Conversations with a Deaf Teacher

As I page through the year book of Germiston Boys High School 1954 I can smell the old classrooms. I can smell the hundreds of pines trees, the needles carpeting the ground below and the narrow tarmac that leads up to the school gate. A metal palisade, between tall red brick columns.

I dreamt of going there. This was a school that had history, according to my father and cousins. I accepted that it had become a co-ed school subsequently but this did not diminish my ardour. I think academic life for me changed when I was in primary school and my elder brother moved to a new high school in Alberton after one year at GBHS. I lost interest at that stage.

In the year book the first page is a black and white photograph of the school teachers and principal. One of them was deaf. I never really recorded my father’s stories, so I don’t know who it was.  He was older and sounded like a sergeant major type. Perhaps that’s him in the back row.

When they were in class and the teacher was asking questions, each boy would gradually lower the volume of his voice, until the last few answers were inaudible. The poor teacher would adjust his volume on his hearing aid up and fiddle, looking and listening. Then all the boys would chorus and answer loudly to leave the poor man shattered.

What did he think of this? He might have been bitter. He might have been deaf from the World Wars, from serving up north in Africa. He might have lost close friends in the war. The school had the names of the fallen in the wars listed amongst the academic and sporting achievements on the wooden boards with gilt print.

I think the teacher was so deaf that even when they answered in unison he did not hear, and feigned surprise to give them the satisfaction of being able to tell stories to their children and grandchildren.

I see the school concert that year was the “The Dance of the Nutty Crackers”. You guessed it, at a boys school it was a concert in drag. It set the scene for my father’s passion for fancy dresses which were held at the Alberton Hellenic Community Hall, where he and his committee occasionally dressed as buxom belly dancers.

I think the deaf teacher would have approved of the boys he was teaching. He would have been happy to lead them into war, proud of the men they were to become. Deaf  to their pain and anguish, but very much aware of what made them happy.

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