Secondary School (04) D.H.S 1964-65 – The Academic Side

November 16, 2015 at 1:30 am | Posted in Australia, Education, Growing up in the 1950s and 60s, Memoir | 13 Comments
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Before World War II, the great majority of pupils who went to high school left at age fifteen or after the Intermediate Certificate in Third Year. Those who wanted a trade could then take on apprenticeships. Relatively few went on to matriculation at the Leaving Certificate (Fifth Year), and those who did were mostly from middle and upper rather than working class families, aiming for white collar jobs or to go to university and into professional employment.

However, between 1947 and 1961, with scientific and engineering advancements made during the 1940s, the proportion of the workforce in professional, technical and other white collar functions expanded. At the same time, in Australia, there was an explosion of immigration, mostly from Europe. This meant more students aiming for higher level employment and so going on to do the Leaving Certificate. Even so, at the end of 1963, three-quarters of the students in my cohort at Dapto High left school to find a job or an apprenticeship, leaving only two classes in Fourth Year – 4A & 4B, about sixty students.

Dapto High School, a year or two after I left

Dapto High School, a year or two after I left

After being in 2B and 3B at Dapto High, my Intermediate results put me into 4A. With a scholarship to pay my way for the last two years, I really settled into my work at Dapto High School. I had come to like the place – though not all of the teachers or other students – and I knew by now that my future would depend on my Leaving Certificate results at the end of Fifth Year.

In the last two years, our six subjects were set. Apart from dropping Business Principles, I followed through on the same subjects as the previous years. The teachers we had were of varying abilities and quality. In most cases, Senior classes were allocated to the heads of department or at least to experienced teachers. However that wasn’t always the case.

In 4th Year, I was one of only two girls doing higher level Maths, which was divided into two subjects: Maths I, based essentially on algebra and calculus; and Maths II, which was mainly geometry and trigonometry. Thus, Maths made up one-third of our whole academic course. Valerie, the other girl in my Maths classes, had gone through the first three years in the A class, so I hadn’t got to know her at all before then. We shared other subjects too, and she was studious like myself. She became the first real friend I’d ever had.

My friend Valerie and me in 1965

My friend Valerie and me in 1965

In Fourth Year, our Maths teacher was a young woman who had no idea of how to get concepts across to the class. I don’t know how experienced she was, but she also had no control over the boys. Valerie and I were upset that we hardly had any chance of successfully getting through the curriculum. It was so obvious, even to us, how having a poor teacher could result in devastating outcomes. Worse, we would be risking two subjects instead of one. Our results in that year’s exams pointed out the severity of the problem

At the start of our final year, we were extremely relieved to have a new Deputy Principal, Mr McKenzie, who was also Head of the Maths department. He took over the senior Maths I and II classes. We all had to work darned hard that year to catch up previous topics and to cover the new ones for that year. I wasn’t keen on the subject anyway, and many of the concepts I found hard to understand. In spite of my efforts, my half-yearly results that year were 50% and 40% – very discouraging. However, with Mr McKenzie’s help, I managed to almost get A in both subjects in the Leaving. Valerie aced it and went on to become a Maths teacher herself.

Class 5A, Dapto High School. I am front row at the right end, with Valerie to my right.

Class 5A, Dapto High School. I am front row at the right end, with Valerie to my right.

Students doing well in a subject were given the option of taking on extra classes to gain an Honours level at the Leaving Cert. I loved English and History, but wasn’t doing as well as I’d hoped. Valerie took the Honours classes in both of those I think, but I decided not to. However, I was doing well in French– top of the class in the Fourth Year half-yearly, and I also enjoyed Biology in spite of the teacher, so I took on the after-school classes I needed to extend my knowledge to gain the higher level. I was the only student in the school to attempt Honours in those subjects.

As well as the exam for the ordinary subject, Honours students had to do a second, more advanced exam. The Leaving Certificate was the highest level one could go to in a New South Wales high school. The curriculum and exams were uniform across the state, so results could be compared. Thus, a school could look at its overall performance on the basis of its students’ L.C. results, and employers could take on the best they could get.

We’d finished our exams by early December, but then had to wait for the results, which didn’t come out until mid-January. They were published in local newspapers – ours The Illawarra Daily Mercury – so it was rather a tense time. Our Certificates were sent to us later. The local radio station also gave out the names of the students who had the highest results in the region. I was astonished when I was one of just a handful mentioned.

My Leaving Certificate

My Leaving Certificate

I received an A for English, B for History, Maths I and II, and Second Class Honours for Biology and French. The Maths results, I found later, had been very high B, almost A. My dedication to study and to doing my best had paid off.

The principal, Mr Stacey, wanted his school to get a 100% pass rate in the Leaving Certificate that year. It was such a big thing with him that he actually tried several times during the year to persuade those he saw as the poorer performing students to leave before sitting the exam. I didn’t find out all this until many years later, and I found it hard to credit that a school principal would jeopardise the future of his students in order to get the credit for himself.

