Morna Valley School – first impressions

Morna Valley School

This is the first extract from my book that I am publishing on my blog – so please give me some feedback (good or bad – all opinions are valued, and I especially appreciate honesty). I hope I am welcoming some of my current teaching colleagues this week – hence the school bit.

We drove through the village of Santa Eulalia and took the fork in the main road signposted towards San Carlos. Just short of the village we crested a hill and turned left along a road lined with tall but straggly pine trees and into the countryside – and here rural Ibiza really began.

The school entrance was hidden away from the casual passer-by, an unmarked gap between the pines on the left side of the road, leading to a daunting dive into and out of a dried-up water course (which I was later to discover was not dried up when it rained), along a dirt track studded with pine roots and into a uneven and rock-strewn clearing – the car park as it was more popularly known – from whence, at last, the school building could be seen.

Tep charged the Dos Caballos up the sloping gravelled track that ran alongside a high wall, curved around to the left and and on to the flat patch of gravel in front of the school, where the handbrake (which the car did not have) was not a problem. An ancient farmhouse gleamed white in the late afternoon sun, but the upper storey appeared to have been painted with a sort of blue wash (I never did find out why). It looked beautiful, but… a school? Welcome to the Morna Valley School,” said Tep, and for the first time she smiled as I gazed at my new workplace – probably open-mouthed.

I stood in the peaceful rural calm and surveyed the scene. I had to admit that I felt absolutely stunned and more than a little dismayed. All my teaching to date had been done in huge, modern, purpose-built school edifices with acres of gleaming glass and imposing facades. I had taught in science laboratories almost as large as than this whole building, which themselves had been part of a department with half-a-dozen purpose-built laboratories, equipped with fume cupboards and rack upon rack of chemicals, serviced by professional and imposing technicians in spotless white lab coats. Between every pair of labs there had been a prep room, with shelf upon shelf of exciting equipment, mounted on rollers and tracks to make optimal use of the space.

The Morna Valley was not like that. Tep wrestled with the huge, heavy and ancient double doors, which must have been nearly three metres high and a good palm’s width thick. The door creaked like doors do in cheap horror movies, and opened into a hallway – the entrada – which was almost completely dark unless the lights were on or the  tiny windows were open (and one window was almost always left open for the school cat).

You could almost have fitted a badminton court in there, at a pinch. But the room had obviously been put to more academic use: bookshelves reached to the ceiling of all four walls. This was the school library. The most cursory inspection revealed that the library had been quaintly and rather randomly filled by some impressively brilliant people, and indeed I later realised that it had been a sort of tradition around the island that unwanted books found their way to the Morna Valley.

We turned to the left and walked up a flight of steps,  narrow and solidly built, enclosed on both sides, for all the world like those found in a medieval castle. Here through the door to the left was one huge airy area known as the “Crystal Palace” because of the arched windows that ran all along the outside wall overlooking the car park and the “games” field. To the centre was a tiny cell for half-a-dozen people at the most and the door to the right led into a third class room, which boasted a very small balcony. Somehow the whole place had the air of a Mexican prison from a Clint Eastwood movie. John and Tep led me to a little annex leading off from this last room. Here, in a shelving unit of about my own height were the sum total of the school’s science teaching resources – both text books and equipment.

In the short time allowed, I was able to discover that half of the books were physics A-level text books from about thirty years ago; there was one set of general science books and one set of rather aged “O” level biology text books. Some of the equipment looked as if it belonged in a Hieronymus Bosch painting rather than a science laboratory.

I learned that I had no technician and that I would have to carry any equipment I needed to the individual classes, which would be scattered all over the school. “How many pupils are there?” I asked, incredulously. “Oh, about one hundred and twenty,” Tep replied – “including the nursery.” Looking at the class lists, I rapidly worked out that I had taught classes almost as big as the entire secondary school put together!

I would like to to thank Mineke, who I remember well as one of the happiest students I have ever met, for permission to use this photograph of Tep’s 2CV in front of the school.