xmlns:og='http://ogp.me/ns#' The Font of Noelage: February 2014

Friday, 28 February 2014

The joy of teaching.

My two former pupils from 1962/3 in Toronto in 2014.

Teachers: They may not remember what you said, they may not remember what you did, but they will remember how you made them feel.

I get quite a lot of junk mail. Generally I delete it fairly quickly. In late January this year  I enjoyed a wonderful family holiday on Rottnest Island. I used to check my iPad for e-mails after breakfast, sitting on our front veranda, sipping coffee and enjoying the shimmering wonders of the ever sparkling blue waters of Thomson’s Bay.

As usual I was deleting the junk mail. I came across one from a fellow that I had never heard of and was about to hit Delete when I noticed that the Internet Service Provider was Sympatico. Now Sympatico is a Canadian service provider and I have family and friends in Canada. I wondered if this could be somebody whom I knew in Canada who was using a friend’s computer. I had my finger poised on Delete but decided that I would open the message instead.

I am so glad I did, because what I read blew me right away. It blew me back fifty years from my Rottnest Island paradise and landed me in Grade Six at Saint Theresa’s Shrine School in Toronto, Canada, Circa 1962/3.

It was a message from a girl named Norah whom I taught over fifty years ago. The name that I did not recognize on the e-mail was  that of her husband, Joe. It seems that Norah had recently contacted by e-mail another girl, Anne Marie, from the same class. They had not been in touch for fifty years and they reminisced about their days together at primary school at St Theresa’s Shrine School. This was a Catholic school in the Scarborough District of Toronto. It catered for children from Year 6 to Year 10. 

Naturally, these two girls soon started talking about their school days and their wonderful, handsome, witty, and very, very humble teacher with the unusual Australian accent! They wondered if I was still around, so Norah did a Google search and eventually stumbled on to my Blog site. This enabled her to make contact.

And what a contact she made. She said some really nice things about my teaching and how much she enjoyed being in my class. Only a teacher will have any understanding of how thrilled and delighted I was to read those kindly sentiments. The next day her classmate, Anne Marie, also contacted me and  reflected in very complimentary terms on the happy times that she had had in my classroom so long ago. One thing that Anne Marie said really struck home. She said that I “had given her a voice” which had enabled her to develop her self confidence. This was a decided asset in the business world she successfully inhabited in later life.

Anne Marie certainly developed in confidence alright. I remember one day I was standing at the front of the room when I noticed a fair bit of giggling and sniggering coming from the back left hand corner.

“What is going on down there?” I queried in my best teachers’ voice.

The giggling stopped.Anne Marie rose to her feet with a quiet dignity, smiled and said, “Mr Bourke, Michael Jolicouer has just farted.”  Well that certainly caused some merriment.

I was amazed at how much they remembered about the type of lessons I taught, the organized debates that we had and the way the class was arranged into groups that developed cooperation as well as competition. 

Having read the introduction to my blog, both girls (well they are now happily married ladies in their early sixties with grown up families, but in my mind’s eye they are still lovely, fresh faced, smiling and beautiful young girls) remarked that they were not surprised to read that my original ambition after leaving school was to be a journalist. It seems I was often asking them to write stories as if they were going to be published in a newspaper.

Norah even remembered me one day telling the class, “Hickory, Dickory, Dock, two mice ran up the clock. The clock struck one and the other received minor injuries. The clock was arrested for assault and battery and will appear in the Magistrate’s Court at 10-00am next Tuesday. You are the reporter who attends the trial. you have to write the story for the afternoon paper.”

Yes, well, I remember that one because I used it quite a bit over the years. Norah remarked what a shame it was that we didn’t have those stories to read again now. Ah, yes, what fun it would be to read the thoughts that those creative minds put to paper fifty years ago.

Norah, Anne Marie and I have conducted quite an e-mail correspondence since late January, giving each other pieces of information about our family histories and things that happened to us in life. Just like life, some are happy and some sad.

Henry Adams said, “A teacher effects all eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops.” I am sure Norah and Anne Marie will be quick to tell me that Henry Adams should have been gender inclusive and that a teacher can be a He or a She, but Henry wrote along while ago so I think we can let him off with a caution.

