There were twelve at Holy Communion this evening – three of them teachers; well, two retired teachers and one student teacher. Between them, how many lives would be shaped by their work? Primary school teachers are a special sort of person.
Arriving in her blue Ford Anglia each morning, bespectacled and stern, our infant teacher Miss Everitt took education seriously. There was never homework, but there was hardly need for it. The school day for infants ran from 9.15 until 3.30. Apart from breaks, the day was filled with active teaching, there was rarely a moment to drift, rarely a moment when concentration was not demanded.
Miss Everitt would have ‘ladders’ on the mantlepiece, league tables formed from cork board in which labels were pinned, your name could go up or down, according to how well you were doing. Never being at the top, the ladders were never very encouraging.
A friend had cardboard football league tables with the clubs’ names being printed on labels with tabs that could be inserted into the slits in the card after each Saturday’s results. For some reason we had a bizarre, and utterly irrational, dislike of Charlton Athletic, about whom we knew nothing, and would put them at the bottom of Division 4, regardless of the result. There would have been a desire at times to similarly manipulate the classroom tables, but one would not dare have touched anything; Miss Everitt would know if something had been changed and would know who was responsible. Miss Everitt always knew who was responsible, no matter what the misdemeanour.
More encouraging than the tables were charts with spots, the spots being earned by attainments, though forty odd years later, it is hard to remember what the attainments might have been. Encouragement was not a quality that was in plentiful supply, doing one’s best was the default position for being in Miss Everitt’s class. If there were the slightest suspicion that maximum effort had not been applied to the completion of a piece of work, Miss Everitt would express her disapproval in forthright terms.
There was little patience shown towards those who did not meet expectations of literacy and numeracy. One pupil, almost a year younger, but in the same academic year, was told in no uncertain terms that the work that had been done was not comparable with that of others in the group. It seemed unfair when watching at the time, it seems even more unfair four decades later. To be spoken to about work, when one had tried, was bad enough; to be spoken to in front of the whole class must have been a painful experience.
Perhaps the regime was harsh, stories from those in later years suggested a mellowing with the passing of time, but there are no memories of anyone being slapped and hardly a memory of a raised voice.
Trained in the 1930s, Miss Everitt was a teacher of a former age. The world had changed beyond recognition during her classroom years, but the lessons she taught have endured through many years since. In fifty years’ time, will similar stories be told about the student teacher with us this evening?