August 2011

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Back to school

To mark the beginning of the new school year in Scotland, our featured item for August is the teaching practice diary of Marie McCallum McDougall (ref: JCE/22/5/6). Miss McDougall trained as a primary school teacher at the Glasgow Provincial Training College (later known as Jordanhill College of Education) from 1945-48. The course required her to spend several hours each week on placement in one of the local schools, observing the teachers’ classroom techniques. In her first year, she was placed at Napiershall Street School in Glasgow; in her second year, at Penilee Primary School in Glasgow; and in her final year she spent four weeks at Arrochar Primary School in Tarbet, and the remainder of the session at Banknock School near Falkirk. Like the other students, Miss McDougall kept a detailed record of her placement sessions, which had to be signed off by the headmaster of the host school.

Miss McDougall was immediately struck by the order maintained at Napiershall Street School, observing that even the infant class ‘tiptoe[d] quietly to take off their coats and hats.’ Their teacher had to work hard to hold the pupils’ attention – a problem ‘caused more by the boys than the girls’ – but succeeded by means of speaking to them clearly and distinctly, varying her manner of teaching lessons, giving the children drill every now and then, and ‘praising each child, for smart answers, good behaviour, and any small sparks of brightness’. Where reading lessons were concerned, ‘praising and the promise of a nice new reading book’ was enough to render all the pupils ‘eager and enthusiastic’.  Miss McDougall also noted that the infant class loved to sing and recite nursery rhymes, and that those with the loudest and clearest voices were allowed to stand at the front of the room to lead the others.

At the same school, she watched the teacher of class III a) employ numerous techniques to ensure discipline, such as having the children sit with their hands behind their heads whilst the register was taken, and giving pupils a black mark against their name for every display of disobedience. Similarly, ‘A black mark is taken off when obedience is shown at any time.’ Anyone with dismal memories of school maths lessons will surely sympathise with this unfortunate class, who were

  . . . somewhat backward especially in arithmetic. They are doing a revision of tables, and division seems very difficult to them. Constant slogging at tables and division is done every morning, first mentally, then in their squared paper jotters.

However, at Napiershall Street Miss McDougall also discovered that ‘A lesson should begin by showing its attractive side first’, and that ‘All work should be “play” for infants’. Oral composition was accordingly taught through word games such as ‘the Minister’s Cat’, where each child in the class suggested an adjective to describe the cat’s appearance and personality. 

Miss McDougall’s placement diary also contains many ideas for primary school handwork (craft) lessons. For example, at Penilee, with Christmas approaching, the ubiquitous silver paper was employed to make a variety of decorations:

Miss McDougall’s placement diary
While on placement, the students also had to prepare and teach a number of lessons on their own, observed and assessed by one of the host teachers who wrote comments in their placement diary. The assessors’ remarks in Miss McDougall’s diary reveal that she initially made the classic mistake of standing in a position that blocked some pupils’ view of the blackboard, and of using particular colours of chalk (mauve, blue and dull red) that could not be seen clearly on the board. Miss Stone, the infant class mistress at Napiershall Street, praised her general manner, but urged her to ‘correct a habit that spoils it: folded arms’. Miss Stone also felt that Miss McDougall ought to keep tighter control over pupils’ behaviour during mental arithmetic lessons: ‘Your oral work should be crisper & move more quickly – then perhaps the snapping & rising would be curbed. Do not allow these disturbances’. However, perhaps the sagest advice to any would-be teacher came from the infant class teacher at Banknock, who encouraged Miss McDougall to ‘Try to be calmer and give [an] impression of reserved power’!

Training record certificate for Marie McDougall Marie McDougall evidently took these and the other constructive criticisms offered by her placement hosts seriously, and always made efforts to address them. On completion of her three years at college, she achieved the grade of ‘Good Plus’ for practical skill in teaching, while her training record (shown on the right) estimated her general capacity as a teacher as ‘Promising’. The glimpse into the classrooms of the late 1940s afforded by her placement diary is not only interesting in itself, but also shows how much (and in some respects, how little) has changed for trainee teachers today.

Anne Cameron, Archives Assistant

Further information:

Papers of Marie McCallum McDougall, including teacher’s certificates, lecture notebooks, needlework samples and snapshots.  GB 249 JCE/22/5/6

M.M. Harrison and W.B. Marker, eds, Teaching the Teachers: the History of Jordanhill College of Education 1828-1993. Edinburgh: John Donald, 1996. Andersonian Library, D 378.4144 HAR

Marie McCallum McDougall (left), pictured with a fellow student.