The person at the front of the classroom is real

Jun 10th, 2009 | By | Category: Cross Channel

It is two weeks since some of the Irish secondary schools began to wind up for the summer, within another two weeks, every secondary and primary school across the country will have closed for the long break.  The idea of two-three months summer holiday would have seemed like heaven in an English primary school where the year ground on until mid-July.  As the teachers here plan the weeks ahead, (many of them being forced to try to find new jobs after being made redundant through cutbacks), thoughts go back to Somerset summers.

There were two teachers at High Ham primary school, ladies who had devoted their lives trying to impart knowledge to unpromising children in a rural backwater.  Miss Rabbage lived across the fields; the roof of her green Austin A35, parked in the road outside of her solitary house was just visible above the hedge.  Miss Everitt lived five miles away in Somerton, which was such a distance for a small child in those years  that it might have been a foreign country.  How did they spend their summers?  When the middle of July was finally reached, did they leap with delight that for six weeks their days would be their own?

Perhaps Miss Everitt went off for a two week Clarksons package to the Costa de Sol, drinking sangria each evening and returning with a sombrero and a big toy donkey – it doesn’t seem likely though; Miss Everitt would not have spent the whole year teaching us common sense only to spend the meagre teacher’s salary on the frivolous.  Miss Rabbage was much easier to monitor; the A35 a sure testimony to her presence in the village.

Only once in all the years did I ever set foot in Miss Rabbage’s garden.  My mother was anxious that my sister and I spend the afternoon at the school swimming pool, the worst imaginable fate for a ten year old who could not swim and who hated getting into the water, and who hated even more sitting and watching while others moved up and down the lengths with swift strokes.

“Miss Rabbage said that if we couldn’t swim we couldn’t go to the pool”, I asserted defiantly.

My mother looked at me, “Did she?”

“Yes”, I said.

“Right”, she said, “we’ll find out”.

My sister and I were marched to Miss Rabbage’s house.  Standing in fear and trembling as my mother knocked at the door, we heard footsteps coming down the hall.

Miss Rabbage answered cheerily, “Mrs Poulton, you’ve come just in time.  Would you pull up the zip at the back of this dress; I find I can’t reach it”.

Miss Rabbage turned her back while my mother pulled the zip on her summer dress to the top.  Turning and smiling she said, “How can I help you?”

“Ian says that you told them that if children couldn’t swim, they couldn’t go to the pool”.

“Oh no”, she replied, “he has misunderstood.  What I said was that if they weren’t swimming, they weren’t to come to the pool.  People were coming and using the school field with no intention of going in the pool; if children are coming it must be to use the pool”.

I knew perfectly well the difference between ‘couldn’t’ and ‘weren’t’ and what had been the original intention of what was said; my first attempt at spinning words had ended in miserable failure.

The memory of standing in her garden that afternoon remains chiefly, not because of the unsuccessful attempt at avoiding the school pool, but because it was the moment when I first realized that teachers were also people.  To glimpse beyond the outer appearance to the person beyond, in an age when baiting teachers was fair sport in many schools, was an important lesson for a Somerset summer’s day

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  1. Ian are you sure about Miss Rabbages car? I remember her having a black Standard 10, Miss Everitt drove a light blue Ford Anglia..(the Harry Potter shape) Just an insight into one summer holiday…I was working for Cy Bradfield the gardener when I was about 15, and one summer holiday we had to landscape Miss Everitts back garden…She made the most wonderfully refreshing black lemon tea….I think she was just happy spending her holidays in her garden….Miss Rabbages neatly kept garden is now a mess and her little wooden garage is I think gone……And playing at the bottom of the school field in the copse between the field and Cliff Crossmans garden field was much more fun….Thanks for the memories Ian..

  2. I remember the Standard: very austere black with very shiny chrome. I think there was an A35 after that and then maybe an Austin 1100. The last time I saw Miss Rabbage was 1982, at a church service in Low Ham, she must have come back for some occasion. Maybe it was the harvest festival.

  3. I love that you had a teacher called Miss Rabbage . .I had a sixth class teacher called Mr Vague . .and indeed he was. I’ve grown up with teachers being a failed one myself and believe me, they’re looking forward to the break . . .best part time job in the world (don’t throw rotten fruit please) You boys have the most amazing long term memory! My favourite was my year 11 biology teacher Mr Jones . .yeh right! Maybe!. . .we ended up going to university together. Now that was weird!

  4. There wasn’t much else to do in our village except notice things! I bet Les and I could sit down with pencil and paper and write the names of almost the entire population of the village in 1970!

  5. Now there’s a challenge Ian…..If I get across to see you sometime that would create a few laughs over a few jars….I had a flash of why Miss Rabbage had a very neat garden…I think Bert Wheadon (bicycle and beret) used to tend to it…..Memories aahhh

  6. Oh and I bet we could also remember what make of tractor each of the farmers had too!!!!!

  7. I wondered about the garden – never having any memory of Miss Rabbage doing gardening, despite passing the house countless times. I had forgotten Bert; did he live up in the village?

  8. Yes he lived in St Andrews Close, in one of the bungalows, I shall never forget I was about 6 or 7 and my chain had come off my bicycle and I didn’t have a clue how to put it back on, Bert came along on his bicycle, stopped and put it back on for me.
    Totally off thread but I went up to Somerset today to see Mother and noticed that the windmill is going through a refurb, the sails were off, reminded me of when we were kids when it didn’t have sails for years…..

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