Former Teachers of the Rosary School Saltley Birmingham

David J Gowland Teacher 1963-1964

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David J Gowland Teacher 1963-1964

I had attended Bordesley Green Tech as a student and went to Goldsmiths' College for training as a teacher. However, as a very immature student, I managed to fail my examinations! I was told: 'Well, I'm sorry Mr Gowland but I cannot see the management committee allowing you to return to Goldsmiths'. A friend wrote a letter for me basically saying I always wanted to be a teacher [oh yeah?]. The result was a letter telling me that I would need to teach as an un-certificated teacher and study a maths course during the following year. Following that, I could re-do the examinations and return to Goldsmiths'. So I applied for a teaching job in Birmingham and was appointed at the Rosary RC Sec Mod School, and a maths course at Aston Technical College and did research on Birmingham Water Supplies, for Health Education. I continued to enjoy myself but without any really hard work.

 Birmingham 1963-1964

This was a fascinating time in my life. The headmaster was an Irish monk – Brother Nilus and his office reeked of smoke and scotch! Two other senior teachers were also monks – Brothers Bede and Andrew and one was a nun. Almost all the staff were Irish and only two of us were not Roman Catholic. But everyone was friendly.

The standard in the school was for all pupils to greet any adult with a touch of the forelock and by saying 'God bless you'. The adult was expected to respond in kind. Since all pupils had to line up outside classrooms, the start of a session was a wave of 'Bless you Sir's', as I walked along the corridor, followed by the formal greeting from me once in the classroom [God bless you class] and a chorus of 'God bless you Mr Gowland' in a sing-song response before I told them to sit and the lesson could begin. The end of the lesson was exactly the same in reverse! I have never been so blessed - orally!!

On my first day, Brother Bede [the formal discipline in the school] told me to take any pupil to him if they needed punishment. So, lesson one, a pupil speaks out of turn:

'Right, break time to Brother Bede!'
'Please Sir, not Brother Bede!'
'Brother Bede, break time!'

So break time arrives and I escort the boy to Brother Bede's classroom, to find a line of about a dozen boys waiting to be dealt with. Brother Bede comes out, the first boy holds out his hand and is caned. The next steps up and is dealt with likewise and so it goes on. When he reaches my boy, I try to explain what his misdemeanour was but brother Bede says: 'Just a moment Mr Gowland' and canes the boy, then turns to me and says 'Now, why did I cane him?' I didn't need to take any others to be caned.

In my second week at the school, I received an invitation to attend a Past Pupils event at the Wheatsheaf Hotel in Sheldon. Not sure whether I should attend or not, the art teacher, John Shannon, assured me that I should because it would be a great time. So, I arrived to be greeted by a 16 year old and was invited to join a group of about a dozen staff. Brother Andrew asks me what I'm drinking. Not sure what to expect, I responded with 'whatever others are drinking'. 'Fine' he said, 'I'll get it for you' and returned with a double scotch and a pint of bitter! This set he tone for the evening and I never bought a single drink! Needless to say, I was more than a little drunk by the end of the evening [actually, the early hours of the morning]. John and I left together and waited at the bus stop for some time before realising that the night service ended before our stop so began our walk home.

I also discovered that the 4th Friday of the month was a good time for me. The whole [RC membership] of the school attended compulsory 'Confession'. This meant that I had a completely free morning. Somewhat intrigued by this, I asked one of the staff to explain the RC attitude to 'Confession'. He told me that everyone was expected to confess every mortal sin he [or she] had committed 'since the last Good one!' What he actually meant was since the last time he had no mortal sin to confess. But I prefer the idea of a really Good mortal sin!

The close link with the church meant that the caretaker also looked after a social club during the evening, at which alcohol was available and of which he partook liberally! This was not a problem until the winter. One of his jobs was to stoke the coal-fired boilers in the early hours to ensure that the building was heated. Being sadly over-hung, this usually happened at about 11 am and the heat arrived at about 4pm. During the winter of '63/'64, we regularly checked the temperature in the classrooms at 39° F [about 2° C].

On one occasion, as I walked home, I saw a group of about 50 pupils facing a similar group from the next school [Central Grammar]. As I became level, one of our boys turned, flipped his bike chain in his hand and asked [in an Irish accent] if I was going to help them beat up the other group. Needless to say I denied the opportunity and left it to them.

I thoroughly enjoyed teaching at the Rosary School and would not have had a different experience. I finally returned to college and had a successful teaching career albeit not in an RC school. But Rosary had a positive affect on me.

It was over a year after I had left the Rosary, when I was reminded of it again. Walking past a queue for a bus, I was suddenly greeted by 'God bless you Mr Gowland!' by a boy I had taught. Old habits die hard: I replied of course.

One strange thing: I had been a member of St Mary's and St John's CoE, Alum Rock until 1964 but did not really become a Christian until 1995, at a CoE church in Glastonbury, where I am still a member. At one service in 1996, we had someone with a Birmingham accent tell us his testimony. I asked him where he came from and he told me he had been to the Rosary School. I had actually taught him! Yet another God-incidence!

 God Bless

David J Gowland

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