|25 May 2023
How many years did you teach at Hymers College and when?
I was a Biology teacher for 31 years, from 1989 to 2020.
Hymers was only the second school I’d worked in, when I was appointed in 1989. I was still fairly young in my teaching career and at that stage it certainly wouldn’t have occurred to me that I’d spend the rest of it in the same school. I was told Hymers had ‘sticky carpets’ by Geoff Underwood, through a cloud of pipe smoke, one break time in my first week. However, it didn’t take long for me to begin to appreciate the special nature and attractions of Hymers and for that matter, Hull and the East Riding.
How have things changed since you first started?
The school at the time was a recent convert to two great things - co-education and the six day cycle. Having attended a mixed school myself, I had no need of persuading of the benefits of the former policy, but as for the six day cycle, I would take some convincing. I was soon to discover its merits as a teacher, however, and contrary to my expectations, pupils had no difficulty remembering which day was which; instead they took an arcane pride in its weirdness compared to every other school they came across.
What are your favourite memories of teaching at Hymers?
I’ve loved teaching Biology at Hymers over the years, more than I can say, and I am immensely grateful to all the pupils who’ve put up with my ramblings - I’m still living down the 45 minute monologue on compost heaps (they’re fascinating!) I inflicted on my Year 10 class during a Zoom lesson in lockdown.
It’s also been a huge privilege and pleasure to be a form teacher, starting with form 2C who kept me on the right tracks as I found my feet, all the way up to 12/13C who started each of my Zoom days online so encouragingly and saw me through to my retirement in 2020.
Fondest memories include the year following a drought, when I got students to make giant snowballs and roll them to the lake, only for them to get stranded hundreds of metres short, as they achieved unroll-able dimensions - one of the resulting icebergs was still there in late February.
The Environment Club was set up by students and I have happy memories of the can crushing shed, the main source of revenue, and of tree planting and hogweed bashing - suitable precautions being taken, a good way to clear the mind. Being around for 31 years, I’ve actually seen some of the trees beginning to reach their potential - especially the native trees in the centenary woodland.
I also really enjoyed being involved with the choirs and being there for some incredible student performances. At one time assemblies were on four out of five days a week and this gave enormous scope for student participation. Stand out favourites include to this day virtuoso performances on electric violin, accordion and sitar, and of course the Christmas sing-along.
Christian Union was a highlight of my week - I wonder if the plasticine creatures from Genesis are still in the top drawer in the Latin classroom? We had pupils in CU from Years 7 through to 13 and it was a great pleasure to see how well they learned together of God’s love for them, through our Bible study and prayer.
Form time was Scrabble, Take2, UCAS, Boggle, and of course the Christmas jigsaw. Although we never did do the double-sided Smarties jigsaw, we always managed to complete the Christmas jigsaw before the holidays, even if that did involve redefining jigsawing as a sport so we could work into games afternoon.
Do you have any favourite trip stories?
My first school trip with Hymers was to Sutherland Lodge with Year 7, where Tony Testard taught me the basics of butchers’ back slang and where pupils rolled down hills inside tractor tyres.
I was also involved in so many Biology field trips it’s hard to know where to begin. Residential field courses at the Cranedale Centre near Malton feature fairly prominently, together with countless day trips and I owe a huge debt of gratitude to my staff for their support and camaraderie as we ran these together. I can honestly say that although we went to the same places time after time, every year we came across something new. One year a dead porpoise had washed up at Filey - probably the biggest thing - but I can still remember the beautiful delicacy of the glass shrimps, whose transparent bodies turned iridescent as the afternoon sun caught their movements. Although we did find quite a few things over the years in rock pools that had clearly been flushed down a toilet, thankfully we never did find the unexploded ordnance that was a more worrying prospect, nor were we ever at Filey at the precise moment a clay mass from the cliffs decided to join the North Sea. The cafe/shop at the top of the bank with its sign ‘school groups welcome’ became a regular stop at the end of the day - the alternative arrangement made by our bus driver one year, when the shop was closed, boosted the profits at Filey’s Tesco, as our students took advantage of the 3 for 2 deals and enjoyed a surfeit of Fabs and Cornettos on their way home.
School trips abroad that I was involved with were run by other departments and I’m eternally grateful to Ann Stanyon, Dominic McPherson and Chris Aldred for asking me along to Arizona, Italy and Iceland respectively. These were fantastic experiences for the staff as well as the pupils, though I’m still not sure about that Navajo wedding ceremony in Monument Valley and whether I’m somehow bigamously married to Tom Innes… I certainly hadn’t expected taking part in such brilliant school trips when I started at Hymers - my idea of a field trip overseas up till then had been to the Farne Islands. I also never imagined ascending two volcanos, one of which went off a couple of years later!
Another summer regular was joining Cath Copeland and Julia Tapley for the annual ascent of Ingleborough and trip to White Scar Caves to see the creepy/crawling dummy of Christopher Long and to bash safety hats on the roof. Thanks to Charles Ryan, Hadrian’s Wall also became a regular fixture in the calendar, including the memorable Year of the Flood, 2007. We were having lunch in the sunshine in the car park at Chesters Fort, when pupils started getting alarming texts from home about the worsening situation. Although it may not have occurred to the pupils, the staff were thinking we might have to spend the night in the bus. Thanks to a creative route home, along the spine of England and an unusual pick up from the Humber Bridge car park, all was well in the end.
What have you done since you left Hymers College?
Since retiring I have of course, played a lot of scrabble and completed some jigsaws, but mainly I’ve done a lot of gardening, including some ‘no-mow’ trial plots in the back lawns to see if the succession is affected by when it’s cut, Spring or Autumn or both. I have really enjoyed growing more of our own veg - not just chillis - but have yet to develop the ultimate pigeon deterrent, so we can enjoy more of the fruits of our labours.
It’s also been a boon to be able to head off into the wonderful Wolds countryside for walks whenever we fancy and my wife and I now also have The Wolds Way, The Cleveland Way and the Hadrian’s Wall path under our belts. Covid initially squashed our travel plans, but we did get out to California to visit our daughter during her year abroad in LA, which was super.
When I started teaching, a colleague told me the learning starts now - she meant my learning and I can honestly say that’s what makes it such a rewarding job to do. There are not many careers with so many varied opportunities to open your mind to new ideas and experiences and to share that with so many other eager minds.
Former Senior Master and Head of Mathematics, Geoff Underwood took part in a Teacher Feature in 2001 More...