Memories of my sojourn at the old school (Part 2)
New boys to the school dreaded most what was euphemistically called âSwearing inâ. We were recipients of many clouts by the senior boys. This was made easier by the fact that parents always felt that they had to give us the cleanest haircut possible to grace the doors of the school, as if there was something magical about that. Senior boys pretended to be prefects and administered humiliating tasks to the unsuspecting student. Nicknames given to teachers and students, arising from any peculiarities detected, were common. Boys and teachers were thus re-christened. Nicknames that stood out â Eggwell, Squeaky, Pussy Bowels, Peanut Head, Duck Batty and Jelly Belly.
After four years in Canada, I returned and was placed for one term at the Girlsâ High School, then on to my alma mater, where I taught History and General Paper (GP) to the Sixth Form. I have copies of old mark sheets and see some familiar names. I bear no responsibility, however, for any transgressions on their part. One of the complaints by students was that my comments on their assignments were as long as the answers themselves, but this was really a learning tool.
My relationship with the Minister of Education was a difficult one. He objected to some of the topics I discussed with my GP students and wrote to the headmaster about it. This was delightfully funny, because those were topics that appeared on the A Level Papers. I responded and got the other Sixth Form teachers to co-sign the letter, a copy of which I still have. Then there was the issue of my sandals, to which he objected. At the invitation of the Science teachers, the Minister visited to see the terrible conditions at the âLabâ about which they complained. I was told after that he expressed more interest in my sandals than the problem he was asked to look at.
The Teachersâ Strike was a big thing; secondary school teachers were part of the becoming defunct Secondary School Teachers Association. They were said to be civil servants, not teachers. Two of us, teachers at the school, decided to throw in our lot with the St Vincent Union of Teachers. On the first day of the strike, I had the task of picketing my school. The Ministry was not pleased and eventually had their revenge. When the strike ended, I did not return immediately to school, having taken ill at that time. I presented a medical certificate, which they rejected. It meant not having a salary for Christmas. My protestations were to no avail. Two friends on vacation from university, (one not even Vincentian) admittedly a bit intoxicated, threatened to beat the minister when he turned up at a small gathering of which we were a part. The host hurriedly steered the âministerial partyâ away.
I am convinced that my problem with the Ministry was a political one, perhaps because of my involvement with some of the radical movements at that time. The Caribbean Conference of Churches had later invited me to take up a job at the Glebe, in Barrouallie, one that ended my formal association with the school. The question in the ministerâs mind was âwhy would anyone want to leave a pensionable job for a temporary appointment elsewhere?â His fertile imagination went haywire. I was obviously going to contest the Central Leeward seat! That was clear! Things were made difficult for me in my new job and after the initial three-year period, I refused to renew the contract and instead went back to university.
Much more to be said, but that is for a different time!
Dr Adrian Fraser is a social commentator and historian