Do you have someone in mind for your worst ever teacher? I think you would do well to beat my candidate for the “honour”. The memories are fresh more than half a century later!
Mr Starkey and I had the misfortune of encountering each other between 1959 and 1963, so he is long since dead and therefore unlikely to be offended by what follows, however well deserved it might be.
Oakdale Junior School
The school was Oakdale Junior School in Poole, Dorset. I was seven when I joined and ten when I left (having passed the “eleven plus” to go to the Grammar School – it comes of having been an August baby!). My first year was spent in a separate block over the road from the main school, so it wasn’t until the second year that I became aware of Mr Starkey’s existence.
(This building was formerly Oakdale Junior School)
The school was run on vaguely military lines, which may have had something to do with the head teacher being a former Royal Navy officer. It had been the first primary school in the borough to have a school uniform, which had been a recycling job on the wartime blackout curtains, which is why the school “colours” were black and white, and the military ethos was imposed as soon as the bell went to start the school day.
Nearly all the classrooms were strung out along one long, straight corridor. The boys’ cloakroom was at one end, and the girls’ facilities at the other. Once you emerged from the boys’ cloakroom there was Mr Starkey, who insisted that the children beat time with their feet until everyone was ready, then we marched up the corridor until we reached our classroom. And how we marched! Perfect pace, arms swinging. Mr Starkey did not say “left, right”, but something that sounded remarkably like “hips high, hips high”. I don’t know if he had ever been in the Army, but it certainly sounded like it.
Mr Starkey looked after music for the fourth-year pupils, who were divided into four classes. We didn’t have a school hall, but three classrooms were divided by glass screens that could be wheeled back to make one large room, into which the fourth class of kids could also be squeezed.
Music meant singing, as we didn’t have any musical instruments in the school, not even a piano. We used a live BBC radio broadcast called “Singing Together, with William Appleby”, which meant listening to the BBC singers getting it right and then us lot having a go. Towards the end of the year the remote Mr Appleby asked for pupils (all over the country) to vote for their favourite songs, so that the winners would then be played (echoes of Eurovision) in the final programme of the series.
Mr Starkey issued everyone with a postcard on which to write the title of their nomination, but there was a small group of us who could not make up our minds and decided to abstain. This did not suit Mr Starkey at all. His wrath at being disobeyed (as he saw it) was such that he whisked us out of our year four classes and made us sit with the year twos for all our lessons. This went on for a couple of days until the head teacher got to hear about it and (one assumes) gave Mr Starkey a roasting.
My family was fostering a boy from Ghana at the time, and he went to school with me although he was a year younger. When he reached the fourth year (I had gone to the Grammar School by then) Mr Starkey had no idea what to do with a boy with a black skin, especially as his singing voice was much lower than that of everyone else. What he did was to ban young Bob from singing at all. Bob therefore spent the whole year of music lessons doing absolutely nothing and made to feel that being black in a room full of white people was a distinct disadvantage.
Why a theodolite?
Friday afternoons ended with “craft”, and my class and the one next door joined together for this, taught by – you guessed it – Mr Starkey. He had this crazy idea that we were going to make a survey of the school grounds, and for that purpose we were going to make theodolites (surveying instruments that measure angles) out of card and toilet roll tubes. We were each given a piece of card, a ruler, a pencil and a rubber. When we had the outline of the base drawn to Mr Starkey’s satisfaction we would be allowed to cut it out and move on to the next stage, of which there were two more. If it was not good enough you had to rub out the lines that were wrong and re-draw them.
During that term only one kid ever got to stage two! Our efforts were never up to Mr Starkey’s standards, and we spent our entire time rubbing out and re-drawing. You can imagine what a mess results when you have rubbed out and re-drawn a dozen or so times, and Mr Starkey would never allow anyone to have a fresh piece of card and start again. A more futile enterprise would be hard to imagine, given that the task soon became completely impossible.
(Incidentally, when the term was over I made my own card theodolite on a Saturday morning, just to prove to myself that it could be done. I made all the parts and they fitted together perfectly well. In the afternoon I took great pleasure in chucking it in the bin!)
As a parting gesture, prayers were always said before we went home at the end of the day. Most of the teachers took this in their stride, but Mr Starkey had to take it one stage further. He reminded us that being sincere in our prayers was essential, because we might get run over on the way home and go to Hell if we had not said our prayers properly. It was a really encouraging message to send us home with on a Friday afternoon!
Hence my nomination for the worst teacher ever. He inspired nobody, bored people rigid, and even attempted to put the fear of God into us. I’m delighted to say that Oakdale Junior had many teachers who were a whole world better, which is just as well!