'When I hung my coffee mug on another teacher's hook I was almost lynched'

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'When I hung my coffee mug on another teacher's hook I was almost lynched'


Frank remembers teaching in London.


Frank Gaynor


Trinity College Dublin




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Frank Gaynor

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Work and Employment


Life Story

Spatial Coverage

London, England

Temporal Coverage


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In September we moved to Golders Green, which is noted for its large Jewish population. We were within walking distance of Hampstead Heath, which is one of the highest points in London and a wonderful place for long walks and fresh air. Nearby was a short avenue that attracted considerable attention because each of the houses on the avenue was then valued at over one million pounds. While living in Golders Green I spent a term in a school in Bethnal Green in the East End of London. Bethnal Green had suffered aerial bombardment in World War 11. In one incident in 1943, at Bethnal Green tube station, 173 people were killed. This was followed by social housing developments. By 1980 it had become a difficult social area. I found myself in a kind of small private school, catering for boys and girls aged 8 to 16. I was ill - prepared for teaching in this school. All the children came from difficult home backgrounds. When two 15 - year - old boys got involved in a serious fight I made the mistake of trying to separate them, and soon found myself with about five other boys on my back. I once turned my back on the class, as I demonstrated something on the board, and was immediately pelted with a great variety of objects, including potentially dangerous drawing instruments. I was expected to have a surprising range of information. When I asked one boy to write down something he said: 'Don't you know that I left my pen on the bus this morning' - I didn't know that. When I asked a girl to sit quietly and read the handout I had passed around she said 'Don't you know that I have no knickers on and that I am sticking to the seat when I sit down' - I didn't know that either. In a class of 9 - year - olds there were two pleasant boys of Asian origin who acted as if they were totally deaf; they completely ignored everything I said, and continued walking around, climbing over desks, and generally acting as though nobody else was in the room. It was nearby Victoria Park, with its acres of green grass and mature trees that kept me sane during those crazy days at the school. In January I moved to a highly regarded catholic girls' secondary school in North London where the headmistress, Sister John, could best be described as a benevolent dictator. She conducted staff meetings the way Kamuzu Banda conducted his cabinet meetings; not one member of staff questioned anything she said or did. On the credit side, under her stewardship the school ran very smoothly and efficiently, and the girls were a pleasure to teach. As with most schools, trying to teach Class 3D on a Friday afternoon was challenging. The staffroom, which was built for a staff of 20, frequently had over 40 teachers sitting tightly together as they rushed through lesson preparation, and checking students' work. There was ongoing tension in that staffroom. When I hung my coffee mug on another teacher's hook I was almost lynched. During a meeting with my head of department, in his office, when I dropped a piece of paper into a wastepaper basket beside his desk he ordered me to take it out again. This was a crazy world, and I longed to be back in Africa. British teachers, who came to Malawi and taught at Providence secondary school, frequently mentioned that they found it difficult to teach in a school where the failure rate was up to 60% - that would not happen in Britain, they assured me. In this school in North London I discovered that only one - third of the students in any one year were entered for the regular O - Level exams. The rest, who were likely to fail at O - Level, were steered onto less demanding courses. In Malawi, unfortunately, we did not have the luxury of a range of courses to offer to our students.


Irish Research Council for Arts, Humanities & Social Sciences (IRCHSS)

Research Coordinator/P.I.

Dr Kathleen McTiernan (Trinity College Dublin)

Senior Research Associate

Dr Deirdre O'Donnell (Trinity College Dublin)


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