St Thomas Moore - best school I ever taught in

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Re: St Thomas More’s Catholic School, Halifax. can there be anybody still alive who remembers being at St Thomas More’s in 1959? It was my first (unqualified) teaching job and I had to cover the maths teacher’s maternity leave.

The building was brand new and I had to hurtle across Bradford on my BSA350 up and beyond Queensbury as far as Catherine Slack or Slack Bottom where a precipitous goat track led down to the school at Holmfield.

It was a lovely place to work, the staff and students warm and welcoming. In my classroom I had a superior green leatherette revolving ‘blackboard’, the only one I ever saw.

My first class was 3B Girls (a mixed school, but boys/girls lessons were separate). I approached them with some trepidation, but they were quite fun, really. After all, I was only slightly older than they were.

There was Lorna Cornwall, Mary Roche, Ann Kenneally, Stella Webster, and also Eileen Conroy, and in Form One Michael Martin who climbed out of the window to get away from my maths lesson.

One parent came in to complain. She said she had got up that morning a bag of wrecks (it’s apparently a cross between a bag of nerves and a nervous wreck - perhaps a Catholic or a Halifax ailment).

The staff were the most helpful I have ever known, putting right my many mistakes and giving me hints, tips and wrinkles left right and centre. One of my duties was to check that hands had been washed at the dining room entrance. I concentrated hard on this, and I caught one miscreant. “Get those hands washed,” I roared, looking up at his grinning face, which was, if anything blacker. He was my very first African student.

Few staff had transport in those days, Jim O’Reilly, the head, came on a moped; John Bradley, the music/choirmaster came on an Ariel Leader, a strange, innovative motor bike with a rigid front mudguard which didn’t turn when the wheel did, providing an unnerving experience for me when we swapped bikes for the steep run up to the pub at Bradley. We had nearly two hours for lunch in those days and it was remarked how sweet-natured we were in the afternoons.

The Halifax payment system was interesting. Once a month the council sent round a large wooden bread tray with the teachers’ brown paper pay packets ranged across it in alphabetical order and the amount of cash within written on the outside. There was a mad rush to the staffroom when it arrived. My pay packet (O’H) was always laid on top of the head’s (O’R), so as I lifted mine up I couldn’t help noticing that his was about five times more than mine. He got £108 against my £20, but at least it was cash. Nevertheless this figure represented a substantial drop in pay for me, as during the previous holiday I had been earning at least £64 a month on the buses.

Jim ran a happy school for everybody, and the social activities were many and varied, his deputy, Mr Ruane, I found rather a severe character, until we had a few free drinks together at Sally Smithson’s 21st birthday party. He recited a Stanley Holloway monologue with his back to the fire, and received a standing ovation. It was called Sam’s Medal. I remember too with great affection other staff - Eileen Frain, Brian Smith, who wrote on sport for the Telegraph & Argus for many years. Geoff Heaton, who played a mean, bluesy piano, Ken Barratt, who taught English, along with Mr Peace, Mr Monaghan (head of maths), and of course John Bradley who got a terrific sound out of the choir, and Mr and Mrs McGuire. It was a wonderful introduction to teaching.

Halifax, as an employer, seemed very nice, never in your face, like some councils, and they used to put on cultural events for new employees, such as little concerts and recitals. Brian Smith and Ken Barratt took me along on the Whitsun Youth Hostelling trip to the Lakes, where we stayed at hawkshead, Windermere, Ambleside and Patterdale. We even did Striding Edge, not an easy route up helvellyn, where we met a city gent with bowler hat and rolled umbrella coming the other way.

That holiday trained me up for a lifetime of school trips of my own, and I shall be ever grateful. St Thomas More’s was the best school I ever taught in, and I often wonder whatever happened to its students and staff.

Mr D O’Hara

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