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 Post subject: Being a Chalet School mistress
PostPosted: 22 Feb 2017, 15:45 
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There's been some talk in the news lately about problems recruiting teachers – which never seemed to be much of a problem for the Chalet School, except in Gay and Challenge, but times were different then. Would being a Chalet School mistress have been a good job?

Positive things – job security (except for nasty matrons), unlimited sick leave and compassionate leave, friendly working environment, opportunity to travel, accommodation and meals included, relaxed working conditions (no red tape, OK to abandon lessons in nice weather), long summer holidays, probably better paid than alternative options,.

Negative things – lack of personal space and privacy, being with colleagues and pupils 24/7, doesn't seem to be much time off, isolated location, limited opportunities for promotion, school authorities resistant to new ideas. (And having to teach in three languages, but presumably you wouldn't have got the job if you weren't up to that.)

I think the lack of personal space would have done my head in, but, on the other hand, it does seem to be a genuinely caring environment. No-one even minds when Rosalie goes off to the South of France with Evvy, during term-time, after she's been ill :D. Not everyone finds it easy to live alone, or to be an adult still living with parents/guardians, which might have been the alternatives. And getting a job in Austria or Switzerland must have been a big adventure at a time when opportunities for foreign travel were very limited for most people.

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 Post subject: Re: Being a Chalet School mistress
PostPosted: 22 Feb 2017, 17:05 
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In Real Life I think it would have been difficult to recruit teachers who can teach their subject in three languages. Speaking French and German fluently is very different from actually trying enthuse your pupils with history, geography or maths! Probably Maths would be the easiest but even so . . .
However this is fiction written for girls and the Chalet School so Madge/Hilda don't have any problems with recruitment. Retention is easy as you say, Alison. I agree with you though - the lack of space and privacy, especially in the Swiss years, would have done my head in.

In the first few books the teachers just appear. Madge seems to have used an agency for the initial contact but interviews people before appointment, except in the case of Matron Webb, of course, when she doesn't have time. Someone in another thread wondered if the Bettanys might have meet the Maynards before the CS starts. Perhaps as Molly does have Joey, Grizel and Robin to stay and to escort back in Head Girl. If you look at the Tyrol years there doesn't actually seem to be any pre-school connection between the staff except that Con Stewart's sister went to school with Lydia Maynard. :lol:
Later on the Old Girls start returning as teachers and they are, of course fluent in all languages! We have references to Hilda's interviewing new staff in a London hotel. We gain some insight into this in New Mistress.


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 Post subject: Re: Being a Chalet School mistress
PostPosted: 22 Feb 2017, 17:09 
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I think that is why New Mistress has always been one of my favourites. It's fascinating to have that more in-depth view of what being a CS mistress was really like (over and above the staffroom discussions to which we are sometimes made privy in the other books). It's difficult to know just what percentage of time a boarding school teacher in that era would have been on-call, I guess. I can't think of any other girls' school novels which I've read which focus on life as a teacher rather than as a pupil (it's too long since I read To Serve Them All My Days and Goodbye Mr Chips to know whether their view of life as a teacher in a boys' school would be comparable)

Googling brings up some views on current day scenarios e.g. https://abrandnewline.wordpress.com/2012/11/13/day-in-the-life-of-a-boarding-school-teacher/ although I think that's US.


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 Post subject: Re: Being a Chalet School mistress
PostPosted: 22 Feb 2017, 17:59 
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I think expectations of personal space and privacy have changed a lot since as recently as the 1970s.

For the some of the young mistresses, the CS might be the first time they had a bedroom they didn't have to share with anyone else.

Young single women (and men, for that matter) would live at home or in a hostel or rent a room in someone's house. I had three aunts who were unmarried. Two of them (one of them a teacher) each rented a single room in someone else's home. The rooms were well furnished, so there was no room for them to have their own stuff. They both acquired their own flats in the 1960s, by which time they were middle aged. The third one lived in the family home with her mother until her mother died.

I remember reading, or seeing a tv programme, about holidays which suggested that one of the reasons why places like Butlins were so popular postwar was that people who'd been in the forces were accustomed to having their lives organised for them and so didn't mind the set meal times and enforced fun.

