The Spotted Librarian: Somethings Don’t Change.

In another life (the 1970s) I was a primary school teacher.
When my wife sent me this headline, I just had to tell you this story.
Teaching was all I ever wanted to do.
‘Ever’ being after I gave up on being a train driver, cowboy, spaceman, truck driver or the bloke who cuts the grass in the park.
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I had to decide at the end of year 10 what academic stream I would take, Humanities or Science. I was pretty good at Science but Humanities was the course to take to deliver me into a primary school classroom. I never considered a secondary school career, I only ever wanted to work with little kids. It seemed to me that that was where the ‘teaching’ was.
It also seemed to me that that was where the learning began and I wanted to be in on the ground floor.
Teacher’s college was fun but getting out into the world was what I was yearning for.
NO STUDENT LOANS FOR US.
In those days there was a shortage of teachers so the government paid us (a very small amount) to complete our diploma and in return we promised to work for them for three years. We had to teach wherever they sent us, and for males that usually meant a one teacher country school.
In my case it meant a school in St Albans which, at the time, was on the extreme northern edge of Melbourne and was full of non English speaking migrants.
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I was just happy that it was not in the country. 
I really hated the idea of being stuck in some backwater and having to play cricket and football for the local team.
I’m a city boy and grew up in a tough suburb and the city way of life suited me just fine.
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Sitting around listening to farmers complaining about the weather seemed like hell to me.
Naturally I have learned that country life is excellent, but you have to remember that I was young and I had a lot to learn.
I had four wonderful years at St Albans East primary school but moving to Belgrave after we bought our first house meant a two hour journey to St Albans every day. I left in the dark and came home in the dark, slept through Saturday and got up late on a Sunday and it all started over again on Monday!
For six months I wasn’t sure what colour our house was because I never saw it in daylight!
Something had to be done so I organised a transfer to a school on our side of town.
The school , which no longer exists (Jeff Kennett had it demolished and it is now townhouses) was called Warrawong and was the alternate Blackburn South primary school.
Talk about a culture shock!
St Albans East was full of migrants and the kids were great. The parents were extremely grateful for anything that we did for their children. They valued education above almost everything else and the parents worked themselves into the ground to make sure that there children had an education.
On the other hand Blackburn South was full of struggling middle class families who thought the world owed them a living.
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The staff were one click this side of brain dead and my school principal was a back stabbing idiot.
My ego was such that I didn’t see any of it coming. I thought that everyone would come to understand how wonderful I was and all would be right with the world.
It didn’t work out quite that way.
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It was possibly the LONGEST year of my life.*
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MY WIFE STOPPED BELIEVING ME.
This school was so insane that my wife stopped believing me as each night I would come home with an even more amazing story.
I will not bore you with all the stories here as I plan to write a short book about my experiences but I will tell you two stories.
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THE SPOTTY LIBRARIAN.
Firstly, just to get you started, here is the story about the school librarian.
I really should have worked out what I was up against right at this point but I didn’t, I was too full of myself and my grand plans.
So, at our very first assembly the Librarian notices that the children are not lining up in straight lines so she proposes that she be allowed to paint a white dot on the playground assembly area; ONE FOR EACH CHILD!
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One white dot for each kid.
I thought it was a joke, but no, she was serious and everyone in the meeting agreed!
Everyone!
I was the only person who did not raise their hand, I was too stunned to speak.
It gets better!
The school principal gave her permission to paint the dots and the Library stayed closed for two weeks while she completed the task!
No one was outraged; they all thought it was a good idea!
Now comes the story that I wanted to tell you that was suggested to me by reading the newspaper article quoted at the end of this story.
It’s forty something years later and nothing has changed!
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THE GREAT SWAP CARD RAID OF 1976
By the time this story took place I was fairly shell shocked by everything that had gone on.
Eventually I stopped going to staff meetings as I just couldn’t take it any more. I remember working out different ways to get out of the place on a Monday night (staff meeting night). I needed to be creative as the Principal saw my absences as a form of rebellion (which it was) and she did everything in her power to stop me from getting away.
Anyway, there I was, pre rebellion at a staff meeting with drool coming from the corner of my mouth when I hear a motion put forward to ban swap cards.
Say what?
The kids at this school were really good kids but the staff were afraid of them. Possibly they believed that the kids would work out that they were incompetent.
The kids didn’t care that the teachers were hopeless, they had never known anything else. They just wanted to get on with their lives and maybe have a bit of fun along the way.
So, the motion passed (big surprise) I spoke against it but by now no one was taking any notice of me or anything I had to say.
A couple of weeks later there was another motion.
This time some bright spark wants to organise a lunch time raid in the playground to catch any kid with swap cards.
Naturally, the children had ignored the ban.
The dingus who put forward the plan wanted to have teachers at every door leading out onto the playground (there were a lot of doors) and at a precise time (yes we actually synchronised our watches) we were to burst through the doors (his words) and round up any errant card swappers. These children would then be sent to the assembly area (where all the white dots were) and would be made an example of in front of the whole school.
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 THE TIP OFF.
I was friends with a lot of the children in classrooms other than mine so I spread the word about the raid but even so there were about forty odd kids who got caught.
The teachers were very disappointed that the ‘haul’ was so light.
I was amazed that anyone got caught.
How dumb do you have to be to get caught after the word has gone out?
This happened in the middle of the year and by now my good wife had started to think that I was making up some of these stories. She wondered how these crazy things could keep happening.
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HIDING IN THE BUSHES.
As I mentioned, it was not long after this that I stopped going to staff meetings and I can still see the principal staking out the car park waiting for me to attempt my getaway!
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The newspaper article that prompted this post.

