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Those Grammar School Days (Conclusion)

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Discipline was strictly enforced. A Grammar School tie carried with it certain responsibilities, and any untoward behaviour was reported. You were considered to be always a Grammar School boy and were supposed always to continue to reflect the kind of values expected of one who was being prepared for service to country. Those of us who became prefects had the added responsibility of enforcing those values. Of course, it was always difficult drawing a distinction between the expectations of the school and what was accepted in the wider society.{{more}}

I worked for two years as a non-graduate teacher and then it was time to move on. I was offered a scholarship; in fact, I had two choices, to Barbados or to Canada under a CIDA scholarship. This was not a difficult choice. I was to attend the University of Western Ontario in London, Ontario, to do a degree in English. I spent four wonderful years and returned two months before the end of the school year. I was placed at the Girls’ High School, the third male to have taught there. The other two were Science teachers and their classes were held in the Lab. I taught History in the 4th form. This was an interesting period. A few years ago, while in Canada, I attended a get-together, at which there were about five or six of those female students and they had many stories to tell.

At the start of the next term, I moved to the Grammar School, where I taught History and General Paper, but hated marking papers. I was a hard marker because I put a lot of emphasis on how questions were answered – on grammar, sentence construction etc. Canada had opened my eyes about dress and I felt that the way we dressed was not appropriate. I had then given up ties and wore sandals to school. Burnham’s shirt jacs were becoming popular and people were taking another look at their manner of dress.

The Science teachers had written to the authorities about the lack of toilets in the labs. The Minister visited the school. His concern seemed not to be about the toilets, but about the fact that I was wearing sandals. I must point out that one of the reasons I wore sandals was because I was developing ‘athletes foot’. I never buckled under the pressure. One day I was called to the headmaster’s office. There was a complaint from the Ministry that I had discussed a political topic in my General Paper class. I was amused, because the topic was taken from a past examination paper.

I had at some point joined the St Vincent Union of Teachers, since I felt that the distinction between secondary and primary school teachers was ridiculous. Joy Browne also took that step. Then came the 1975 teachers’ strike. I remember on the first day, I stood like a lone wolf picketing my school. I became heavily involved in the strike and worked with the ‘Union’ day and night. I worked on a committee with three other persons, Emily Haynes, Dougie ‘Nose’ Joseph and Blazer Williams, to produce a booklet on the strike. We met early in the mornings at the home of Emily at Gomea. This had an impact on my health. The strike was eventually called off after we thought we were covered by an agreement.

On the Sunday before resumption of work, I had difficulty getting out of bed. I actually had to roll out of bed, got into my car and drove to the residence of Dr Cyrus. He was getting ready for a trip to Bequia, but quickly examined me and gave me an appointment for the following day. He gave me some ‘drops’ for my eyes and warned that I would be unable to read while using them. I was declared not able to resume work on the following day and was given sick leave. At that time, I shared a house at New Montrose with the headmaster, Winston Baptiste. To sign my sick leave form, I had to ask Winston to put my pen on the area to be signed. At the end of the month, I was denied a salary. I wasn’t worried, because I expected the headmaster to plead my case, since he knew about it ‘first-hand’. That’s another story, but a gloomy Christmas!

About two years after, I was offered a job with a project in Barrouallie, run by the Caribbean Conference of Churches and Christian Council. I was questioned by some about the wisdom of giving up a job with a secure pension for one that was contract based and had a short lifespan. I was still a relatively young person and decided that I had nothing to lose and so finally vacated the school after a 14-year association. My new job brought with it some headaches, because the political directorate felt the only reason I could have for surrendering my teaching job had to do with a wish to become a candidate at the next general election. They tried to frustrate me and even sent a delegation to my mother, to get her to stop me from entering politics. This was, of course, the furthest thing from my mind. Really, we have been politically foolish and narrow-minded for a long time!

Dr Adrian Fraser is a social commentator and historian.

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