I think a big problem with the Platz was the lack of amenities. At Briesau, mistresses who wanted to get away from school for a couple of hours could stroll along to the Kron Prinz Karl for coffee or a glass of wine or even a meal. We never hear of anywhere similar on the Platz.

Two things I think might have improved life at the school for mistresses - a sitting room separate from where they did their marking and lesson preparation, and a staff kitchen, where they could make drinks and snacks/light meals when they were off duty and didn't want to go to meals in the Spiesesaal, or had been out and missed a meal.


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 Post subject: Re: Being a Chalet School mistress
PostPosted: 22 Feb 2017, 18:54 
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JayB wrote:
I think expectations of personal space and privacy have changed a lot since as recently as the 1970s.

For the some of the young mistresses, the CS might be the first time they had a bedroom they didn't have to share with anyone else.

Young single women (and men, for that matter) would live at home or in a hostel or rent a room in someone's house. I had three aunts who were unmarried. Two of them (one of them a teacher) each rented a single room in someone else's home. The rooms were well furnished, so there was no room for them to have their own stuff. They both acquired their own flats in the 1960s, by which time they were middle aged. The third one lived in the family home with her mother until her mother died.


Yes, I think that is absolutely right JayB. Sharing a room in a hostel was the way I and most of my friends lived in London in the early 1960s even though we were earning reasonable salaries.

The first time my now 99 year old neighbour, who never married, had a home of her own, and not a bedsit in someone else's house, was when she retired in her sixties and was offered a tenancy by her former employers. She is still happily occupying the same cottage!

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 Post subject: Re: Being a Chalet School mistress
PostPosted: 22 Feb 2017, 22:11 
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I also found New Mistress interesting because it focused on a new member of staff. Presumably the salary reflected the fact that accommodation/food etc was included - much like being in the services I suppose. Kathie talks about using her salary for clothes and having to be careful what she spends. I imagine some members of staff might have been in a position where they had to support a parent or other family member?
I agree that the lack of privacy/free time would have been difficult although we know that Mademoiselle (Berne?) was an experienced alpinist so presumably she went off during the holidays? But when did Biddy, Hilary etc have time for dates with their Dr boyfriends? Or did they go from meeting them to engagement in one meeting?

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 Post subject: Re: Being a Chalet School mistress
PostPosted: 22 Feb 2017, 22:31 
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I agree that the fluently trilingual part would be difficult to recruit for. I have fluently bilingual colleagues who say they have trouble giving professional talks in their *native* language, because they attended university in English and don't have the technical vocabulary. And I'm not sure that taking French and German classes in high school (which would be the background of most of the mistresses) would give a high enough level of fluency, given that their university training and all their classes in their own subject were taught in English. Kathie, for example, would need fluent technical vocabulary in both math and geography, but would likely have never taken a class in either subject in anything but English, and by the sounds of it has never spent significant time in a non English speaking environment. I don't blame Miss Slater for leaving, and don't quite buy Biddy's airy assurance that a vacation in Austria or Switzerland would bring her up to speed (it's amazing how little algebra and calculus you discuss with locals on vacation).

By modern standards, the lack of privacy and on-call nature would drive me up the wall. But they get a daintily decorated private room, ample vacation, unlimited sick leave, plus maid service, laundry service, and delicious meals cooked for them. The take home pay doesn't seem to be too much, though - Miss Norman is taking extra French tutorials to help pay her brother's school fees, for example.

For time off, I get the impression that they'd get maybe an afternoon off during the week, and some time off during the weekend, when they could go into town for social activities or shopping. At the Platz or St Briaval's they don't seem to have much to do outside of work - the former involves a train to Innsbruck where they don't really have any social connections (or visiting Joey!), the latter involves a ferry to the mainland, where again, they don't really know the people there. In Tyrol, Armiford and Guernsy, there was a community close at hand, with various amenities.

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 Post subject: Re: Being a Chalet School mistress
PostPosted: 22 Feb 2017, 22:49 
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I'm of the opinion that a lot went on on the Platz that we just aren't told about, simply because EBD was writing for young girls and was focusing on the school and saw no reason to mention it. Is it really likely for instance that Jo, Biddy, Hilary et al simply sat around producing sprogs and eating cream cakes all day? All they had to do was hop on the mountain railway if they fancied a day out shopping in Interlaken or Berne or wherever, but why would EBD mention it unless it was relevant to the story? Likewise I'm sure the mistresses had some sort of rota that allowed them to have some weekends off so that they could have days out. The Platz could have done with a pub, though. Maybe one of the pensions had a bar that did a roaring trade with the San staff?

