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Thank you doesn’t cover it

Wednesday 20 May 2020

#ThankATeacher Day is on 20 May this year. Peter Jolly, retired deputy head Leeds Grammar School and GSAL, in his own words, has quite a few teachers to thank.  

I have been indebted to and inspired by teachers all my life. My euphoria in learning and therefore in teaching was injected in infancy.  

Learning to swim from my dad (he was a champion,) to ride a bike, to sprint (he was a champion,) to sing (he was a chorister) and to use the ‘God given’ shape of my instep against a football (he was a champion at that too) abides yet, as does my mum teaching me to bake, to ice a cake immaculately, to use a sewing machine and to iron accurately at speed. Come to think of it, she was getting me ready for lockdown! 

My entrapment tightened. On starting infant school at five, I fell madly in love with my class teacher Miss Harper. Sadly, she thought me too young (a view she might now be prepared to revise in her mid-nineties.) However, I was always thanking her and I still do. 

My infant education was provided by teachers that my dad assured me had taught him 25 years earlier. We were taught to be useful and we were happy. “Hold on to your good character – it is and always will be your greatest possession,” one of them wrote in my autograph book. I claim nothing for my character but what a message for a seven-year-old! The headmaster, Arthur Buckley, and his colleagues, took us, Lancashire mill town children who hardly knew about grass, youth hostelling in the Yorkshire dales, a life-changing revelation. These good teachers somehow got me in to state grammar school where…. 

Headmaster Bill (but to the boys “Fred”) March took the stage of our silent assembly and bade us sit by lowering his index finger an inch. Frank Gleeson taught me PE. He had been a paratrooper and no-one had told him the war was over. He sent me to the corner shop for a sandwich which I dropped on an unadopted road and filled with grit and stones. “Don’t worry about that lad,” he said and ate the lot in front of me. Historian Gordon Hedges directed our plays: Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme, Breaking Point, Chips with Everything. Brian Holden took us carol singing round the district, sounding his concert A tuning fork off the lamp posts. Hardly anyone had TV or knew what double glazing was. We were heard…. and people came out to listen to acapella in four parts. 

Derek Walters made us sing not only Gaudeamus at Speech Day but Zadok the Priest. Rugby coach, published course book author and maths teacher Owen Elbourne hauled me painstakingly to matriculation and a place at Durham University 

Eddy Provis took us rowing every week. Head of department ‘Bull’ Ramsey taught Gnomes’ Law. “It’s all done by gnomes really” and believed in physics by destructive testing. “Mrs Lloyd,” he would bellow to the long-suffering lab technician, “look what we’ve done!” Apparently aged (he probably wasn’t) English teacher ‘Wally’ Watkins taught so graphically, I could repeat his grammar lessons now. “Er, that’s American. Avoid it. Twelve boys come with me” … and we would bring the whole damned dictionary back from the library just to make the point. At Durham, biology came from the celebrated character, botanist David Bellamy, another inspiration, although he often forgot he was supposed to be lecturing and I would remind him at his office door at five past the hour. Prof Smith, psychology, persuaded me to “set his tedious statistics course to music” and ex LGS PE man Ken Hardman took our varsity athletics squad on tour to Germany and caused me to apply for Carnegie as a post grad.  

…and so to LGS. Tempting though it may be, I must stop naming names. It would be invidious by omission. I have spent a privileged career in the most remarkable company, affording me the experience of language exchanges; a tour of the USSR (sic,); the adventures of the uniformed organisations; tenuous tuition on the Alpine blacks after resident coaches had abandoned me in despair; and New Zealand rugby first hand. A 40-year master class with colleagues who not only re-taught me my own subject but also theirs and enabled me to get by, seat of pants fraying all the way.  

Thank you doesn’t cover it. 



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