Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Happy Teachers' Day - All

I wonder if teachers today still exert as much influence over the lives of their students as they did in my day?
 In my day, teachers were demi-gods. Very few of us would dare to defy a teacher, as any complaint from a teacher got severe repercussions from home. A teacher could shame a child into compliance by a word or two in the classroom.
  It is still true, of course, that teachers have their students welfare at heart, for a student who turns out well is a credit to him/herself and the school.
  Of course, there were awful teachers. They are people too. Like many of you, I met some bad ones as well as some outstanding ones. For most of my early school life I went to a sort of little private school (couldn't be called a prep). It was very small with only one teacher taking us through. Miss Shirley taught me for most of my early life. She made me believe that I could achieve things I never could have dreamed of. Knowing the limitations of my home, she prepared me to get a scholarship to Merl Grove High, which set the pattern for my later life.
  The first day, at registration at Merl Grove, Miss Miriam Speid, the very scary headmistress, told me, "You are born in July, you will have to work hard for everything you get in life" Subconsciously, this remained the mantra for my life. She also told me that as a scholarship child I would have to participate in everything the school did. All extracurricular activities - choir, drama, speech festivals, dance – I balked only at sports. I couldn't run to save my life and hated netball etc.
  But the emphasis on the arts was good for me. I loved school and all the things I got to do. In high school I met some of the teachers who would influence the way my life has gone. For one thing, the only career I saw for myself was teaching. And the exposure to creative activities pushed my own creativity. In the lower forms, as in many girls' schools, we developed 'crushes' on some of the teachers. Some didn't deserve our adoration as we found out when we grew more critical. Some did.
  The major influence on my desire to become a writer was Alma Mock Yen (nee Hylton).I had always loved reading, but she made reading more than merely pleasure. Her literature classes were inspiring. Somehow she made the words lift off the page and invade my soul.  She made Shakespeare come alive as if we were right there in the plays with his characters. Right there at my desk, I flitted about with Ariel and sang:

Where the bee sucks, there suck I:

In a cowslip’s bell I lie;

There I couch when owls do cry.

On the bat’s back I do fly

After summer merrily.   

Merrily, merrily shall I live now

Under the blossom that hangs on the bough.
 Even in the lower forms she forced us to be critical of what we read. We couldn't get away with merely saying the we 'liked' a piece of writing. We had to say why, out loud, in front of the class. This forced us to really think about what we were reading. These many years later, I still remember some of her classes. I recall how impressed I was when she insisted that we write simply – not using big words just for the sake of using them. The best writers who made themselves understood by all used simple language, impressively. She cited Winston Churchill (and told us to go read his speeches) who inspired a nation with words which everyone could understand and readily repeat.
  I was in pain when I went on to university and had to adopt jargon, pertinent to the subject area, and complicated (pompous) ways of expressing our thoughts in order to 'impress' the lecturers (or so we thought). (I wonder where a certain Bajan lecturer is now?)  It was joy when I could ditch all that and write in a more comfortable style.
 Today, I thank all the teachers I met. Those who had both negative and positive influences on my life. In my old age, I know that things go the way they were meant to. We are free to use our experiences as learning tools for later life. I can read and write and understand life, a little better, because of all my teachers.

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