Thursday, 27 January 2011

Remembering Miss Wood

My daughter Megan is training to be a teacher. She's recently started her final teaching practice, with a class of five and six-year-olds, and each night she comes home with a story of something that's happened or something the children have said. In just a few days she's gone from 'they're all too little and annoying' to 'I think I'm starting to like them'. I guess they might be starting to like her too.

It's funny how well I can remember my teachers from primary school. My favourite was Mr Griffiths. I know he was my favourite because I can still recall the sinking feeling when I lost my temper and shouted at him. Even then I knew he was disappointed with me. I don't know how it started, I vaguely remember it was something to do with a tennis ball, but I don't really know what turned me from my usual goody-two-shoes to a tempestuous ten-year old in a tantrum.  Though all I hollered was 'It's not flippin' fair', word soon got round that I'd sworn at him. I realise now that I missed the opportunity to exaggerate my waywardness and so gain the credibility of my school friends, but I was too busy hoping to win back his approval. My rebellions have always been somewhat low-key.

Miss Da Gama came to us as a supply teacher, part way through the year. Perhaps that's why she always seemed a little odd. I don't think we were particularly kind or welcoming to her. We'd been taught about the famous Portuguese explorer, Vasco Da Gama, so we teased her about her name and her possible connections, but I don't think we were especially cruel. One day, when we tried to go back to the classroom after lunch we were ushered away downstairs to the hall. Later we found out that she'd had some sort of a break-down, smashing up the classroom and ripping down all the carefully mounted paintings and stories from the classroom walls. We didn't see her again.

After that we got Mr Campbell. Perhaps he'd been told to treat us kindly; perhaps he was just that sort of man, but for a whole year, all we seemed to do was art and drama. I spent hour after hour making 3-D structures out of paper drinking straws - tetrahedrons and dodecahedrons. Hour after hour sitting on cushions on the floor because he'd cut all the legs off the tables.

Of course it all changed when I got to secondary school. I had to smother my irritation with the maths teacher, whose name I refuse to remember, because she insisted on pronouncing mine 'Share-on'. But I loved that we had an art teacher called Miss Brushett and a physics teacher called Miss Newton. It was right that our religious knowledge teacher was called Miss Theophilus, and our skinny nervous history teacher was Miss Lean. Nowadays it's not the bizarre coincidences of their names that I think about, it's realising that I spent so many years being taught by single old women, in an all girls' school - small wonder I married too young.

It was at secondary school that I was taught by Miss Wood. She had short hair, like Ingrid Bergman in Joan of Arc, and she was the first person I'd ever met who wore contact lenses. I think maybe she was a little afraid of losing a lens in class and having to crawl around on the floor to find it, so she was always very careful. When she looked from side to side, she'd turn her whole head rather than just her eyes.

She was my form teacher in class 2D, the year I became a teenager, the first and only time I was voted form captain, but that isn't why I remember her. She taught us English and I began writing my first romantic novel while in her class. She made me read it out to the rest of the girls, chapter by chapter. While they yawned and giggled, and pointed out the glaring inconsistencies in my characters and actions, she sat on the edge of the desk listening and nodding approval. It didn't matter that it I never finished it. She introduced me to the thrill of putting words on a page for others to respond to, even though she was the only one who showed any sign of appreciation. She made me think I could write.


dys·func·tion said...

That's beautiful.

It's always refreshing to remember the teachers who made positive impacts on our lives.

I hope that someone, somewhere, shares this with Miss Wood so that she can read more of your beautiful writing - in the form of a tribute to her - and realize that she made a difference in at least one student's life.

Jennifer said...

This is one of my favorites posts that I've read from you so far.

Dani said...

Wow, you've had some interesting teachers! And it's amazing the things you remember about them!

Nicole said...

Wonderful remembrance. Wonderful inspiration.

caterpillar said...

Took me back to my school days...a few teachers do leave their mark...

Pat said...

