My first formal teaching post was near the city of Wakefield in Yorkshire. At the time, the school was very modern and had an integrated infant and junior department. I was responsible for the children in the Reception Class and Year 1. I have to admit that this time was very stressful for me. I left College and within a week had married and was a home owner. It all seemed like a dream. I had never been responsible for anything this huge in my life before. I really don’t think on reflection that I was emotionally mature enough to manage.
I enjoyed teaching the children and I think they enjoyed being with me most of the time. It was rather like being in a different culture for me. I had not really travelled to many places and the humour and accent of some of my colleagues made it difficult to understand. I hadn’t expected to feel like such a foreigner. Not long after my own appointment as class teacher, a new Head of Infants was brought into the school as it expanded.
She had very clear ideas of how she wanted the children to be taught and during her first few weeks bussed in some of the teachers and classes of children from her previous school. These children sang and read stories they had written themselves. We all knew that we were expected to aspire to these heady standards. In actual fact there was very little wrong with the standard of education already in the school and our children learned well and excelled as individuals. New brooms do seem to want to sweep everything from the past away and this lady was no exception.
During this time, we endured the miners’ strikes and had limited heating and lighting due to power cuts. I remember all of us wearing coats and jackets and scarves to keep warm. There was no question of school closing. I find it difficult to really remember just how bleak it must have been back then. It is only when I see historic documentaries or re-visit Billy Elliot, that I get an inkling how hard it was.
I know that the miners’ wives kept the money coming in by getting jobs and in the same way that women were considered dispensable once the soldiers returned from the War, the wives were expected to pack up work and become housewives and mothers again once the strike was over. This did not happen. A lot of women had actually enjoyed their employment and resented being told by their men that their place was in the home. There was an incredible amount of resentment and downright hatred which still reverberates around the old mining communities where strike breakers live. Even though most mines are long closed and no alternative employment brought into these communities the strength of feeling has not diminished.
At some time during those first few years, I became ill with laryngitis and pharyngitis, which meant that I had no voice whatsoever and became quickly exhausted by trying to make myself heard. I went to see my Head Teacher, who promptly gave me a whistle and that is how I managed and taught my class of children.
I did not settle into my life in this city. I found the neighbours particularly unfriendly and suspicious of an outsider with a different accent. I was not used to hearing people on the other side of my walls, as I had never lived in a terraced house before. I was used to having space outside my house which was mine but in this house, my back garden had become common land over which neighbours could walk to visit their outside toilets. I could not dig and plant; I could not even park my car there without incurring the wrath of one or other neighbour who promptly had a solicitor send a letter to threaten to take us to court for disturbing their peace.
I had no experience of any of this behaviour and I became quite despondent and frequently suffered bouts of bronchitis which was exacerbated by the thick yellow smog from the coal fires. It was not the best life experience I have had. I decided that I needed to return to more familiar surroundings for a while, so my husband and I sold our house and moved to the Western Lake District and I took up a teaching post in a small town school where I was the Infant Teacher for all of the children under seven years.