On the other hand what Henry Adams said is perfectly true. Teachers have children in their class for a year and try to keep them happy and interested while they learn the knowledge, skills, habits and values that will enable them to have satisfying and productive lives in society. Sadly, teachers rarely get to see if the children that they teach go on to achieve the things they dreamed of and if, a lifetime later, they have fashioned for themselves the happy and fulfilling lives that all of us desire.

Hector Berlioz though that, “Time is the greatest teacher of all. Unfortunately, it kills off all of it students.” This is also true, but time can also keep intact the memories that we cherish of our bygone days. I am so glad that after a time lapse of fifty years, Nora and Anne Marie took the trouble to track down their old teacher and tell him that he did have some positive influence on their lives. I am so glad to learn that they are both happily married ladies with grown up children that they love and are proud of. I am so glad that we are able to communicate so easily with each other after so many years.

The introduction to this story says of teachers that their pupils “May not remember what you said. They may not remember what you did, but, they will remember how you made them feel.”

It is exceedingly gratifying to me that these two young girls felt so good about it all, that fifty years later they took the trouble to tell me so.

Thank you Norah and Anne Marie.

This is not the class that Norah and Anne Marie were in. It is the Year 6 class of 1963/64. I think they are all looking so happy because I told them it was my last day at the school; Friday, June 26, 1964.
Anne Marie at the back, left. Head down and working hard as usual. Sadly, Norah not in frame.

Me taking Liberties with a lady. Easter 1964.

NOT the Winter Olympics of 1962.

Anne Marie and Norah made a nostalgic return to St Theresa's Shrine School and took me along with them,well, LEON, my biography, at least.

Saturday, 22 February 2014

Memories of my great mate, Sean Walsh.

My great friend, Sean Walsh, died suddenly two years ago on Friday, February, 23, 2012. 
He is sadly missed and I think of him often. 
I was honoured to be asked by his beautiful wife, Sue, to say a few words at his funeral.

Sean gave a very funny speech at the book launch for LEON, September 9, 2005.
Sean was my best friend. I am sure that there are many here today who would say the same thing...that Sean was their best friend. That is a measure of the warmth and charm of Sean’s personality, his caring, his consideration and his loyalty to those he called his friends. He had the unquenchable gleam of happiness in his smiling Irish eyes.

I first met Sean in mid February, 1956 when we both fronted up at Graylands Teachers College as First Year students.

It did not take me long to befriend Sean. I was a fun loving fellow and I soon found that Sean was the fun lovingest fellow on campus...or anywhere else. We both shared a great love for the Goon Show. It was the start of a beautiful friendship. 

It was also the start of two of the happiest years of our lives in that magical place that was Graylands Teachers College. We were pleased to find ourselves surrounded by happy and friendly students and conscientious and caring staff. Before long, everyone, staff and students, knew each other by name. We were all full of enthusiasm and optimism as we prepared to enter our professional lives. Above all we had huge amounts of fun, we made lifelong friendships and those golden memories stayed with us forever. In 2007, when Sean and I worked on the committee for the 50th anniversary reunion of our graduation he often remarked about the great impact that life at Graylands had had on him.
An added bonus for me was that, after graduating from Graylands, Sean and I did our national service  together, defending Campbell Barracks, Swanbourne Beach and the entire free world from the Phantasian hordes. We were proud that no country dared to declare war against Australia while we were in the fighting services.

Obviously, I do not have time here to reflect on memories extending over 56 years. Other speakers will cover various aspects of Sean’s life. I thank Sue for the opportunity to provide just a few, “I remembers....” about our early years.

I remember when Sean led a group of second year male Graylanders, very badly dressed as busty suffragettes, into a college assembly chanting, “Rhubarb, rhubarb, rhubarb” and waving placards calling for a relaxed dress code for male students.

