It is the season when trainee teachers are looking for jobs. CVs are not accepted by schools advertising vacancies and the application forms for teaching posts are rarely identical; each school having its own criteria. Much of my experience is ancient history for any potential employers and I cannot imagine that many would now be interested in my experience of special education almost four decades ago.
Being nineteen years old and and having done very little, the options that might fill a year out of university were very limited. The ideal would have been to have travelled overseas, but who would have wanted a teenager with no skills? An organisation called Community Service Volunteers offered possibilities closer to home; the chance to do something for board and lodge and £10 a week pocket money.
There was an interview and then a letter advising me that I was being offered the opportunity to work as an assistant house parent at a boys special school run by the Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and Mary at Cranleigh in Surrey. It was an intimidating prospect, I wasn’t sure I knew any Roman Catholics and I had never met a nun. I was given a telephone number to make the necessary arrangements. We had just had a telephone installed at home, it might have been the first call I made from our own phone. A charming lady assured me that they would be looking forward to my arrival and checked details of the train on which I was to arrive.
So the day arrived. With more or less everything I possessed in the world in my case, my parents drove me to Yeovil Junction station to await a London-bound train. There was a deep sense of gloom as we sat in the station cafeteria, making the odd attempt at conversation. Finally, a big yellow-fronted locomotive hauling a line of compartment carriages pulled in and I stepped aboard.
The journey to Guildford meant a change at Woking. Identifying the charming lady to whom I had spoken presented no problem; the plain blue jacket and skirt and short blue veil were not hard to spot in an English county town. There was a warm smile and cheery greeting and we stepped into a white Austin Maxi – and so my experience of special education began.
Few of those at the school would now be outside of mainstream education and I learned virtually nothing about the teaching they received. My task was to help care for them from 7-9, 12-2 and 4-9 from Mondays to Fridays. It was hard and tiring and memorable work – but not the stuff that would catch the eye of someone reading an application form.