An Outport Teacher Remembers

by Christina Bradley

I first went teaching in 1928 at a little village called Elliott’s Cove, on Random Island, just across the Sound from Clarenville. I went by train to Clarenville, then took the ferry. It was only a very short run across, but we had to go all the way down the Sound. It was a beautiful morning but by the time we got there, it was blowing a gale and I was seasick. When I landed, they had a lunch prepared for me, but I couldn't eat it, so after a little while, I lay down. I got over the sick feeling enough that I decided to get the key and go over to see what the school was like. I had to pass by the church and before I knew anything, I was in the ditch! A gander came out with some young ones - he just came right out at me and knocked me over in the ditch! That was a kind of poor beginning for the new teacher. I was humiliated! But nobody made any issue of it at all. I laughed at it afterwards, but I couldn't laugh at the time.

The school was a one room school- just the one room, but in comparison with a classroom of today, it would be quite a large classroom. It was too large for one classroom, in a way, because it was so long and there were no conveniences. I had over 30 pupils. I'm not positive of the number right now and they ranged from beginners to grade 10. It was United Church school, as that was the only religion that was there. The school was heated by a big stove in the centre of the room and the big boys took weekly turns lighting the fire early in the morning while the parents supplied the fuel - a load of wood. The school day began at 9:30 and lasted until 4:00 o'clock, but with so many classes and with the grade 10 exam pupils, I'd often be there till five or six o'clock.

I had been told by the Superintendent of education for the United Church that it was a difficult school and that other teachers before me had a lot of trouble so I went into that classroom in fear and trembling, I can tell you! But I never had any problems and I never taught in a school where I had a better time as far as discipline was concerned. I think that was probably the way I let them know I intended to be boss. I was their friend and would help them, but if they'd do their worst, I do my worst and if they were their best, I'd be mine. But I hated corporal punishment and I suffered more than the ones that I punished anytime I used it. It was the last thing I ever did, and I used it very little.

The only equipment in the room was a blackboard, The children used mostly slates in those days. They had exercise books for special work only. The older ones had slates about 18 inches by 10 inches or 12 inches. The little ones would have slates a little smaller than that. They'd each bring a bottle of water and two cloths to wash them off with period some would have likely spit on them if they were not watched!

The big girls in the school cleaned up with the teachers help but sometimes the mothers would come and clean the school. There was one thing that I didn't like. The community had no hall so they would use the school for socials, and we would have to go in extra early or stay awfully late to get cleaned up and be able to open school on time the next day. A teacher in those days was expected to go to church and help if there was a church organization to belong to and be a teacher or Superintendent of Sunday school. We were supposed to spend our money in these organizations too, and we didn't have much to spend. The teacher had to supply any textbooks or other materials that were required for teaching, and we had to buy them out of our own money. The board only supplied the very bare necessities. I bought my own chalk too, even though I didn't have to, because they didn't use dustless chalk and I used to get hay fever from the other kind.

And your morals, of course, you had to be above reproach or else... I think a man could smoke, but if a woman was known to be smoking, she wouldn't last overnight. Another thing, if one had exam pupils and didn't get good results - maybe he or she'd be back from the second year, but certainly not for the third. That was their yardstick, which wasn't fair. In fact, that was the yardstick which most of the boards used for measuring the success of a teacher- how many pupils they got through in public exams. It didn't matter whether you had a poor class that year or had an extra good one the year before. That was the way it was back then.

(Reprinted with permission from the RTANL)