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Those unforgettable days in education

Mike Jenkins, 46, poet and English teacher, Radyr Comprehensive School, Cardiff. I didn't really want to go into teaching - I didn't think I'd be any good at it. But after university I took on a holiday job teaching German students. I was also in charge of looking after the social side of things. I spent most of the time having beach parties. I didn't have much of a clue about teaching German students as such, but they all spoke English really well. The lessons were in the Barry Hotel, and the bar was available - I thought if all teaching was like this it would be a doddle.

My first proper teaching job was in County Derry, Northern Ireland in the mid-1970s. It was a little Catholic secondary modern and the cane was quite rife - I found one in the desk left by another teacher. I was totally horrified and I just refused to give it. In winter time a lot of the kids took off - classes were empt. I said, "What's going on?" They were out working in the potato fields. I said, "Why doesn't the headmaster do anything about it?" It turned out he owned some of the fields.

He was in control of the school. I remember looking at the duty register and seeing the same surname appearing. I thought it was his name - but half his family were the teachers.

At the interview I'd made the mistake of saying I was a Catholic. I was, but I was lapsed - I hadn't been to church since I was seven. When it came to doing the job, they said, "You can take RE," but I hadn't got a clue - I couldn't do the prayers. I also went into RE lessons discussing abortion and the Pill, taking articles from Irish newspapers that said how many Irish girls were going over for abortions.

I don't think that endeared me to the local priest. I was asked to leave, and I must admit I wasn't too sorry to go.

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