I wonder if, when your teachers were interviewed for a job, if the aptness of their names were taken into consideration?
Thanks for reminding me of a couple of inspirational teachers - one who awakened a love of literature and one a love of pretty clothes with her pale green georgette blouse - it was wartime and bleak austerity abounded.

Anonymous said...

Dear Sharon, I have never held with the notion that one's schooldays are the best days of one's life but it is so true what you write here that so many teachers from one's earliest years make an indelible impression that last for ever.
What a gem Miss Wood is[ and all susequent Miss Woods are]for making you believe in yourself. This surely the greatest gift that anyone can give to another human being.

light208 said...

It is surprising how much of an impact teachers have on our lives. When I speak to my students about their ability in maths/English, most can tell me, in detail, about the teachers and how they taught etc.

It sounds like you had a wonderful teacher in Miss Woods. I was also lucky enough to have some wonderful teachers who made a positive impression. I hope Miss Wood knows what an effect she had.

Seré said...

This was lovely. I mentioned my 7th grade writing teacher in my last post, too. Many people I've met who say they either can't write or lost their love of writing point to an overly critical English teacher in their past. Clearly we need more Ms. Woods.

Jayne said...

Teachers can literally make or break you. You are lucky to have had some good mentors. You write the better for it.
I really enjoyed this post. ;)

Jane said...

A lovely post & thank you for reminding me of my own Miss Wood.

Shopgirl said...

You have that ability to bring memories back, which in these days is definitely a gift, as in, a present from the past.

My third grade teacher changed my life. Think I might write about her someday, if I could come close to do her justice.

otherworldlyone said...

Thought I'd already commented on this...oops.

I get so excited every time you post. This, like everything I've read of yours, is brilliant.

Whirlochre said...

It's good to stir the spirits of early mentors from time to time, particularly when the spoon of your inspiration seems unusually blunt.

Madame DeFarge said...

This struck a nice chord with me. My mother was a primary school teacher and I always wonder how many remember her - many I hope. My favourite was my music teacher, Miss Cullen, who taught me to sing. I loved it and was eternally grateful to her.

The Lissst! said...

Hello There. I came across your post from I can't remember where. It was wonderfully well written.
We've all heard of Teachers and the Break Downs they go throw, but those usually come second hand. Looks like you knew one personally.

Sharon Longworth said...

dys.func.tion - thank you. It would be lovely if Miss Wood knew that she'd been a great teacher - I'd like to think she'd know anyway.

Jennifer - I'm so pleased you liked it - thank you.

Dani - yes, interesting about sums it up (or perhaps, the good, the bad and the ugly...)

Nicole - thank you.

Sharon Longworth said...

Caterpillar - I'm sure we've all got some strong memories of school days - a great well of writing just waiting to be tapped!

Pat - I'm picturing the blouse as I sit here - it's amazing how some details stay with us - at secondary school my teachers all had to wear hideous capes (to frighten us I'm sure)so we never really noticed their real clothes, but I do remember Miss Lean constantly fiddling with an enormous cross she wore on a chain.

Edith - I couldn't agree more - Miss Wood was a gem.

light208 - you're right about the impact - I'm sure we could find some great blog posts on the subject!

Sharon Longworth said...

Sere - thank you. I'm so behind on my blog reading - I shall go look at yours next.

Jayne - thank you.'Make or break you' - yes, scary but true.

Jane - I'm glad I prompted some memories for you. Thank you.

Shopgirl - I'd love to hear more about your third grade teacher, and having seen your writing, I know you could do her justice.

Sharon Longworth said...

OWO - that's such a lovely thing to say - I couldn't ask for more, thank you.

Whirlochre - thank you for the comment - it's left me with all sorts of images about stirring up memories and blending things together.

Madame - if only someone had taught me to sing! I'd have been spared years of teasing from my children and I could have been Eliza Doolittle on the west-end stage...!!

The Lissst - thank you for stopping by, wherever it was you came from! And thank you for your very kind comment, I hope you'll visit again.