Our head recently received a letter from a gentleman who had attended the school as far back as 1933. In the letter he said, “Each school day started with The Plunge, a shallow unheated indoor pool in each house which had to be traversed by each of us before gaining access to a warm shower. Teaching filled the morning, while sports filled all the afternoons except Fridays when we had Cadets. Rugby and Cricket were compulsory while Swimming and Squash
were voluntary. When sport was impossible because of the invading mists the whole school went on a Cross-Country run”.
It seems there was no escape from physical exercise. While sports on a Saturday were a given, even on a Sunday boys were expected to be outside, “Every Sunday after attending Chapel the whole school was issued with substantial sandwiches and sent out on “Free Bounds”. We spread out over the surrounding countryside, mostly in small gangs, where we established our territories and built our huts in the vicinity of friendly streams.”
The letter went on to say. “Things were different then because the only time we met our House Master was at the beginning and end of the term”. Who could say that about a House Master today (except maybe his wife)? It seems the one pastoral role Housemasters had, and perhaps took to with relish, was that of discipline. According to our letter writer, other than the beginning and end of term the only other visits to the House Master were “to bend over in his office while we were given four strokes of the cane, and occasionally six, for some misdemeanour”.
Things today of course are very different. In this blog Peter Huntley, with pastoral experience in two different schools, shares a typical day in the life of the modern House Master.
Around 06h35 every week day morning an ear-splitting blast of “whistle music” reverberates around the St Michael’s quad – it is said that the sleeping inmates of more than just the intended House are roused from their slumbers by this rude noise! And so begins the day of the Housemaster: The first round of pill dispensing, roll call some 5 minutes later, remembering specific messages for certain boys, checking hair growth, dress code and the fact that “Bloggs” has vanished to the san having being “caught short” by a mystery gastro virus! Despite all the distractions, the all-important “Blue slip” or attendance record, is filled in and despatched with an eager runner.
Next up is the breakfast “watch’ – junior dining hall is no place for the faint-hearted, as the hungry hordes descend en-masse for their early morning sustenance (especially if the toxic pink cereal is on offer). This can become a “dog show” of sorts, primarily if a certain Housemaster’s hounds arrive to add to the melee…Inspection follows shortly after, and it almost requires a miracle worker to juggle this, the second round of pill dispensing and the releasing of cell phones, tablets and laptops from the locked cupboard in the office! Enough to fit into a whole morning perhaps, but for us, just the first 50 minutes of the day – now off to impart knowledge to the expectant “sponges” in the classroom…
The academic day passes in a blur mostly, as in between, or during lessons, one fields calls from concerned parents regarding ID books, early flight departures, poor academic progress and Bloggs’ mystery gastro virus! On the staff front; numerous e-mails clutter the cyberspace informing the Housemaster of numerous errant boys – bunkers, shirkers and defaulters, all of whom need to be dealt with immediately! Depending on the time of the year, the day could also be interspersed with “new boy” interviews, writing Grade 12 testimonials or chasing down senior boys who have illegally brought vehicles on to the estate…
With one or two other meetings thrown in, a sport practice to conduct, papers to mark and even on occasion, ones own life to keep on track, the sun starts setting in the valley. The Housemaster’s final frontier – will the tutor arrive on time? Wander through the House just to ensure an academic ethos is being maintained, chat to Bloggs about his terrifying gastro bug, exchange pleasantries with a few others and retire to the sanctity of one’s home; just in time to field a few more e-mails from parents with genuine or perceived concerns about their boys…
Peter Huntley’s career as a House Master has spanned 14 years with a mini break between his time as the Superintendent of a Senior House at a top state school and then a move to his present “calling” as a House Master in the Independent school sector. He says every day still presents new challenges and opportunities for “an old dog to learn new tricks!” but that ultimately he would not change it for anything!