http://www.theage.com.au/victoria/primary-school-bans-footy-cards-20130605-2npxk.html

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* The stress of teaching at this school caused a rash to break out on the side of my face which progressed to the point that it closed one of my eyes!

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57 thoughts on “The Spotted Librarian: Somethings Don’t Change.

  1. the mind boggles, the head reels, the eyes cross, the tongue sticks out and then it (the tongue) coordinates itself well enough to ask: “Yes, but! back to the spotty librarian! Did those kids ever line up one child per dot? Did they play hopscotch on the dots? Did they make patterns in and out around the dots? Did they ignore the dots? How long did the system last?” and questions like that… good thing you made your escape before all that started to make sense to you!

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    • Thanks for the comment, and the reaction.
      That school ended my teaching career…… that’s probably not fair…… I could not do it anymore because I had not learned how to deal with the craziness. Unfortunately, my mentor had died a couple of years earlier and I definitely needed his guidance.
      The kids were fantastic. They sensed that I was trying to make there school day more fun and they joined right in. They coped with the insanity a lot better than I did. Considering how insane this place was i/we managed to achieve a lot in one year, but the hardest part was not having anyone else at that school who thought it was as crazy as I did.
      I truly admire people who can stand alone against the tide, it is not easy.
      I was quite unwell for a time after this year and I learned that you have to believe in yourself or you start to come apart. It was a very painful but valuable lesson.
      Yes, they did line up, one kid per dot. I have no idea how long the system continued because I could not bring myself to visit (when I did get up the courage they were in the process of pulling the school down, and a couple of years ago I got photos of where the school had been. I was lucky enough to find a resident who had lived there for more than 40 years. I was all turned around without a point of reference.)

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  2. All I remember from being a kid is my increasing lack of respect for adults who supposedly ruled our lives. It carried on to corporate culture, politics, and pretty much any organization of like-minded folks. As humans we have the capacity to accomplish much . . . more and more it never goes past “capacity”.

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  3. Haha, great stories. Relate to the frustrations you had to go through. Staff meetings – hate ’em. Recipe for thinking up *anything* except how to make things better. And people’s sense of entitlement – here in the U.S. I think it’s getting worse.

