Life can take you to many different places.
For law tutor, Robert Mathews, that was Bell. “I’m not very proactive at looking for jobs” – he goes where the opportunities are.
But, luckily for us he’s taught at Bell on and off for the past 50 years.
Before moving to Bell, Robert – or Bertie as he’s affectionally known – began his English language teaching career following a chance meeting with a friend. His brother had a school in Italy teaching English, who taught Robert “everything that was needed”.
So, after finishing his A-levels, Robert boarded on a plane heading for Italy, so he could teach English.
He went on to do a history degree at the University of Oxford, studying law afterwards and successfully completing his bar exams. At the time, he was teaching English, when a friend asked if he’d like to teach law, “I liked it, so I just continued”. And he still teaches law, preparing our students for University on Bell’s University Foundation Programme (UFP).
Joining Bell in 1968, it was an incredibly busy time with the opening of four new schools – Concorde College, a school in Norwich, (at which he spent three of his five weeks at Bell in 1968), a school in a stately home in the Cotswolds, and a school in Bath. Although this meant Frank Bell wasn’t in the Cambridge school that much, Robert clearly remembers a piece of advice from him:
“When you go into a classroom think: what am I going to teach? Why am I teaching this? If you decide there is a valid reason for teaching it, is the classroom the right place? Just don’t make it the default.”
Frank didn’t like the word classroom or school, he wanted Bell to be a laboratory for learning. And until this day, that is what we’ve done.
When Bell moved to its current location in Red Cross Lane in 1955, the nationality mix was very Euro-centric – English wasn’t as much of a global language as it is today.
Today, Bell prides itself on its nationality mix, “[Frank would have been] very pleased to see the broader range of students and teacher training – we’ve got students of all ages”.
Robert reminisces about how times have changed – with fresh donuts served every day and a two-course lunch, served by a butler wearing white gloves. The Garden Room also looked very different, housing a grand piano, book cases and an old French clock ticking away, in what was their common room.
In the early days of Bell, technology included reel-to-reel tapes and language labs where students would listen and repeat English. “In those days they expected to be taught as there was no other channel to go through.”
Today, for students, technology plays an integral part of learning and so the key to teaching is finding what engages them. “There’s a style of teaching called dogme…finding out what the students are interested in and producing materials to meet that interest”
“Now I think [students] should expect to be guided so we can facilitate learning.”
And, that is exactly what Robert does – he encourages his students to “look at things in a lawyerly manner” – learning about the law is not about the prosecution that happens in court, most of the work happens outside.
It’s fascinating speaking to Robert – hearing about his life and memories of Bell, but what’s the secret that keeps Robert coming back to Bell for so many years?
“It’s always been a pleasure to come to work on a Monday, I look forward to it.”