In those days male students at Graylands were required to wear a collared shirt and tie and coat or blazer, unless it was very, very hot. Female students were expected to dress as well groomed young ladies. But this was the dawning of the age of Rock ‘n Roll and a lot of the girls were turning up in tan shoes and pink shoe laces, potted corduroy slacks and hooded duffel jackets. Sean led his motley crew of protesters to the front of the hall. As he handed his petition to the bemused college principal he waved his hands in protest, shouting, “We demand a changed dress code for men. We are revolting!”

“I know you are,” beamed the principal, as Sean led his suffragettes out of the hall to the enthusiastic applause of the students, the staff... and the principal.

I remember when Sean and our good friend, Brian Pinchback, decided to gain some publicity for the Interstate sports and cultural carnival held annually by the four teachers colleges of Perth and Adelaide. In 1957 Graylands was the host college for Interstate. One busy Saturday morning Sean and Brian climbed to the top of the Perth town hall tower and staged a ferocious fight accompanied by blood curdling screaming and yelling. My job was to attract a crowd by standing on the diagonally opposite corner (Craven’s Tobacconists) and point at the two men fighting in the tower. At the appropriate time Sean bent town and hurled what appeared to be the figure of a man to the footpath below. People screamed and rushed towards to the prone body on the pavement, only to find a dummy with a large hand written sign on its chest advertising the opening of the 1957 Interstate Carnival. In the meantime I had quickly scooted down Hay Street to meet Sean and Brian in a William Street milk bar.

I remember sprint training with Tim and Sean on Tompkins Park after a hard day of “bird” watching at North Cottesloe Beach. We would all race towards a large sprinkler about fifty metres away. No matter how big a start they gave me, they always beat me.

I remember Muscles, the Walsh’s family dog. Muscles was as big as a horse. Whenever I knocked on the door there would be Sean, Tim and their father, Frank, all trying desperately to restrain Muscles from lunging for my throat. The family lived in Brentwood and I could hear Muscles barking as soon as I drove over the Canning Bridge.

I remember when Sean, fellow Graylander, Murray Lake and I conducted a clandestine commando raid on a hut belonging to the SAS soldiers at Campbell Barracks. A few nights earlier Sean’s bed had been damaged in one of the raids that one Nasho platoon would inflict on another Nasho platoon from time to time, in the good old spirit of Australian mateship. A group of Nashos would rush into a hut, upending beds and tossing foot powder bombs in all directions. The front leg of Sean’s bed was broken in one of these raids. As it happened the SAS men were training away from the camp for a few days and their huts were straight across the road from ours. So, late one night, we carried Sean’s broken bed across the road to the SAS hut where Sean had picked the lock and we very quickly swapped the broken bed frame for a good one.

Though Sean now had a very good bed, none of us slept soundly for a while. The SAS soldiers returned to the camp the next day and for the next week we would lie awake each night fearing terrible retribution from Australia’s fiercest fighting force. Fortunately, that SAS attack never came.
I remember very long telephone conversations with Sean. We loved the humour of the Goons and generally started our conversations with Goonish style humour until we hit the big ticket items, politics, education, sports, especially football, movies, plays or whatever else needed in depth discussion.

However, I remember having the shortest telephone conversation in history with Sean on one occasion. He had sailed for England with Tony Best in August, 1961. I followed in January, 1962, with Tony Jones and Murray Paddick, who were to also become great mates with Sean. Sean had given me his telephone number and soon after settling into London I rang. When he answered I said, “G’day Sean, it’s Noel”

He replied in an upper class fruity voice,, "Well I am Prime Minister Harold MacMillan. Please get out of my country.” Then he hung up.

Well I dialled back immediately and in my best Peter Sellers Indian doctor voice said, “I am very sorry to be bothering you, but I wish to be speaking  with Prime Minister MacMillan. Thank you very much.”

Sean said, “Oh, I am so fratefully sorry old boy, you’ve reached the Foreign Office. Try Downing Street, There’s a good Chap.” Well, eventually we started talking sense and arranged a meeting.

We know Sean was a gifted athlete and tennis player. I know Sue, and my wife, Lesley, will now groan loudly, but I have to let everyone know that Sean Walsh and I were the undefeated bucketball champions of the world. It’s true.

