Gordon Parke on teaching and staff recruitment


I noticed to my delight the other day that my old prep school headmaster - Gordon Parke - whom I thought impossibly old even way back in the mid 1980s is still alive (or at least was as recently as summer 2014 as the tweet above shows).

He retired in 1985 and at the time, of course, I couldn't have cared less about school leadership issues or his thoughts on education. I did recognise him as an inspirational head though. And happily he recorded some pearls of wisdom in the history of the school he wrote back in 1996.

Here he is holding forth:

On what makes a good teacher (his memories of having asked children)
  1. First, and most importantly, the lessons must be interesting.
  2. Good discipline comes second.
  3. Fairness is also important and likewise some good jokes, or a sense of humour.
  4. Lastly he remembers pupils asking that there should not be too much copying from the board, no preps should take longer than the allotted time, and there should be a willingness of staff to answer questions.

On recruiting staff
Mr Parke remembers being told early on in his career that 'you can judge a good headmaster by his success in choosing his staff'. He goes on to identify four 'teacher types' who he recruited over the years:
  1. Failures of whom he lists three, though acknowledges that there could have been more in his time.
  2. Thoroughly sound - the vast majority of staff fit into this category he says. They may have 'different methods and different personalities' but all give excellent value to many pupils.
  3. Those who bring lasting enlightenment - there aren't many he says who score 100% according to this criteria and so the list is necessarily smaller. According to Mr Parke 'I never understood .... , sir, until .... taught me' was a phrase he heard many times when chatting to pupils about the work of such teachers.
  4. The Pied Piper teachers - as Mr Parke explains these are those teachers who 'pupils will follow because they want to rather than have to. Every boarding school needs some inspirers. They will do their teaching competently but they will be remebered by the pupils as those who inspired them in climbing, canoeing, chess, farming, saling , camping...'
Simple, wise observations honed by decades at the chalk face.


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