Half term holidays go ever so quickly and are often a time to catch up on work, but this half term was also an opportunity to pop back to my home town of York to visit my family, in particular, my brother and his new family. Whenever James and I get together we end up reminiscing about our childhood. We had a wonderful childhood and went to a fabulous school called Park Grove. I have the fondest memories of Primary School. It was most definitely Park Grove that was responsible for me wanting to become a teacher. We often drive past my old Primary School when we go to stay with my Mum in York and I still get excited at the beautiful red brick, Victorian building. In June 2013 I was able to take my Oaks class to have a tour of my old school, one evening during our residential. It is much bigger than Grayrigg, although it was relatively small in numbers when I attended. The school suffered a fire in 1996 as a result of which it now boasts the original red brick exterior with the most stunning purpose built classrooms inside. It has been so well thought out â€“ the teachers must love the environment in which they have to work.
When I attended, the school only used the downstairs and the classrooms were still as they had been in the Victorian era, albeit with much more modern furniture and grouped tables. However it wasn’t the high windows that let in lots of light and air, or the beautiful red brick that made my primary years so special, it was the people and most importantly the teachers. I have fond memories of each and every one.
Being a September baby, I was more than ready for school and the Headteacher allowed a few of us to start early. Our first teacher was Mrs Hawthorn. A child’s first teacher must make them feel loved, cared for and welcomed. Mrs Hawthorn was wonderful at this, she called me flower - she probably called everyone flower but to me it was her special name for me because when she spoke to me she made me feel special. I also remember the blue skirt in the dressing up box - I really wanted to wear it so I could dance around like a ballerina (some things never change) but a girl called Sophie was wearing it. She said I could have it when she finished but then she never took it off all afternoon. I remember feeling disappointed but then the next day I went into school and the blue skirt was on the back of my chair waiting for me. Mrs Hawthorn had put it there especially for me because I had been so patient the day before. I had no idea she had taught me and the rest of the class a valuable lesson about patience - I just felt special. The key to Mrs Hawthorn was she noticed the little things.
Then I moved into Mrs Patchett’s Class. Mrs Patchett again was a lovely infant teacher. It was Mrs Patchett who taught me to love children’s books, as she was the person who read “the owl who’s afraid of the dark.” In my opinion, a book that should be read to every infant child. A book I have read to the Acorn’s class and my own children, a book that still gives me goose pimples. I also think Mrs Patchett was the first person to tell me off. Katie Stapylton and I fell out over the fuzzy felt board, which we fought over and ripped. I remember her disapproving glance, I remember the way silence fell over the class, and I also remember crying. She didn’t shout, she knew there was no need - she talked to us about what we could and should have done when we both wanted the same thing. She also taught me that when we make mistakes, we can move on. That not everyone is perfect and that is OK as long as we say we are sorry and we learn from our mistakes.
Next I had a year with Mrs Hamilton and Mr Laycock the Headteacher. I will talk about Mr Laycock later, but Mrs Hamilton I remember for two completely irrelevant reasonsâ€¦. We shared a birthday, and we both had the same watch purchased for Â£1 from York market. Of course these things didn’t make Mrs Hamilton special - no it was a third thing we had in common that made her special. EMARRASSING STORY ALERT: At the end of the day, we would put our chairs on the tables and all stand and say the end of the day prayer. During this prayer, I was obviously desperate to for the toilet but tried to hold it. As I said the prayer the wee trickled down my leg and left a puddle on the floor around my feet. Nobody noticed. I was wearing a skirt so it wasn’t completely obvious. I said nothing and hoped nobody had noticed. The next day it had been cleared up and nobody said anything. At playtime, Mrs Hamilton asked me to do a job to help her out. Once the others had gone out, she asked me about the “little accident” on the floor. She told me I must never worry about waiting and that I could just go if I really needed the toilet. She also noticed that I was embarrassed so she told me the third thing we had in common - she used to wet herself at school all the time. She still did it when she was much older than me. The thing is, with hindsight, I know she probably made that up but she wanted me to feel OK about my little accident so she embarrassed herself a little to make me feel better - and it worked.
My next teacher was Mr Bedford. He taught me the importance of creativity in school. He loved art and had the tidiest art cupboard in the world - now in the juniors we all loved it if we got to tidy the art cupboard. With every topic Mr Bedford gave us the opportunity to be creative- taking our learning beyond knowledge and skills. He also involved us in planning. At the time, I didn’t realise he did this but with hindsight, he always involved us in deciding what to do next. Out of all the teachers I think he was my favourite.