We won the title at an overseas venue against the crème de la crème of the world’s best bucketball players. Actually, it was at Garden Island at a Scarborough Athletics Club training camp. “Training Camp” may be putting too fine a point on it. It is true that the athletes, Sean, Tim, Alan Taylor, Wally Groom, Geoff Parker, Graham Birch and some others used to eat raw oats and carrots for breakfast, avoid butter, run up steep sand hills for hours at a time and even run 30 kilometres around the island in their bare feet. But they also used to stay up very late at night drinking beer and playing cards. Drinking beer and staying up late were activities that less athletic types, like Murray Paddick and I, could participate in with some enthusiasm.

Sean and I were very proud of our undefeated record at bucketball and spoke of it at length, much to the annoyance of our wives and friends. Which, of course, was the other reason why we did it?

Yes, like all of us here today, Lesley and I will miss Sean’s sparkling wit and his humorous take on various aspects of life. We had both pencilled him in to speak at our funerals. We will miss his companionship and sage advice. I am so glad that I had lunch with him on the Tuesday before he died.
Our friend, Brian Pinchback, who has retired to Bangkok, cannot be here today. When he heard of Sean’s death he sent me a flurry of e-mails, including the last message he had received from Sean a week or so ago.

In another e-mail he wrote of Sean’s death.
“I am more than shocked. Sean was like a rock in a fast flowing stream. I always thought of him that way. Didn’t we have a wonderful set of peers at Graylands? Since Graylands, I have never experienced anything that even came close to those two brief years. I think of it as the perfect cocktail...good teachers...very intelligent classmates and an egalitarianism that was unique to Perth following WW2. It was the Graylands Oz style of a mini Montmartre. In those days we made our poverty a feast. I shall never forget that Sean was one of the creators of that magic.”
and so say all of us!

Thank you, Sean, for all of those magic memories.

Rest in Peace.

The Graylands 1957 Reunion Committee hard at work.
Jean Farrant, Noel Bourke, Kaye Dunn, Murray Lake, Carol Dowling, Sean Walsh.

Friday, 7 February 2014

Malice in Blunderland

Well, the first week of school is over and already I am hearing of larger classes and commendable education programmes being scrapped due to lack of staff. Time for another look at the troubles of 1995. I wrote "Malice in Blunderland"  in early March 1995. It was published in the Western Teacher newspaper that same month.

“So you think that teachers should get a pay rise,” said Alice.

“Oh, of course they should,” said the Mad Hatter. “They certainly deserve a big pay rise.

“They deserve a very big pay rise,” chipped in the March Hare. “After all, they haven’t had a pay rise for an awfully long time.”

“Well,” asked Alice, “how much will you give them?”

The Mad Hatter and the March Hare exchanged patronising smiles as the Mad Hatter put down his tea cup and leaned closer to Alice and said, “You silly girl, it is not a matter of how much we will give them. It is question of what extra things they will do to earn it?”

“Yes,” echoed the March Hare, “what will they do to earn it? They will need to work much harder before will give them anything at all.”

“But,” replied Alice, “you just said that teachers deserved a pay rise. Why must they do something extra to earn it?”

“You stupid girl,” growled the Mad Hatter as he put more lumps of sugar in his tea. “Of course they have to earn it. You cannot give someone a pay rise simply because they deserve it.”

“It’s against the law,” mumbled the March Hare as he munched on another cream bun. “The law says no one can get a pay rise unless they increase their productivity. You know what that means, I suppose?”

“I think I do,” said Alice. “But didn’t you both get big pay rises without increasing your productivity?”

“Oh, you senseless child. Of course we did, but that wasn’t anything to do with us. It just happens that politicians and senior public servants like us automatically get a pay rise whenever judges get a pay rise. Don’t you know anything? You are a strange child.”
“Yes,” said the Mad Hatter. “We had to take a pay rise because the law said so.”
“Well who made that law?” asked Alice.

The Mad Hatter flung a cream tart at Alice and stood up on his chair. “What is wrong with you that you keep asking such silly questions? WE made the law of course. That is what us politicians do. That is what we get paid to do.”