When I look at it now, it is an even better result in that every student, including those he’d tried to get rid of, did indeed pass the Leaving Certificate that year – the first time in the history of the school. The school’s Parents and Citizens organisation even put on a dinner dance later to congratulate the students.

(c)  Linda Visman

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Secondary School (03) – Dapto High 1962-63

November 9, 2015 at 1:30 am | Posted in Australia, Education, high school, Memoir | 8 Comments
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Having spent all my life in a religious environment, and all my education in Catholic schools, I was reluctant to go to Dapto Co-educational High school in 1962. The kids who went there were those who had chanted derisory slogans at the Catholic kids when we had to walk past their school. I could also still hear their chant, “Pommy-whackers stink like crackers”, aimed at anyone who came from England.

Dapto High school badge. The motto means "Strive for higher things".

Dapto High school badge. The motto means “Strive for higher things”.

However, after the Australia Day holiday at the end of January, there was no option but to take the train to Dapto, walk the half-mile from the station to the school, and join my former ‘enemies’ in the classrooms. (Note: the Aussie school year is the calendar year, with summer holidays being six weeks over December and January).

In the academically streamed system then operating, I was assigned to the 2B class instead of the 2A class (I’d been in 1A the previous year at St Mary’s). This was a severe blow to my pride, even though the only reason for the assignment was that I had taken French but not Latin at St Mary’s (strange for a Catholic, I know). At Dapto High, the A classes for Years 1-3 were for those taking both languages; the B class was for those taking only French.

My subjects for the next four years were English (compulsory), Mathematics I and Mathematics II (the top level Maths), Modern History, Biology and French. I also did Business Principles, but dropped it after Third Year. During that first year, I did well enough in all subjects to be in the top five or six in a class of about forty pupils. I think it was my pride that kept me there as much as my ability.

However, I found it difficult to make friends. I found most of the boys to be rowdy and cheeky, and couldn’t understand why anyone would be interested in them. The girls’ constant discussions about boys, clothes and make-up held no attraction for me, so I ignored most of them and concentrated on my work. I did make friends with one girl in my class, Fay, who had also come from England, but we were never close and that faded by the following year.

I loved the History and English teacher, Mr Gordon. He loved his subjects, and enthused many of us. It was through him that I learned how to research and write essays, which became one of my strengths throughout my formal education. English grammar and punctuation was a breeze, thanks to the solid grounding I’d had at St Paul’s. French was another favourite subject at which I did well. I didn’t like Business Principles at all, nor did I like Mr Lynch who taught it. However, I surprised myself, and others, by topping the year in it at the end of the following year (1963).

During that same year, my Maths teacher, Mr Turner, made a comment to me in class that I have never forgotten. In response to something I had said or done in class, he said, “Linda, you have a chip on your shoulder the size of a log cabin!” It took a while for me to come down from my sense of high dudgeon at that, but when I did, I realised the truth of his comment. It was then that the message finally got through to me that I was being a right little sanctimonious prat, and that I needed to change my attitude. I began to accept my situation, the school, the people who were teaching me and those who were my fellow students.

chip on shoulder - wood on top

At the end of 1963, at the Intermediate examinations, I did very well. Mr Turner, apparently surprised at how well I’d done in Maths (not my favourite subject), accosted me outside the classroom afterwards. He congratulated me on my results, and the cheeky response from this little grey mouse was, “Didn’t you think I could do it?” He smiled and walked on. I owe that man big time.

On the basis of those Intermediate Certificate results of 1963, I had been fortunate enough to be granted a scholarship to go on for the next two years, the first in my family to have the chance to graduate. If I hadn’t earned that scholarship, I would have had to leave school, as my brother had to three years earlier. Although Dad had managed by now to force his polio-affected body to perform well enough to return to his physically demanding work of concreting, he didn’t earn much. He was unable to pay the cost of my schooling as well as forego the wages I would have brought into the family by going out to work.

From the six or seven classes in our Third Year cohort, only two classes were left to go on to the senior grades. Most of the kids – we were all now aged fifteen, the official school leaving age – had left after the Intermediate exams. They would hopefully find trade apprenticeships or some kind of unskilled work.

My half year report for 1963

My half year report for 1963

Those of us continuing on to the final two years of high school hoped to be accepted into university or Teachers’ College or to at least get some kind of training for a decent profession. We were assigned to go into either the 4A or 4B class for 1964, and I was extremely pleased that I’d earned my way back to the A class. My pride was mollified by this acknowledgement of my ability and of the hard work I’d put in to prove it over the previous two years.

I had also become used to being at a secular school, and was a little more tolerant of others’ beliefs and values. I found that I was actually looking forward to returning to Dapto High once the 1963-4 summer break was over. Although still reserved and insecure, I was determined to make the most of the educational opportunity I had been given.

(c) Linda Visman

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