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    • Thank you for you comments. I feel your pain also.
      Hang in there, you are doing better than I did, you are still doing it. More power to you, the kids need a few sane people in their lives.
      Respect.
      Terry

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  4. My wife teaches at an American inner city high school as we call them. She has rabid stories too. Thanks for sharing and good luck with that short book! Books by public school teachers about teaching in them should be a genre unto itself.

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  5. Majority rules..and if most of them are incompetent , that means a permanent series of disaster. I still, find it happening in everyday life. The irony is , when voting happens for any election, majority wins and they rule..wisely or not..it happens still..unlike leaving a job, its not easy to leave your country or work..others think you are a coward..or whatever..but I know..we are all in a boiling pot..those who can vaporise would leave the state of water and turn into humidity ..just to leave the bowl and the boil..others would remain..unfortunately..good post..real life is more dramatic than any theatre play 😉

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  6. Ah yes, happy memories (NOT) of being at school. My own kids swapped Harry Potter cards and ended up with them all stolen. We sympathised of course but there you go, facts of life. I don’t think it damaged them permanently 😉

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  7. Brilliantly entertaining as always Mr T 🙂

    We should count ourselves lucky that this kind of mob-ridiculousness is limited to the teaching profession and doesn’t pervade other areas such as politics, civil services, corporate business and healthcare.

    Oh, hang on…

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  8. Great you shared this experience Terry. Firstly, you sound like a wonderful teacher and it is a pity this experience ruined it for you. How do the incompetent people so often get the position to rule over others (and actually really mess things up). I can totally relate to this story. I love teaching and especially primary grades – the students are so sincere, they get genuinely excited to learn stuff and have such great views on things themselves. I have been lucky to teach for many years in a small school with great atmosphere and colleagues. One of those years I went to teach one subject in another school that I thought was a good one and would give me good experience. I was sad to find terribly incompetent staff there and the whole atmosphere in the school was out of place. They kept changing rules and coming up with new “dot” ideas weekly to manage the kids better. As you can guess the results were horrible. I felt so alone with such different understanding of things.

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    • Thank you for the comment, and thank you for the compliment.
      I’m very pleased that you enjoy teaching, it’s a wonderful job and I guess that is partly why I got so annoyed at the teachers who just ‘phoned it in’. How could they not like being with and enjoying these amazing young people?
      I can understand ‘tired’, I can understand ‘burnt out’, but bored? Give me a break. Everyday was an adventure.
      I needed a mentor but unfortunately mine had died.
      It is important to believe in yourself (even when it looks like you are all alone).
      Really good teachers are rare and good administrators are even rarer, so you are always going to feel a little bit alone.
      The school I left to go to this place was amazing. My advice to any teacher who finds themselves in a good place is STAY THERE and enjoy the fact that the stars have aligned in your favour, and do everything you can to keep it a good place to teach and NEVER take it for granted.
      Your kids are very lucky to have you….. keep on keeping on.
      Terry

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      • You are right about those things. Unfortunately I cannot go to teach in that nice school anymore since we live in a another country now. At the moment I’m raising my kids at home still. I do feel a bit hesitant to go teaching in a big school with lots going on. Let’s see what I will find when the time comes.
        And, thank you for your kind words 🙂

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        • Bringing up your kids is the most important job you could have, and the most fun. You take your time and enjoy every moment…….. just because I have a blog on the subject…… are you considering home schooling your children? Shameless plug for ‘Schoome’.

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          • We haven’t considered home schooling but maybe Montessori school or at least small group for as long as it is possible. Seems here are quite good options to choose from. Our kids are very lively and sociable and seem to enjoy change of environment and being in a group with others. Plus I wonder if I wouldn’t burn out myself raising them at home all the way (I guess you understand). But yes I want and plan to stay home with them longer than most people do. I like it and am grateful that we can “afford” this. I admire you for home schooling your kids. I will check out your blog 🙂

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  9. wow what a great story! Truth is indeed stranger than fiction, I still can’t believe what people can get up to as part of a large group. It says a lot about your spirit that you were able to stand apart from the crowd and maintain your own reality about it all, even if it made you physically ill to have had to bear it all. I’m sure those kids remember you fondly to this day ❤

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  10. The stories teachers could tell! Having been a secondary teacher for eight years in Lilydale I have a story you might like: Mick the teacher had a special jar on his desk, for chewing gum. If he caught a year 8 boy chewing gum, the boy had to spit his chewie into the jar and select someone else’ s to chew…

    I also remember my grade 5 teacher, Mr Foster who was a Canadian exchange teacher. He had asked the class to do questions 1-7 but my friend and I did 1-10. Because we hadn’t done exactly as he said we had to stay in at lunch and copy out the whole chapter.

