I went to an all boy’s Grammar school in the UK. If you don’t know what that is it’s a type of selective system where the people who pass the test can get into the school. They don’t exist in most of the UK but they do in some counties, still.
There are varying views of whether this is Good or Bad, lots of social and economic arguments that I won’t get into here…
But what I will say is that the more distance I get from that school (and I’m 34 now, so some distance by now), the more I realise that it wasn’t great.
One of the arguments against Grammar schools is that they hoover up the best of the local teachers, leaving the other schools with lower standards. After all this time I’m starting to wonder whether what actually happens is that they become a place where poor teachers can hide or good teachers can become complacent.
Probably not space to go into detail here, but some highlights of bad teaching during my time at that school include:
A chemistry teacher who made so little effort with lessons that our class had to stage an intervention at the start of the class and ask him to do better.
A history teacher who instead of actually teaching the course one day decided to do an hour long semi-coherent rant about how the Nazis were doomed to lose the Second World War. (We were studying the Cold War.)
A replacement IT teacher who decided to re-grade all our coursework much lower only a week before it had to be submitted, giving us no time to improve it.
An English teacher who began a lesson, apropros of nothing, with “So… fisting.” (I honestly don’t know, I think he’d just heard of it or something??)
A music teacher who hadn’t bothered to find out what the curriculum was for my course, forcing me discover by accident what I’d not been doing all year and get emergency additional tuition.
A different English teacher who used to delight in getting the weakest readers in the group to read the book we were studying aloud.
(TW: possible paedophilia/abuse) A sports teacher who was notorious for lining up the boys and inspecting them slowly after the showers, and after parents started to complain very abruptly disappeared and was never heard of by us again.
As for the other students, I’m not in touch with very many of them any more. Both that and university weren’t the places where I made lasting friendships. My enduring memories are of some mild bullying (and the school’s handling of that was hit and miss), and the time I went on a school ski trip and was roomed with a guy who (TW: homophobia) never wasted an opportunity to say that he thought gay people should be taken out on the street and shot, in the same year that I’d come out to myself.
But y’know? At the time? It all seemed so mundane, so normal. I look back and think: why wasn’t I more upset about all this, more angry? This was supposed to be the finest education around, but in fact I got by thanks to a handful of better teachers that were there, and luckily I and most of the students there were good enough to get by with everyone else being mediocre or worse.
I remember being so excited about joining that school. Ah, well.