More about Teachers

Earlier in the year,  I wrote about my primary school teachers in the lower grades. When we reached the two senior classes, more students joined us from the school across the river. We now had two classes at each level. These were called Standard Five and Six or Form ! and 11. This certainly created more diversity as many of the new students were Maori. and they added a lot to the community especially in sports and music. . .

The least sympathetic teacher I ever had was the one in Standard Six. I’ll call him Mr X. I remember several of his abusive teaching techniques. We had a spelling test each morning and P got most of them incorrect. He was strapped each day and he cried every time. I knew punishing him was wrong but not why until I heard about dyslexia and other learning problems. These didn’t  exist in my day. If you learned slowly or with difficulty, you were labelled dumb and placed in the back row. There you could be ignored.

Mr X used his strap in other creative ways. He marched around the room barking times tables questions at us. A wrong answer got you the “cuts.” Of course, you might give an incorrect answer from sheer nervousness, not from ignorance. I used to watch Mr X as he strapped a student. His face became redder and redder with each stroke and I hoped he might collapse. I didn’t know about strokes and only a little about heart attacks but I can see now that I was imagining one of those illnesses felling him.

Boarding school introduced me to a while new bunch of teachers. Some of them I enjoyed but most were feared rather than admired. The teachers required us to memorize facts and then regurgitate the information in tests and exams. I could do that.

In my last year of school, I had an American history teacher. Since she came from Boston, goodness how she ended up at our school. I was amused when girls from Wellington asked her what she thought of the city as her ship sailed into the harbour. She said the place reminded her of a Wild West town. In clarification, she added this was because the houses were made of wood but the Wellingtonians stayed offended. Miss R was different. She wanted us to think about the consequences, results and causes of  to historical events rather than dates and names. We were allowed to take notes into our tests and exams. When she handed out index cards for our notes, we were overcome by the very idea of carrying information into testing situations. Poor Miss R. I’m sure she must have been dismayed by our lack of critical thinking. I owe her a large debt for helping me to cope with my subsequent university courses.

I wonder what she said about education in New Zealand when she returned to the Ststes.