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News > Staff > Teacher Feature: Ian Nicholls (1982-2015)

Teacher Feature: Ian Nicholls (1982-2015)

We heard from Modern Languages teacher and Head of Lower School, Ian Nicholls
3 Nov 2022
Ian Nicholls with OH Becky Johnson at the recent Hull Annual Dinner 2022
Ian Nicholls with OH Becky Johnson at the recent Hull Annual Dinner 2022

How many years did you teach at Hymers College?

33 years from 1982 to 2015.

What did you teach at Hymers College and what was your position?

I started my teaching career at Hymers in September 1982, having been tempted away from my first post at Andrew Marvell School by the one and only Geoff (Piggy) Wilson, genius Head of Modern Languages. Whilst completing my PGCE qualification at Hull University back in 1979, I had already done a six week teaching practice at Hymers - what a scary place for a new teacher!! - one of the main reasons why I always felt empathy with youngsters coming into the school for the very first time!

Over the years, I taught French and German to A Level/Oxbridge, later taking over the role as Head of German, following the retirement of the legend that was Tony Tordoff. I was also co-opted to teach Spanish in both the Junior School and Year 7.

Additionally, I was able to work with the Games Department, and had the opportunity to referee rugby matches, coach the Under 12 cricket team, and latterly the First X1. In an attempt to introduce something new, I also helped form a school basketball team - my fellow coach - also vertically challenged - was none other than Chris Fitzpatrick! It was a tough job demonstrating the slam dunk!!

How have things changed since you first started?

In the early days at Hymers, both the Head and Deputy referred to the teaching staff by their surnames - indeed, the then Deputy, Norman Walker, once interrupted a lesson I was teaching in A4, completely ignored the pupils, and proceeded to tell me not to sit on the desk and to put my jacket on - standards!

I started teaching in the aforementioned A4 armed only with a set of text books, a piece of chalk, and a blackboard to write on - by the time I retired, I had thrown/worked my way through 100’s of pieces of chalk, then felt tip pens, to a state-of-the art digital language lab, electronic whiteboard and mini-iPads, not to mention a remote digital brain, Schoogle, which allowed 24/7 access for staff and pupils to background resources and worksheets - quite the transformation.

Following the retirement of the late John Ashurst, the new Headmaster, Brian Bass, had the vision, not only to accept girls into the school, but also to set up a pastoral system, and offered one of the new roles to me. Although I was initially given the rather antiquated title of “Lower Master” - some wags considered this a very apt title - this was later changed to “Head of Lower School” - which meant responsibility for pupils’ welfare and academic progress in Years 7 & 8, a part of my work I thoroughly enjoyed for almost 30 years. 

Whilst many things changed during my time, what remained unswervingly constant was the motivation of the overwhelming majority of pupils to commit wholeheartedly to every task and challenge put before them by their teachers, not forgetting the key supportive role played by their parents.

What are your favourite memories of teaching at Hymers?

It is almost impossible to select key highlights/memories, as there are so many; however, several stand out:

  • as a linguist working within an outstanding MFL Department, it was always amazing for me to listen to pupils at the end of their 7 years of language learning, holding fluent conversations in the target language on topics ranging from literature to climate change, and a myriad of subjects in between - mind boggling, and something I would never have been able to do at their age! 
  • on the sporting front, together with my good friend and fellow coach, Chris Fitzpatrick, we progressed to the final of the Calypso Cup cricket competition at Headingley with our junior cricket team. This was a national knockout tournament held over 2 years, starting as Under 12’s and finishing at the end of the Under 13 season - we lost in the final, but what an experience for the team along the way. 
  • an unbeaten season with the First X1 cricket team, culminating in lifting the trophy at the Bradford six-a-side tournament. Having scored only 23 from 16 balls, Richard Bell and Danny St Quinten bludgeoned 74 from the next 16 to seal victory over arch rivals QEGS with an over to spare. 
  • meeting German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, in Berlin - now she has retired from office, I hope she has found time to hang up the picture of Hymers College presented to her by Max Caplin! The meeting was in 2013 at the time of the Greek financial crisis when she was spending a considerable amount of time shuttling between Berlin and Athens in an attempt to sort out the problems, and as we lined up for the photograph, she turned to the group and said, and I quote – “in England when you make a photograph, you say cheese – in Germany we now say Greece!!!” Who said Germans don’t have a sense of humour??

  • co-ordinating charity days/events, and helping to raise tens of thousands of pounds for local organisations - the school should be rightly proud of its continued commitment to our community in Hull and beyond.

  • countless music concerts, plays and musicals - some of which I was lucky enough to take part in.

  • dozens of foreign cultural trips, ski trips and cricket tours to St Lucia and Barbados, where pupils not only played on the test ground during the lunch interval, but met the legend that is Sir Garfield Sobers!

What have you done since you left Hymers College?

Faced with changing A levels and a new syllabus for GCSE, I took the difficult decision to retire in July 2015, and whilst I absolutely loved my job, retirement has given me the opportunity to do lots of travelling, and also to spend more time with our grandchildren and family. I have taken groups of friends cycling to Poland in the summer, and skied in the Tatra mountains in the winter. Together with friend, Andy Cawley, we have continued to organise the Humber Bridge Cycle Sportive, this year donating £14,000 to local charities.

Lockdown, grim as it was, presented me with the time needed to write a book which looks at both historical background, and personal reflections about my experiences of growing up in Burnley.

It has been an immense privilege to have had the opportunity to enjoy such a varied career working alongside such amazing pupils and dedicated staff at a school where our own children also flourished.

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