Edited by Royce Levi
Book Pal, 2011
This is a fine collection of stories by teachers and lecturers who attended the first two years of Bathurst Teachers College, from 1951 to 1952. They call themselves “The Pioneers” and to this day have reunions.
Bathurst Teaching College opened in 1951 following Newcastle (1950), Wagga (1948), Balmain (1946), Armidale (1928) and Sydney Teachers College (1906).
Bathurst Teachers College later became Mitchell College of Advanced Education and, in 1989, Charles Sturt University.
The stories record a generation of teachers who grew up during the austerity, fear and dangers of the World War 2 years and began their teaching careers in 1953, an era dominated by the Cold War and nuclear threat. It was also a time with no television, no internet, no photocopiers, and tremendous teacher shortage, with class sizes up to 60.
Bathurst Teachers’ College trained a generation of excellent teachers. Royce Levi can still account for what he learnt there: “child-centredness as a fundamental focus for everything I taught .... Second was the importance of preparation, powerful initial presentation of subject matter and prompt feedback. In the demonstrations I saw at BTC, and in my own practice teaching, I first noticed how good discipline is when pupils are caught up with interest and are fascinated by what they are doing. Last, but far from least, is the power that a school community has over the lives within.”
A Teachers’ College Scholarship gave many young people the opportunity to enter the profession. It paid fees and accommodation costs and included a small living allowance.
The book includes many stories about “country service” which despatched teachers anywhere in the state; they often had to make long journeys by train to tiny, remote schools, with the choice of living in a pub or boarding with a local family.
Many one-teacher schools in remote locations had no electricity and used a battery-operated radio for teaching scattered students. It was common for schools to have pit toilets. Teachers wrote with fountain pens and used blotters to dry their strokes after marking the roll. They had to make their own glue using cornflower and boiling water.
After graduating from College, teachers were required to teach for three years as probationary teachers to gain their Teacher’s Certificate.
Royce Levi reminisces: “In each of those years, a school inspector visited our classrooms and examined our work: our records, our children’s books, and importantly, our teaching presence .... In those days primary program record books, supplied by the Government Printer, had much space to fill, as we were generalist teachers with many subject responsibilities ... We were required at this school to prepare these programs six weeks in advance. Notes in red were also required, to signify work not taught and to explain why. We also kept daybooks containing descriptions and records of all lessons taught.”
The book documents the very rigorous school inspection system for Lists for Promotions and one wonders whether it is time to revisit this when many teachers question the CV/interview process.
One story describes a teacher’s very first Annual Conference, when Federation moved a recommendation for equal pay. In the 1950s, women teachers were paid 75 per cent of the male wage.
The stories describe a generation of teachers who were profoundly influenced by the educational leadership of their Director-General, Dr Harold Wyndham, who reformed secondary education to create our comprehensive high school system. This was a time when the NSW department of education was a centre of excellence for policy development, curriculum support and research.
The stories reveal many changes to teaching since the 1950s but, as a teacher says: “One thing that has never changed, however, is my strong belief in the importance of what teachers do — day in and day out. Nothing can ever replace their multi-faceted role in a child’s life.”
Another great history about the enormous contributions teachers have made to public education.
Federation member Royce Levi, now in his eighties, still has his casual teaching number and continues to update his website at www.royciebaby.com.