    Tell your wife, that I believe all your stories but I think things have improved a bit, my husband’s still a teacher and he says there are definitely less weird teachers around these days, thank goodness.

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    • Thank you for the comments.
      I read your comments to my wife and she loved them!
      The chewey story is a beauty.
      My wife tells a story about being a ‘goody two shoes in choir lessons’. The nun in charge asked the girls,”Who is that singing out of tune?” My wife put her hand up to dob in the out of tune girl but before she could speak the nun said, “Well stop at once”.
      I’m glad to hear that there are less weird teachers around.
      I’m glad that both of you are fighting the good fight, the kids need all the good teachers they can get.
      You survived eight years in Lilydale………….. respect!
      Terry

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  11. I spent 55 years of my life in a small country town, Western Vic., and you have it down pat. Did not start teaching until I had spent 30 plus years wool classing. And the dots…..they ARE still around today. Yes, I think I could write a book on my teaching career also. Love your post.

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    • Thank you very much for your comments. I seem to have hit a nerve with teachers from across the globe!
      I worried a bit about the ‘small country town’ comment in my post but it was an honest retelling of how I felt at the time.
      Your students are lucky to have a teacher who has been ‘out in the world’. If I had my way, no one would be allowed to teach unless they had been working somewhere else for a while.
      At teacher’s college we had a bloke who was in his early 40s. We were all straight out of school and naturally he was a calming influence on all of us. There were 22 people in my group and there were only three of us, him included, who chose teaching as their first choice. Everyone else saw teaching as their ‘consolation prize’ after not getting into the course they wanted.
      This basically means that between eighty and ninety percent of the staff in any school did not choose teaching as there career. This stat answers a lot of questions.
      Write that book and remind your students of how lucky they are to have a person like you as their teacher. Experience of life makes better, more enthusiastic teachers.
      Terry

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      • Hi Terry
        Could not agree more. Your comment was made in our area in the early seventies…teachers to school, university and back to school. About that time we were inundated with every young male teacher being sent to our local school, including a city born relative who grew to love the community and country life. I was nearly fifty before obtaining my first teaching degree and had turned fifty before my second was completed. There is life ‘outside them four walls….’

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  12. At my son’s first primary school in Auckland they were doing much the same stuff (about nine years ago now). They didn’t have dots for everyone though, just the one boy with epilepsy and ADHD, and it wasn’t a dot but a square marked in gaffer tape. The idea seemed to be that he should stay within that square – pretty much all the time from what I could gather. The swap-cards raids were fairly frequent, along with the Bey Blade and Transformer raids. Marbles got banned too I think. I look back on my son’s primary school years as a period of intense, horrible frustration and anger. It turned him from a confident, eager learner to a totally disenchanted class clown. Luckily we’ve found a good secondary school. Hats off to you for being the teacher all the kids probably love to have.

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    • Thank you very much for your comments.
      I’m so pleased that your son has landed in a good secondary school. It is so hard for parents. Often there are just no alternatives……. and expensive private schools can be as bad if not worse than the state schools.
      Thank you also for the ‘hats off’comment………… I feel badly that I was not strong enough to carry on like so many of the people who have commented here.
      Terry

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      • I’m not sure it’s weakness to leave a situation that you feel is wrong for you. Better to be doing something where do feel that you can make a difference. My son had exactly two teachers in primary school who “got” him and had the energy to work with that. Over the years I got to know a few of the teachers and really felt for them, trying to do their best in a system that seemed determined to put bureaucracy before education and to turn out the blandest, most uninspired kids possible. It was all about hitting targets – getting the mean in the right place and fudging the numbers at either end. My son is both gifted and challenging. He doesn’t learn through repetition and drove teachers mad. He’s in a private school now – has been since year 7. It’s a huge sacrifice for us, but I have to say, totally worth it. He is happy, engaged, comfortable in himself and motivated to learn. It’s very much a “niche” school – but a niche that suits him.

