November is the month when we remember all the saints, the good and faithful people who have served God down through the generations. Who are the saints we remember? For me, the saints for whom to give thanks include my primary school teachers.
Once, I was called upon to make the presentation at the retirement of a primary school teacher. It was a poignant occasion, (especially if you have to try to make the speech to say ‘thank you’). After decades of teaching the youngest children, she was calling it a day, as gentle and kind and patient as I believe she had been throughout her career. It was sobering to think how many lives she had shaped.
Primary school teachers in small schools had an extraordinary power to influence us, for good or for ill. They were people held in extraordinarily high regard. In at least one part of rural Co Down, in the early 1990s, the headmaster of the local Catholic primary school was still referred to as ‘Master’ McCann, rather than as just plain ‘Mister’. It made the point that here was a man who was important to the community.
When I was young we didn’t even know what teachers Christian names were, they were just ‘Miss’, even if they were ‘Mrs’, (in primary schools, ‘Mr’ was rare). I only discovered that the headmistress of the first primary school I attended was called ‘Susan’ at a wedding I attended in Dublin in 1999 – a different country and thirty-two years later to discover that Miss Todd had a Christian name!
Miss Todd used to have groups of children to play board games in her house at lunch times. I remember having no idea about how to play the game, but at being overawed to be in Miss Todd’s house. (Miss Todd was the niece of the Archbishop of Canterbury and had been to Lambeth Palace – lots of times!) Miss Todd must have felt frustrated at times, most of us would not have been the most exciting or inspiring of pupils, but my only memories of her are of a firm and gracious lady.
Who are the saints that we remember? For me, they include Miss Todd from Long Sutton and Miss Everitt and Miss Rabbage from High Ham, without whose efforts the lives of hundreds of children from small Somerset villages would have been very different.
It’s not just our teachers, though, we should look around us this November and give thanks to God for all the saints that we know.