Remember me this way;Books

1st January 1999 at 00:00
Want to leave your mark? Try writing your memoirs - at the very least it could help you make sense of a life at the chalkface. Gerald Haigh explains, in his own words

Stories about schools and teachers do not naturally grab the attention - and there lies the problem for anyone who wants to set down their memories of teaching, or tell the history of a school. You may enjoy the writing - and perhaps that's enough - but attracting a wider readership can prove difficult.

Clare Smith, for many years a teacher of less able children at Friesland School in Derbyshire, was aiming at friends and local people with her unpretentious and satisfyingly brief publication, I Did it My Way (pound;2.50 inc pamp;p from Mrs Smith at 102 Corporation Road, Ilkeston, Derbyshire DE7 4AX). But she tells her tale well, and has had a wider response. What can you do but admire a teacher who writes: "Being middle-aged, fat and homely, I was able to hug any pupil, even 16-year-old boys, without anyone thinking ill of me. Often all a pupil in distress needed was a comforting hug." Amen to that.

Christopher Greenfield, a former head of the Quaker School at Sidcot, Somerset, extends his own memoir into a school history - By Our Deeds - that goes back to 1698 (pound;3 inc pamp;p from Island Publications, Sidcot School, Winscombe, North Somerset BS25 1PD). He keeps up the interest with a string of entertaining anecdotes - chapter headings include "Sidcot's Midnight Runners" and "The Train Busters". Mr Greenfield's laconic style works well. ("Old scholars sometimes are able to give me more information than I was aware of at the time of some particular activity.") Kenneth F Ascott, though a former teacher in a local school, provides a history rather than a memoir in The Education of Wadhurst (pound;16.95 from The Book Guild, 25 High Street, Lewes, East Sussex BN7 2LU), an account of schooling and community life in Wadhurst, East Sussex. His book draws heavily on school logbooks. Do today's heads keep logbooks as meticulously as their predecessors did? ("23 May 1905. Lesson on radishes. Each child being supplied with one. Some long radishes were then modelled in clay.") Such a book will appeal to many locals, as well as contributing to the wider history of education.

David N Robinson's The Kidgate Story (pound;7 inc pamp;p from Louth Naturalists', Antiquarian and Literary Society, The Museum, 4 Broadbank, Louth, Lincolnshire LN11 6EQ), about Kidgate School in Louth, fills the same sort of slot and also makes use of logbooks (June 1895: "Attention must he paid to slate cleaning or the Department grant may be lost").

In Lancing College: a portrait (pound;15 paperback, pound;25 hardback, plus pound;2 postage from Lancing College, West Sussex BN15 0RW) Jeremy Tomlinson, senior master, gives us an anecdote-packed guide. His book is beautifully produced on good paper that does justice to the many photographs which fill a large part of every page. It will delight anyone who has connections with the college, and be a valuable source for historians of public schools.

There are other ways into immortality - having your assemblies recorded verbatim, for example. It may seem unlikely, but it's happened to Patrick Tobin, principal of Daniel Stewart's and Melville College, Edinburgh, in Sweet Wells (pound;8.95 inc pamp;p from John Catt Educational, Great Glemham, Saxmundham, Suffolk IP17 2DH). The nine talks reproduced are not strictly assemblies - each year Mr Tobin gives an address at the school's Remembrance Day service, and the governors rightly decided they were worthy of a wider audience.

Each one is literate, absorbing and moving, and although the focus is on former pupils fallen in two world wars, the reader ends up knowing quite a lot about Mr Tobin, his beliefs and his values: "There is little point in us holding memorial services and speaking fine words about the sanctity of life unless we really mean that for ourselves - unless we value all life, including that of the handicapped child, the mentally ill, the terminally ill, all those who are brutalised and exploited in today's world." Of all the books here, this is the one I have passed on to a friend and re-ordered for myself.

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