“What do you want to do when you leave school?”

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Futures Past.” : As a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up? How close or far are you from that dream?

As a “kid” of sixteen (my final year of secondary school), if anyone asked me “what do you want to do when you leave school?” my reply always was the same. It shocked my mother so much that every time a customer (in our family dairy, where I worked after school and weekends she would interrupt and find a “job” for me to do in the back room.

“I’m going to be an educated bum.”

My feelings were based on my decision at the beginning of that school year to go “on strike” at school. And that was based on three years of attending a school at which a very, very small number of the teaching nuns were trained as teachers. The school was ill equipped, text books were years out of date,  we never worked once in the science lab, and the atmosphere was gloomy–except for the grounds, to which I would retire during catholic education classes, on the pretext of going to the grounds to study … whichever subject that nun also taught me.

I had barely scraped through the previous year’s qualification, School Certificate. At the time the passing requirements were a 60% pass in English, and enough %ages in four other subjects to amass more than 200 marks. I managed 204. And the only two reason I managed that were…

  • As an Elocution student since the age of twelve, I had learned much about the classics for performance reading in the annual exams. I had been so good a student that by the end of Fourth Form my elocution teacher had offered to allow me to study during the following year for an Elocution teacher’s certification. I had decided not to, as that would have been on top of studying for School C. (These days, I realise I should and could have done both.) But what I’d learned made the School C English exam a doddle.
  • At the dairy, among the magazines was one of those collection publications – buy one a week, maybe the binders, and by the end you had The Purnell’s Illustrated Encyclopaedia of the Second World War *. My dad allowed me a magazine weekly, and I would take it to school and read it whenever I could. And re-read it, many times over. When I went into the exam room for School C. History, I dreaded it, as I knew our school lessons had been worthless. But the second question was “Explain the many factors in Europe which led to Hitler’s invasion of Poland, and its consequential effects.” Bonanza! I spent the whole three hours writing just on that question alone, asking the invigilator for extra answer paper.

As for other subjects… I had studied Biology by asking the lads from the state school when they came into the dairy for a milkshake or ice-cream “Are you studying Biology tonight?” and if he/they weren’t, I’d borrow their Biology text and read it between customers, and he/they would collect it from the dairy on their way to school the next morning. For their cooperation, dad would give them a free mince pie. Sadly, I didn’t get a good exam result – just enough to get barely over the required 40% pass.

Hence my flippant response.

On my final day at school, I walked into the dairy to work, and Mum pointed across the shop to me …

“You start work at the accountant’s on Monday.” That was that. (Imagine that happening these days? Yeah, right.)

After a year there, they let me go. So I decided (much to Mum’s delight, she being a teacher) to try teacher training college. At the interview for selection, I was asked the usual …

“And what makes you want to be a teacher?”

“I don’t really. I can’t honestly say ‘because I love children’. I just want to have a go, and see how I feel after qualifying.”

“Well,” said one of the selection panel. “That’s probably the first honest answer we’ve heard. We’ll see you in Kelburn in February.”

How easy was that? And although I took a break during training, I did graduate and qualify. The certificate is framed. and leaning against the base of the wall, waiting for new glass. I’ve taught full and part-time children at all levels of compulsory education, some years of part time work in a different class level each half-day. I’ve taught in the State system and in a private secondary school. I held a Principal teacher (sole charge) in a way-out-back rural school. I’ve taught in the WASP communities, and in mixed ethnic communities. I’ve taught gentile mother’s little darlings, and hard-case forgotten children. I’ve lectured at tertiary level, after taking a degree in I.T.

And loved it all.

* Title may be “off”…the long-term memory is set to write-only/

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