JayB wrote:
Two things I think might have improved life at the school for mistresses - a sitting room separate from where they did their marking and lesson preparation, and a staff kitchen, where they could make drinks and snacks/light meals when they were off duty and didn't want to go to meals in the Spiesesaal, or had been out and missed a meal.


They do have a separate sitting room, at least in New Mistress:

Quote:
...after they had finished and Grace had been said, they all adjourned to the Staff sitting room where they had such coffee as the new mistress had never tasted in her life before.


Quote:
Presently, Miss Derwent suggested that they should make a move to the Staffroom where Staff meeting was to be held and Kathie found herself in another pleasant room. It was obviously meant for work. Every mistress had her own table and chair with hanging bookshelves above. There was a huge cupboard running from floor to ceiling in one corner and here she was given a shelf for her oddments.


And since Mlle is forever dishing out coffee to people there must have been some sort of facilities for making that, at least.

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 Post subject: Re: Being a Chalet School mistress
PostPosted: 22 Feb 2017, 23:21 
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I too have always been fond of New Mistress and Kathie is written very well and comes across warm and caring.

As for teachers, in my job I am part of the recruitment process (in a small way).

I'm in Scotland which does teaching training differently to England and Ireland - we get a lot of Irish students coming over as their teacher training is 2 years, ours is one year (post graduate course).

As already touched on, Modern Languages is very difficult to recruit for, owing partly to the fact that as a nation, we aren't known for our languages, therefore less students generally go on to study them at university level. In Scotland, certain requirements are set by the Scottish Government e.g. English and Maths have to at an accepted standard in order to be considered to apply for teacher training - many people fall down here as they tend to not meet the Maths requirement. Those who are applying to study Modern Foreign Languages should have a degree in a language based subject, so sadly the native Chinese speaker with a degree in Physics, cannot be considered. They also tend to not meet the English requirements as they need to have studied both English language and literature.

STEM subjects (Design & Technology, Physics, Chemistry and Maths) attract less applicants and therefore the requirements are generally lower. It's a funny situation because you put through people who if they were applying for...Drama for example, wouldn't get through the first stage but for STEM they do. And then they are interviewed and their shortfalls are usually apparent. But how do you recruit 'good' people to teach STEM subjects? (we get fined if we are under/over our numbers).

At secondary level whilst is possible to dual qualify it depends on which subjects - it's too difficult to combine Music & Drama for instance despite the fact that one often compliments the other.

Primary teaching is very competitive however. Perhaps too competitive - we received over 1600 applications this year for about 120 places (universities vary in numbers).

(I don't think this is too identifying but if it is, I will amend it).

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 Post subject: Re: Being a Chalet School mistress
PostPosted: 23 Feb 2017, 09:04 
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I can understand the difficulty recruiting STEM majors for school teaching. Most people who are thinking of teaching at the pre-university stage don't major in STEM field - they gravitate to arts, social sciences and fine arts. And STEM degrees tend to be more closely linked to jobs than other areas, so you are less likely have the situation where someone graduates from university, has no idea what to do next, and applies for teacher training (something I've seen happen multiple times). Plus, typical STEM jobs tend to pay much better than public school teaching.

Of the people in my field I know who went into teaching (excluding teaching as a necessary evil in a research position), several have PhDs and are teaching at primarily undergrad university, and two didn't finish the PhD and are teaching at private high schools.

For languages, the CS was essentially looking for native English speakers who majored in a non language subject, plus were fluent in French and German through other means. Bilingual would be easier - you could get someone who had a French or German speaking parent and learned it at home - but three languages would be much harder. And they don't seem to hire Swiss faculty, who would be more likely to speak all three languages.

I do know families raising their kids with three or four languages, though. Typically it's something like the mother is Spanish and speaks that to the kid, the father is German as speak his language to the kid, the parents use English to communicate with each other, and the daycare is in Chinese. I haven't seen them grow up to an age where full fluence would be expected, though, so I'm not sure how much of which language sticks.

