Teaching Navy Style

I have always thought the examination techniques we adopted at the Royal Naval Signal School should have been the norm for the Country’s education system in general. Education is not a case of knowing information, but knowing where to find it and how to apply it. The Leydene examination organisers had obviously taken this theory to heart. We, the students, were a mixed lot. If we qualified we were going to be far from land and advice for weeks on end and solely dependent upon our own resources, so while we were thoroughly taught how to carry out repairs and the basic fundamentals of radio technology, the course was based around the fact that the Mechanic would have a text book at his elbow. The examiners also knew that cheating had to be lived with as, for the students, passing the exam was the aim, how was secondary. To combat cheating, talking during exams was forbidden, but any written matter was allowed in with us to the examination, on the principal that if we had to look anything up it would waste valuable time, compared with those who knew it all. As the students ranged from the school-leaver to the hardened telegraphist, with a few university graduates thrown in to make the life of the instructor that little bit more difficult, they designed the papers with the questions graded, starting easily and then progressing in difficulty with each question. They tried to maintain a fair balance between pure knowledge and a sensible amount of referral. The person who knew the answers would have the advantage while a reasonable referral would not place a person beyond passing.

The marking system was equally advanced The lecturers had a good idea who would come out on top, and the general quality of his work. Having marked all the papers they examined the top three of four, first to make sure there was no doubt of reaching the standard expected, then they took the highest mark and proportioned it to receive between 90 – 95 percent, depending on the candidate’s ability and the quality of his paper. They then graded all the papers by the same factor. Someone hopeless who spent much time referring to cogs and text books would fail miserably.

The Vagaries Of Teaching At Leydene It is one thing to sit in a classroom and criticise the poor devil standing in front trying to teach and another thing entirely being that poor devil, especially if it is what the Navy terms a ‘pier-head jump’, being volunteered without a word to say about it. Some of the instructors had been teachers in civvy life, but I was chucked in at the deep end to make the best of it. We had a day’s instruction which I totally forget, but one little jewel did stick. They told us that students learned one third through what they heard, one third through touch and one third through what they saw, and we were to instruct accordingly

I was teaching people to be practical technicians, not theorists and if truth be known, when I started, my theoretical knowledge was a lot more sketchy than my grasp of the innards of the great many sets I was teaching. Initially this left me open to attack from men who had just come down from university with bright shiny degrees and who proposed to run rings round me for the aggrandisement of their own egos and the delectation of the rest of the class, a not uncommon syndrome, especially among university students. That I was at a disadvantage was patent, what I was to do about it was more difficult and gave me hours of discomfort in the beginning. I had two aspects in my favour, the classes ran only for a matter of weeks, or a couple of months at the most, and then my tormentors would have left and any reputation I had created left with them and I started with a clean slate. The other plus was that I am a quick study and with every encounter I learned – oh how I bloody well learned! The one stance I had to avoid was the Uriah Heap affliction, the ‘I’m not as well educated as you’ ploy, seeking sympathy. I soon discovered that the best method of defence is attack and I also learned how to dig a hole and then lead the charging bull elephants into it. I had the advantage of knowing the sets inside out and soon discovered the difficulties the students were finding. Sympathy with the difficulties the class was encountering and a feigned amusement when I might be tripped up by a brain-box, tended to balance the class attitude in my favour and as time elapsed I was very often able to impart what these university graduates had taught me as if I had known it all along. One situation did frighten me, though. We were not supplied with duplicated notes, we spent hours dictating. The routine was such, we could predict what we’d be teaching at any time weeks or months ahead and the same was true of the dictation. It was so repetitive I was able to talk and think of something entirely different, my brain on auto-pilot. So that I had to lift an exercise book from time to time to see exactly what I had been saying. I never remember having to alter a word, but, it says something about the loss of spontaneity short repetitive courses can produce in the teaching staff if it is not watched.

Categorized as Royal Navy

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