H.D. “HAL” DIGGES
“BECK WAS A GIFT”
Prior to teaching, I’d done a variety of things. I’d been in the army for a while. I’d had my own business for a while. I had worked for two major companies. I’d been a salesman on the road, and none of these things I liked. (Chuckle) My wife got tired of that and so did her mother. Together, they decided what I represented to them and convinced me I should be a teacher. I was dissatisfied and open to suggestion. Since I already had a college degree, it was a case of going to OCE for a year.
My first high school was in Delhi, where I taught Guidance for two years. I didn’t choose Guidance. I inherited it from a teacher who wanted to drop it. That was how it happened. You got something someone else didn’t want.
Every spring a paper that posted jobs for different communities came out. The London Board of Education was among those posting applications. I sent in my application and was interviewed by Dr. Wheable. When he hired me, I didn’t know where I was going. He determined that himself later on.
When I came to Beck, the same rule of thumb applied. I got Guidance because somebody wanted to drop it. I was also offered typing and business practice. No one said I ‘had’ to. They just said ‘would I’ and I said: “Sure.”
It seemed to me -- and I thought about it a lot when I first went there in 1951 -- that Beck was unusual. Everybody was on the same wavelength. The staff was extremely co-operative, and they really wanted the best for the kids. As far as I could determine from the parents I came in contact with, the parents were on that same wavelength. Based on my experience, 99% of the kids were too. This meant we were all working toward the same purpose. It was great.
Beck was a gift.
Due to the size of the school as a whole, I found the teaching staff very friendly and co-operative, but more than that, supportive. So were the students. I only taught in two places, but I had a lot of respect for the Beck kids. Most of them were sufficiently serious about their education they wanted to try to do something with it. Not only that, but they liked the other activities the school offered. To me, it was a well-rounded curriculum.
The staff had been there for years. They were very much into what they were doing and had a spirit within themselves. They weren’t interested in mediocrity. They wanted to get the best out of the kids in every way, not only scholastically, but in music or sports, whatever the kids liked. We were all interested in doing the best we could because we felt it was in everyone’s best interest.
All the kids seemed to be from the same culture. They had the same value system. They had respect for older people; they had respect for each other. By and large, they co-operated well with one another. I think that came not only from the interaction but also from the homes. Most of the parents worked, had good values and were sincere, interested people who simply wanted the best for their kids.
Auditoriums were terrific. I enjoyed the music. It wasn’t as if I could play anything or even sing, because I can’t. Even so, I really enjoyed them. The fact we had five-part harmony was really a blast. I really looked forward to Friday. I think the whole school did. I can’t think of anybody who was the least negative about the singing auditoriums.
Even so, you run into exceptions. I had information in my files on one student who belonged to a militia unit. We found out he was really clever. I was trying to convey this to him, but he completely disregarded it. I said: “Here you’ve got all this potential, and you’re dragging your butt around. What would you like to do?” to which he replied: “As far as I’m concerned, I’d like to work at the car wash.” He was real smart, but he just never let on. Such a waste.
Another exception was a bully. This kid was volatile and had an uncontrollable temper. He wasn’t overly sized, but he was husky enough and had a threatening way about him. If you were in a room with him, you were always conscious of his presence. When he wasn’t needling you, he’d be needling somebody else. He eventually ended up in prison.
Fortunately, the overwhelming majority was nothing like them. For instance, the kids were very supportive of the plays and dramas. Not only the ones that took part, but also the non-participants who tried to make sure their parents came to see it. They all sided together.
Carl Chapman was a good friend of mine. At Christmas, even though I couldn’t carry a tune, I would occasionally go with the Glee Club when they sang at different places such as hospitals and outside past and present principals’ home. I’d go along because it was fun.
As you may recall, the second and third floors were off limits during noon hour. Gladys Colwill and I were the ‘school policemen’. We were asked to supervise the school during lunch hours and did it for several years. A school that size, we knew everybody by sight. Sometimes I also ‘chaperoned’ the Friday night dances.
Why wasn’t Harvey the policeman? Certainly he looked more the role than I did, but Harvey took care of the detention room. If I found a kid doing something he needed reminding of, I’d send him to Harvey for one or two nights, whatever I felt was required.
That worked very well, because when you were with Harvey, he really made you work. You didn’t just sit there and twiddle your fingers. He came and checked over your shoulder, asking specifically what you were doing. If you weren’t doing it, he’d get you started. I had a lot of respect for Harvey.
When I left Beck in 1962, I became Director of Guidance Services for the London Board. I stayed at that position until I retired. Now I keep busy with curling, golfing and playing pool.
One final anecdote: There was no soundproofing in 306 where typing was taught. With a bunch of typewriters going, that was quite a clatter, particularly if you did it more than once a day. Even once a day was bad. As soon as I got the lesson started and got everybody underway, I knew there wouldn’t be any questions or conversation. I walked to the back of the room and filled my ears with moistened Kleenex to soften the noise. Now you know why I liked to stand at the back of the class!
Hal Digges: a straight talker and a serious man with a quiet sense of humor.
Copyright Carol Lowe July 22, 2004
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