It is hard to imagine that Miss Rabbage would have tolerated it. Was “obtuse” the word she used? Or was there some similar term for the pupils at High Ham Primary School whom she deemed to be negligent in their efforts to understand.
Miss Rabbage expected instructions to be heard and to be heeded, and would express her displeasure in the strongest terms towards children whom she believed had deliberately failed to listen to her words. Looking back half a century, the memories of Miss Rabbage’s lessons are of teaching that was always expressed with clarity and precision. If details of what we should do were put on the blackboard, they were always in neat, cursive handwriting. If anyone was in doubt as to what was expected, Miss Rabbage would explain in plain and simple terms.
Miss Rabbage would have quickly grown impatient with children who were told exactly what they were to do; children who were told to ask for help if they were unclear; children who were given repeated opportunities to seek clarification; and who still failed to do as they were asked.
There are moments of exasperation in trying to teach students who seem to have simply ignored the instructions they have been given, even when the instructions have been given in spoken and written form. It is a mystery as to how anyone survives as a primary school teacher; their reserves of patience must be immense in order to cope with obtuse students every day of the week. There must be moments when they feel like throwing up their hands and walking from the room.
There would be temptation to talk about Twenty-First Century culture, about the shortness of the spans of concentration, about a lack of a disciplined approach to tasks, were it not for an entry in George Orwell’s diaries. On 27th June 1940, he wrote:
“It appears that the night before last, during the air-raid alarm, many people all over London were woken by the All Clear signal, took that for the warning and went to the shelters and stayed there till morning, waiting for the All Clear. This after ten months of war and God knows how many explanations of the air-raid precautions.”
The entry is telling. People who were given instructions upon which their lives might depend had not listened, repeated efforts to educate them had not worked.
Next time someone complains about young people not listening, I shall recall Orwell’s story.