Mrs Green in years 5 and 6 was the teacher who always seemed scary until you were in her class. She taught me to compete with myself and nobody else. Maths was my strongest subject. We used some terrible text books called 5 a-day and when you finished it you went onto 6 a-day and so onâ€¦ I got ahead of others, so she showed me how to use the answer book - she trusted me with it and therefore I didn’t betray the trust. When I got stuck, I looked up the answer then worked out how to get to it. I never just wrote it down because she’d trusted me with the teachers mark book - I was proud. I wasn’t as good at reading. I wasn’t bad either; I just wasn’t as good as Jane and Frances. They were on level 13 and I was on level 10. I remember wanting to be on the higher books and Mrs Green telling me that it wasn’t a race. She reminded me that I was always the first to laugh when she read us the Just William stories. She explained that it proved I was a great reader - I just needed to take my time - if I rushed and missed some of the steps then I wouldn’t understand books as well and she wanted me to be able to laugh (and cry) at the books that I read myself as much as I laughed when she read to us. Anybody who had Mrs Green as a teacher will either cheer or moan at the mention of Just William, as she read them to us all whether we wanted to hear them or not!
I apologise for the length of this blog but I really have saved the best until last - my wonderful Headteacher Mr Laycock. My first educational hero - I could talk about him for hours. We all adored him. We never feared him but we would never have wanted to let him down. Even though he was a non-teaching head for most of the time, he always spent some time with the children. I also had the pleasure of being taught by him in the afternoon during upper infants (now year 2). As a Head, I remember he came and read to us at least once a week - I still have a copy of “The Turbulent Term of Tyke Tyler” in my own classroom - the first book I ever heard that has a really naughty word in it. It’s a brilliant book that challenges your thinking and stereotypes.
During my time at Park Grove, my Mum was chair of the PTA. The meetings were held in the evening at our house. Before we went to bed, my brother and I would help Mum get the best china out for the meeting, enough cups and saucers for everyone - except Mr Laycock. Every meeting, I would place my Liverpool FC mug on the tray for Mr Laycock (who was a huge Man Utd fan). James and I would be sent to bed and without fail every meeting, no matter how tired our little joke became, Mr Laycock would call out loudly - in mock disdain at the mug he had been given. I know these little things don’t sound much but they all mattered. Of course, Mr Laycock inspired me in many more ways than playing along with the mug joke, but it was these little things that let us know he cared and that he wanted the best for us. I still remember his music club. As many of you know, my thing was dancing, I never learned to play an instrument but I turned up to music club and Mr Laycock found a place for me in the school “orchestra.” He made me feel like the bongos were the most important instrument in the world. Although most of the other children in the group could read some music, Mr Laycock told me that my dancing meant I had a very strong sense of rhythm and that without me the whole performance would fall apart. I still can’t listen to the song “Yesterday” without tapping my hands. I also remember my Mum turning up at the end of the school day, when I was meant to be staying to practice my bongo playing. She had come to take me home because my rabbit Flopsy was very poorly. I went home upset, the next day Mr Laycock came to my class first thing to see how I was because he understood that losing my first proper pet was an important moment in my life. To him, this was just part of his job; to me it meant the world. Mr Laycock made me feel that I mattered, and he did the same for everyone else in his school because we did matter to him.
I did well at primary school, I was average at English but had firm enough foundations to build on - I now have an English degree. I was well above average in maths, I loved school and did well in all subjects. I suppose I was one of those kids that was always going to be OK, but I learned to love education. I still love learning, I know what to do when things are hard, I’m not scared to ask for help from somebody more experienced or skilled than me, I know that pride is a waste when it comes to learning, I know that mistakes give me opportunities to learn and I am a very resilient learner. When unexpected things are thrown at me, I don’t panic and I see the worth in surrounding myself with amazing people. I also learnt that it’s ok to cry, to stop and take time when you need it, to not be perfect, because nobody gave me an expectation to meet they just pointed me in the right direction, wound me up and set me going. I wonder if Mr Laycock even knows I followed in his footsteps and became a head teacher - he may never know.
Whether their primary experience was a good one or a bad one - all teachers need to look back on their own childhood learning experiences and learn from them - steal the great things, learn from the bad things, but never, ever forget what it was like to be a child. Education will change but children won’t and as far as I’m concerned, every child deserves to look back on their childhood, their early school days and cry tears of happiness (which is what I am doing now). So to Mr Laycock, Mr Bedford, Mrs Green, Mrs Hamilton, Mrs Patchett and Mrs Hawthorn â€“ thank you for inspiring me and teaching me the important things as well as the other stuff - I am eternally grateful for the start you gave me.← back to the blog