“Please sit down.” said Alice. “You have your hand in the sugar bowl.”

“What is more,” the March Hare complained, “some teachers have stopped taking children on camps and stopped organising school socials, school balls and graduation dinners. We will certainly not be giving them a pay rise while they have banned these absolutely essential educational activities. I just shudder to think how many final year students will fail Mathematics and Science because they did not have a school social this year. I don’t suppose you have thought about that?”  he said glaring at Alice.

“No”, I must confess that it had not crossed my mind,” replied Alice demurely.

“It seems to me that very little has crossed your mind. Pass the tea please,” the March Hare mumbled as he scoffed another cream bun.

“But if you say that teachers deserve a pay rise, then surely you should give them one,” asserted Alice.

“Indeed, we shall not,” the Mad Hatter said firmly. “They won’t get a cent until they lift their bans. Anyone banning school activities will not get a pay rise.” 
“But, those things you mentioned aren’t bans,” protested Alice.  “They were only done by some teachers out of the goodness of their hearts. How can you say someone has banned something that they did not need to do in the first place? ” Alice asked the Mad Hatter.

“I can say it because I have just jolly well said it. If they don’t plan to volunteer to do what they did before, then they have banned it.”

“Well,” replied Alice, “that is the strangest thing that I have ever heard. I am not planning to climb Mt Everest next month, neither do I plan to make a strawberry fruitcake tomorrow, but you cannot say that I have banned them. Besides, there are some teachers, who because of subjects or classes that they teach never go on school camps or have school socials or graduation ceremonies. You cannot say that they have banned something if they have never done it in the past.”

The Mad Hatter jumped to his feet once more and threw a custard slice at Alice. “It doesn’t matter whether they all did it or not. Some teachers did those things in the past and so we expect them to be done, and they must be done, before we can talk about giving them a pay rise.”

“We have a plan that will make them come to their senses,” the March Hare smirked as he chewed on a water cress sandwich.

“Yes,” beamed the Mad Hatter,” we are going to ask all teachers if they are going to continue with the bans or not?”

And then what will you do? ” asked Alice as she ducked another custard slice.

“We will give a pay rise to all of the teachers who say that they are not banning anything. Perfectly brilliant plan, don’t you think so, Miss, whatever your name is?”

“My name is Alice and I think your plan is silly.”

The March Hare fell off his chair and the Mad Hatter slumped face first into a bowl of cream cakes. Slowly, the March Hare’s face appeared above the table. He helped the Mad Hatter wipe some of the cream of his face and then turned to Alice and said, “Silly?  Silly?  And why would you say it is silly?  You are the silly one around here.”

“Well,” answered Alice, “it is silly for several reasons.”

“Oh, is it now,” the Mad Hatter said as he removed the last traces of cream from his face. “Several reasons, hey? Alright, give me 41 reasons why it is silly?”

“I can give you some reasons, but not 41.”

“See,” chortled the Mad Hatter as he gave a knowing wink to the March Hare. “She can’t do it. She said ‘several’ and that means a number greater than 1. Now any fool knows that 41 is greater than 1 but she cannot give me 41 reasons. I knew she was silly when she first sat down.”

I knew that she was silly before I even met her,” said the March Hare.

“There is no need to get personal,” Alice replied, “but your plan IS silly. Let us look at it carefully. You are going to ask all teachers if they have banned any activities. Some teachers will say ‘No’  because for various reasons they have never been involved in those activities in the past and are not likely to be involved in the future. You plan to give these teachers a pay rise…for doing nothing. Yet, you told me that no one can get pay rise unless they do extra work. Now that is silly,” said Alice.

“Then, there are lot of teachers, who for many, many years have volunteered their time and efforts in various after school activities but they have chosen not to do so this year. These teachers are not going to get a pay rise. They will be doing as much work this year as the other teachers are doing, but are being punished for all of their time and effort in doing a lot of extra work in their own time in years gone by. That is really silly,” sneered Alice.

The Mad hatter threw his hat on the ground, looked at Alice and said, “The trouble with you, Miss, is that you don’t know anything about education.”