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  13. I spent one year as a substitute teacher in the U.S. Sometime during the middle of the school year, the principal asked me if I were interested in a permanent position as a math teacher. I replied that I thought all the math positions were filled. “Yes,” the principal replied, “but some of them aren’t very good at math.”

    I declined.

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    • Wise move.
      There has always been a shortage of Maths and Science teachers here. The answer seemed to be to just stick any teacher who was available in that class!
      Recently they decided to ‘parachute’ recent graduates into secondary schools on a one year contract and an ‘accelerated’ salary. Obviously this scheme failed as ‘recent graduates’ would rather be doing something else.
      I remember doing first year Economics in year 11. The teacher was fantastic and I began a lifelong interest in the subject. In year 12 we had a different teacher…. same subject and I have never been so bored in all my life!
      Certain countries understand how important ‘good teachers’ are and they pay them accordingly, but more importantly they give them respect. In those countries to be a teacher is to be considered on the highest rung of that society.
      Thank you for taking the time to comment, I really appreciate it.
      Terry

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  14. Truly, you have painted a remarkable story about the human condition. It staggers me to think that such an experience is real. Educators are suppose to educate. What kind of message is sent to the children within such a controlling and negative environment? We need safe and nurturing classrooms and hallways for our kids. Today I’m sure that others could match your story.

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    • Thank you very much for your comments.
      Sadly I believe that you are right. 40 years later and people are telling me similar stories. Unfortunately schools are STILL about making everyone conform. I can see the appeal…… it is heaps easier for those in power if everyone behaves themselves and does as they are told with the minimum of thinking. The sad thing is if you confronted most educators with these statements they would be shocked. They are doing it and they don’t realise it.
      Sad.
      But there is always hope.
      People’s reaction to my post has shown me that there are people in our world who get it.
      More power to these people.
      Terry

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  15. It’s not just schools that have idiotic rules. I plan to slowly retell some horror stories from my career. An example – size of rooms were varied (by 6 inches) to differentiate rank in the corporate hierarchy.

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  16. Dear friend, even though we kind of started in a not very good terms (my mistake), Now WE Both love each other post. How about that? Thank you for reading my novel. I love the fact you’re animal lover. I call you from now on Saint Francis, the Saint that said all animals are my friend. In all paintings of him, he is with all kind of animals, from birds to dogs, and lion and …

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  17. People with that much time on their hands for petty tyranny are not taking care of more important work elsewhere. I’m so sad that you had to suffer that, but unfortunately, it’s an experience so many have.

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    • It was not a lot of fun at the time and I felt really lost and the ripples lasted a long time after, but hey, forty years on I got a story out of it.
      Thank you for taking the time to comment. I really appreciate it.
      Terry

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      • All those things, good, bad or ugly, make us who we are after all — you’re right. You’re a smart guy, I’ll look forward to reading more. Warmly, Brenda

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  21. I went to Warrawong in the late 60s early 70s and I still can remember getting the strap for taking a drink from the water troughs after the first bell went. Getting the strap involved the said teacher (“Mr Baloushi”, probably not spelled correctly) taking his belt off and after making us hold our hand out as he seemed to use all his strength to hit our hand with his belt to the point that our hand went numb with pain. “Good times” Im sure for him. My family luckily moved so for my final year of Primary school I went to Vermont Primary and had a wonderful teacher (Mr Poore). I was also never again given the strap but it did sour things for me as I never really trusted teachers after this point and without trust I think a student doesn’t absorb as much.

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