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 Post subject: Re: Being a Chalet School mistress
PostPosted: 23 Feb 2017, 11:02 
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I speak three languages and can get by in several others. My English is native, my German is very fluent and my Czech is now getting to a reasonable degree of fluency though it is often ungrammatical.

I endorse what has already been said about the difficulties of teaching specialist subjects in a non-native language. Strangely, although my Czech lags well behind my German still, I find it much easier to do a tour of the dolls house museum in Czech than in German because I have more practice with the vocabulary involved. The same applies when I am teaching the Alexander Technique which I have mainly done in English and Czech. When faced with a German pupil, I struggle.

I daresay practice would improve this but it isn't always easy to switch languages. I can move seamlessly from English to Czech and English to German and vice versa in any conversation. If I am moving from German to Czech, which happens with one set of friends, I often find that I am not aware of which language is coming out of my mouth, and this can happen mid-sentence. This has only become a problem since my Czech has become much more fluent.

I find the whole question of how our brains work in a foreign language endlessly fascinating and I am very sure that EBD had little clue about the subject.

ETA And that begs the whole question of actually writing in a foreign language which is a whole different issue.....

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 Post subject: Re: Being a Chalet School mistress
PostPosted: 23 Feb 2017, 14:34 
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cestina wrote:
I speak three languages and can get by in several others. My English is native, my German is very fluent and my Czech is now getting to a reasonable degree of fluency though it is often ungrammatical.

I endorse what has already been said about the difficulties of teaching specialist subjects in a non-native language. Strangely, although my Czech lags well behind my German still, I find it much easier to do a tour of the dolls house museum in Czech than in German because I have more practice with the vocabulary involved. The same applies when I am teaching the Alexander Technique which I have mainly done in English and Czech. When faced with a German pupil, I struggle.

I daresay practice would improve this but it isn't always easy to switch languages. I can move seamlessly from English to Czech and English to German and vice versa in any conversation. If I am moving from German to Czech, which happens with one set of friends, I often find that I am not aware of which language is coming out of my mouth, and this can happen mid-sentence. This has only become a problem since my Czech has become much more fluent.

I find the whole question of how our brains work in a foreign language endlessly fascinating and I am very sure that EBD had little clue about the subject.

ETA And that begs the whole question of actually writing in a foreign language which is a whole different issue.....


I agree with all of this, especially the part about writing being a completely different ball game from speaking. I can hold my own in a conversation in German, but it takes me a good couple of hours to write an email of any length. I've also discovered it's not easy translating either. My neighbour recently asked me if I'd translate a presentation about exercise addiction into English. I found it surprisingly difficult to come up with something that expressed the same views, but read both smoothly and grammatically correctly.

I watch quite a lot of German television. In the past I've watched several of the old US sitcoms dubbed into German. Some episodes I can follow almost entirely and think I'm making real progress. Then I'll watch another and think I've taken 2 steps backwards because I only understand a fraction. As Cestina says, so much depends on the theme and whether it falls within your vocabulary.

I find there are different phases you pass through when you're using a foreign language on a daily basis. When I first lived in Germany, back in 1970, the first one for me was realising that I'd stopped mentally translating everything as I was listening and could just understand the whole. The next was when I began actually thinking in whichever language I was speaking. Switching from one language to another was the most difficult for me and took the longest to master.

I wish I was still as fluent now as I was in those days, but I don't have the advantage this time round of being in a working environment where I'm speaking German all day long 5½ days a week, coupled with short periods of dealing with American soldiers from the nearby base.


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 Post subject: Re: Being a Chalet School mistress
PostPosted: 23 Feb 2017, 14:46 
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I agree with Aquabird - I think everyone is having a lot more fun than we hear about on the Platz, for the simple reason that adults socializing wouldn't be a major plotline for children's books. We know there are hotels around the Platz, which may be primarily used by relatives or other San visitors, but I'm sure there are also tourists. And I'm sure those hotels have thriving bars that the San and School staff frequent off-page, but I can't see EBD writing about it! Equally, I don't remember too many references to staff socializing in the Tyrol books - do we just assume that it happens in Tyrol, and that it didn't on the Platz?

