the show we all shared a typical country supper of sponge cakes and lamingtons and Santa came and gave everyone, including the teacher, a present. If I remember correctly, the highlight of that year's concert was a cheer leading rendition of 'Hey Micky'.

Not long after I left, the school numbers were judged financially unviable. The school closed and the Woorndoo kids started bussing to Lake Bolac or Mortlake. I was sad that my own kids just missed the opportunity to experience schooling in this unique setting.

I still love teaching but it's much harder work than it was then. The simple 5 columns of accounting have been replaced by thousands of order books and audited receipts in triplicate. The curriculum has become jammed with everything that every organization in the country thinks children should know. There are rules about rules and protocols and meetings to discuss the protocols. Good manners aren't quite as prolific as they used to be. Despite 30 years of experience and a Masters of Education under my belt, parents are less trusting of my ability to know best about the educational needs of their children. Unlike the village raising approach at Woorndoo, sometimes it feels like we are on opposing sides of a tug of war.

And we aren't allowed to climb trees anymore :-(

With apologies to anyone I've forgotten or mistaken for a different sibling!