Hello to you all in this new year of 2014. It is time to once again dip my fingers into the mysterious waters of the archival fathoms and bring you yet another specimen. Today it’s the teachers’ reports. ‘Teachers’ reports’ sounds boring, but they look fantastical! Imagine fat, heavy books in stiff bindings; more like wizard’s spell books rather than official documents. Much like wizard’s books, they contain mysteries and secrets, ready for the plucking by those who have patience to read them.
Those I’ve read were from the Battersea Training School 1884-1893, before it became St. Mark’s College. I have to say, it is not easy. The person who wrote in them must have skipped the calligraphy classes, because the scribbles are almost illegible.:-) But if you get used to them you can read straight into the past.
How much one can fit in A3 page? How about somebody’s learning outcomes for two years. In small boxes the teachers put comments on the skills that the students were supposed to obtain. Those were among others: Punctuality, diligence, kindness and sympathy with the boys. If you’re one of the people who are tracing your ancestry, you could see if Great-great-great-gramps was always such a brilliant and talented teacher or was he put down as ‘capricious’ and his punctuality was sadly lacking.:-) Some of the comments can seem oddly personal. Even then, people were not free from personal bias, no matter how professional they tried to look. And now, after nearly 200 years one can only guess if ‘questionable character’ meant that somebody was dishonest or that the teacher and the student just didn’t see eye to eye.
It’s through the teacher’s reports I’ve met an infamous person, whose sad story now can be told with all the compassion and understanding it deserves. But that story is for another post.