Monday, May 02, 2005

When the pupil is ready....

TO USE a local expression I got a quare gunk the other day when it dawned on me it is 24 (almost 25) years since I first wandered, hand in hand with my mammy, into Mrs. Spellman's class at Rosemount Primary School for my first day in P1.

I remember I had a little fawn coloured trench coat that I thought was so trendy and grown up looking and that I was carrying a wee brown satchel (Yes, I went to school in the days when you had satchels and not rucksacks bedecked with pictures of the latest cartoon heroes). My hair was scraped into two mega curly pigtails and, even if I say so myself, I was cute as the cutest wee button in the button shop.
I remember being told the story of the Fox and the Hen and trying to draw a picture of the same with one of those big old chubby crayons that smelled good enough to eat (in fairness, I was only four) and fitted nicely in my chubby little hands.
And even though it was a lifetime ago I still remember this happy, smiley teacher who came and sat beside me and talked me through my picture as though it was a work of art and not the very dodgy orange scribblings of a nervous child. Likewise I remember sitting day after day with my laminated word cards, which were stored in an old tobacco tin, learning to read with this woman who had seemingly unending supply of patience.
The reason for my "quare gunk" is that I saw that very same teacher the other day. She was driving past us as I was out walking with the wee man and my sister. I knew straight away it was her. You see, she still has the same curly hair and wide smile I remember from all those years ago.
I doubt that I would remember all my teachers from those early days in the same way. I remember their names and how they were to me while in their class but there is something about that primary one teacher, and her gentle manner that will stay with me always.
I remember how she kindly told me I would have to write out my work again after I, in a fit of babyish creativity, had decided that I didn't need spaces between words and would prefer instead to draw wee houses. I never felt like she was telling me off, even though on that occasion and a few others I'm sure her patience was tested to the limit.
Most of all though, and this is what counts, she remembers me even to this day. If we meet in the street she asks how I am and asks after my family. It may be that she simply has a photographic memory, but I prefer to think of her as just one of those teachers who cared enough to see you as that youthful, impressionable child before her and not just another name who had to be taught for a year before she moved on to the next lot.
There aren't too many teachers like that out there. There are more I remember for their strictness or the fear factor than I do for the kindness factor. Yes, when push comes to shove I imagine I learned just as much, academically speaking, from the old teacher who used to threaten us with the cane if we hadn't learned our rivers of England or our long division as I did with Mrs. Spellman or the other teachers who took the softly-softly approach. But stepping away from academia, I learned, emotionally speaking, much more from those who recognised that even though I was only child I deserved respect just as much as I needed discipline and educating.

Now that doesn't mean I was let become some sort of superbrat who needed Supernanny to come in and kick me into touch. Funnily enough, give a child some respect and encouragement and you get much more back than riding roughshod over their feelings.
People often talk about their school days and whether or not they really were the best days of their lives. I remember a lot about school. I remember being bullied in my early days at Thornhill College and I remember rising above it and finding my own (admittedly nerdy) niche within the writers' workshop.
I remember the friends I made, at primary school and at secondary school and the mad adventures we got up to, like skipping madly hand in hand into our primary two classroom, or working our wee hearts out on a project about cavemen which involved an lengthy search for just the right stone to stick in the scrap book to make the spear. (We came second in class and got 50p each, which was a fortune in those days).
But more than all that I remember those teachers who inspired and encouraged me a long the way. I know from having a father who teaches that it can sometimes feel like a thankless task. After all, not many children willingly run into their classrooms in the morning and when the school bell rings and not many stop to say thanks when the school year is over.

So, I want today to say a big thank you to Mrs. Spellman for making my first foray into "big school" as painless and as enjoyable as possible. Along with a select few other teachers (most notably Mr. Grant, who was mad as a hare, the two Mrs. Boyles from Thornhill and Mr. Mallon) you instilled in me a love of learning and more importantly a belief in myself.
I may now be far removed from the wee toot with the pig tails, and I'm instead turning my attentions to my own child's education, but I can only hope, when the time comes, someone as caring as you will set my wee man off on the road to academia.

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