In Tyrol they have a staff hostel but it doesn't seem like many staff actually live in it. I think it would have been nice to have a staff hostel in the Platz books but the one in Tyrol days was hardly well-utilised. But if you were working in a boarding school at that time (maybe even now) you'd have to put up with sharing your space. Back then as people have said, it would have been much more normal, and the CS would have an advantage as it's in the Swiss Alps rather than rainy Britain.

Tartan belle, that was really interesting :)


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 Post subject: Re: Being a Chalet School mistress
PostPosted: 23 Feb 2017, 15:00 
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The staff hostel would be a great idea. The one in Tyrol is planned as late as New IIRC and in the next book Exile they are all whisked up to the Sonnalpe quite early on in the book so there isn't much about it.
As an (ex) English teacher, there would be no problem for me teaching my subject at the CS or for any languages staff, but maths, science history and geography would be very difficult. I think it would be fun for a couple of years as a young teacher, but it seems that you can't leave except to be married. The idea of moving on for other experiences just doesn't happen. Part og EBD's notion that the school is perfect. NB EBD herself taught at several schools.


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 Post subject: Re: Being a Chalet School mistress
PostPosted: 23 Feb 2017, 16:20 
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I still haven't worked out how you teach English using German and French.

I'm trying to revise my French usage, and I'm finding that a box set of DVDs with language options is helpful. I play the DVD in English for two or three times, then watch it in French.

Some of it's coming back, but the grammar isn't always up to standard.

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 Post subject: Re: Being a Chalet School mistress
PostPosted: 23 Feb 2017, 16:33 
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Maybe the lessons are timetabled so you have English on the English days, same with French and German lessons. More likely EBD didn't think through the myriad complications of the system!
This thread has prompted a reread of Mistress though!


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 Post subject: Re: Being a Chalet School mistress
PostPosted: 23 Feb 2017, 16:42 
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Several of the staff in the early years are already engaged when they get there, or else get engaged very soon afterwards. Miss Leslie definitely only ever intends to stay briefly, and Miss Maynard, Miss Carthew, Miss Durrant and Miss Stewart don't stay long either. A certain percentage of teachers were bound to get married and leave, but there's a very high turnover of staff in the early years, as if the idea was to keep the characters moving on so that new teachers could be brought in to keep things fresh. Then that changes and most of them stay on.

I suppose that, as with a lot of things, people got used to the situation they were in and the thought of moving on all seemed too much like hard work! Especially for those mistresses who were Old Girls and thought of the school as their second home anyway.

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 Post subject: Re: Being a Chalet School mistress
PostPosted: 23 Feb 2017, 18:13 
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English French and German would be taught in those languages surely? It would make sense to have French on French days but in the later years impossible with Mlle de L being the only French teacher and too many forms for it to work.


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 Post subject: Re: Being a Chalet School mistress
PostPosted: 23 Feb 2017, 22:29 
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Mel wrote:
I think it would be fun for a couple of years as a young teacher, but it seems that you can't leave except to be married. The idea of moving on for other experiences just doesn't happen. Part og EBD's notion that the school is perfect. NB EBD herself taught at several schools.

But in those days, Mel, teachers didn't move on quickly as they do today. Today, no one will look at you for a management position if you haven't changed schools every 4 years or so, whereas I started teaching in the mid-sixties and most people stayed in the same job for years and years. I stayed in my first post before and after marriage, and only left to adopt. There were no such management posts as leading a subject, so the only posts to aspire to were head, deputy or head of department, and they rarely left until retirement. At the CS the only management posts apart from Head and Senior Mistress would have been those heads of department. And they were all too happy to leave! :wink:

Oh, and I agree with those who say there must have been a lot more going on up there on the Platz than EBD bothers to tell us. I doubt the staff would have stayed otherwise!

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 Post subject: Re: Being a Chalet School mistress
PostPosted: 23 Feb 2017, 23:00 
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I suppose we all have different experiences Mary. I too started teaching in the 60s but left my first job to work abroad in Service Children's Education which was a big adventure which I don't regret. What I meant was that someone like Miss Slater is considered disloyal for leaving when she was merely ambitious - and why not?


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