The Country School Teacher

CHAPTER 14 – The Country School Teacher 1973-77

Tararua College was a co-educational State school and which prided itself on looking after new teachers. It prided itself also in the professionalism of its staff, the Heads of Departments eventually becoming key teachers and leaders in education in New Zealand.

Nick Gaudin was a brilliant Geography teacher and a natural leader of men. He was tautly and sharply aggressive. He took no prisoners. He treated all with short words and an incisive decisions. He was immensely respected as a principal and as a teacher. He expected high standards from all – staff and students alike. He knew and loved music and created one of the first LP recordings in New Zealand of a school choir.

If the school needed to learn a new song, Nick would assemble the whole 750 boys and girls. He would get them to stand and to remember a number he would give them and walking along the bench seats he would ask each boy and girl their name. He would give them a number. From their voice he had decided who were basses, tenors, altos, sopranos and that was their number. Then within 10 minutes the whole school would be divided into four parts ready for the first lesson in the song. Staff were to stand among them and if any boy did not sing or interrupted the proceeding they were to take them out and cane them instantly. He got results.

I was given two very good pieces of advice by him: one, expect only one concept or fact or one thing for the class to learn in one lesson but totally expect it; and, two, better to be a strong-eyed heading dog using your eyes for control, rather than a yapping hunter and your voice.

He beat me at our first squash encounter and never sought another game.

Evan Simonsen was the head of History and Social Studies. He was a most excellent teacher of French and History. His wife, Mary, taught English. Through him I could aspire to accurate and detailed lessons delivered with quiet determination.

Rediscovering Classical Music

Hugh Mackay was my head of English. He was a great and well-liked and respected teacher. Immensely learned in English and French literature, in teaching and in classical music. He encouraged all aspects of creative learning yet had a passion for handing on the “flag” of Western civilisation. I am so grateful to him for his introducing me to Haydn. Up until 1974 I was still under the enthrallment of pop music, Bach and Mozart I had put away since 1966. Hugh taught me how to listen to true Classical music. If I could come to understand the structure, then the understanding would give way to enjoyment. And that I did. The World Record Club had special editions of all of Haydn’s symphonies, and I came to enjoy his minuets and his slow movements, his wit and gentle humour, and rediscovered that unselfconscious art of the pre-Revolutionary world of Vienna. Popular folk music melodies were given centre stage in Haydn’s music. Here was no snobbish aristocrat but a kind, gentle, funny and intelligent master of music. To this day I still prefer him to Mozart.

“Anthrax”

But there were others on the staff who brought me down into the world of the 1970s: Roger Smith, the art teacher, a rock drummer; and Peter Hubbard, English teacher and bass player. One day they mused about forming a rock band. Roger’s carpenter friend in town, Marty Hunt, was an ex-lead guitarist of the Gods, a UK rock group, was keen to start one up, and I played rhythm guitar. So we formed a rock group called Anthrax (being in farmland as we were), years before the famous group of that same name were invented. We were to play at school dances. And so my short career as a rock guitarist started on stage in the college hall covering the Cream, the Stones and other contemporary favourites of the other members of the band. The kids enjoyed the show but I look back now so happy that the whole thing ended after three performances. During this time, Clarissa became friends with Roger’s and Marty’s sons.

The Musical Director takes up the Cello

But good was to come of all this. Late in 1976, the college music teacher came to me with the proposal that we together produce the musical “Joseph” for the college prizegiving. It had yet to become the famous musical. It was still the 25-minute version – ideal for a prizegiving slot. I was to be musical director. And, of course, our rock group would be the rhythm section for the show. During the preparation for this show I learned to be a conductor, a choir director, and I learned to read scores and to alter them. It was a great, unexpected success and it gave me greater confidence to handle school musicals and drama productions. The next year I produced a school play, and tried my hand at writing a little musical pastiche.

I had become quite bored with pop and rock music. Yes, I bought a couple of Uriah Heep records and toyed with Bob Marley’s reggae, and firmly rejected the growing cult of Pink Floyd. I yearned for substance. The experience of producing a musical, strengthened a growing desire for formal structure, discipline and grace. Haydn had touched me. And so I took up the cello. Bought an absolute “dunger” of a cello and took my first few lessons from a teacher in Palmerston North, lessons which ended when we left Pahiatua. It was to be many years later that I again took up the challenge of learning the cello.

Country Catholic Kids

Over those two years 1976-77 I also set out to form a Catholic youth group. Many Catholics could not afford nor want to send their children away to private boarding schools. There was a demand for some kind of support for senior students who no longer needed the old CCD lessons. They needed the same kind of level of learning of the Faith that they were expected of other areas of knowledge at school. I limited the group to Forms 6 and 7 students. We met each month and sometimes more and discussed a huge range of doctrinal and moral issues at families’ homes. This group brought out a gentler and more tolerant me. These young men and women were some of the finest and most virtuous people I had ever come across. They were an inspiration to me and in some ways made me determined to stay in Pahiatua. My heart reached out to them. Nancy Dowdal, mother of one of the girls was dying of cancer over the last year, and Nancy and her husband gave us much support during this time. When I left Pahiatua, some appeared at our home in Hastings many years later.

So, by 1977, I looked for promotion as a history teacher, for continuing the Youth Group and to settle in town by buying a house in Pahiatua. Firstly, we sold our house in Christchurch and bought one in Pahiatua. Secondly, I applied for the new HoD of History position when Evan Simonsen got the plumb position at Havelock North High School. Nick appointed someone else and so I started becoming restless and communication between us broke down, especially since I wanted to teach more History and less English. I misread the signals about the position being mine. Aubynne wanted to return to teaching and now knew that she would not get a position at Tararua College soon.

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