Not Yet a Teacher

by Louise Burton

In my last year of school, while studying for my matriculation, I acted as an assistant teacher, teaching the lower grades under the guidance of my teacher, Miss Elsie Brooks. At the end of the year, she encouraged me to apply in response to an advertisement for teachers, and I did so. As a result of my application, the school inspector came to Change Islands to “test” me and decide whether I could be a teacher.

I recall clearly that the testing included the recitation of 40 lines of poetry from memory. I also had to read aloud quite a lot of prose, and finally I had to answer many questions on math and other subjects. Afterwards, and on the school inspector’s recommendation, I was granted what was then called a Grade II certificate. I was a teacher!

Thus, on August 27th, 1923, at the age of 16, I set out to take the school at Port Anson. Although I left Change Islands in the early morning on the SS Clyde, I did not arrive in Port Anson until late afternoon, because the steamer had to call at several ports along the way.

I had been told that someone would meet me, but no one showed up. However, someone on the wharf kindly informed me who was to board the teacher and indicated the way to the boarding house. When I got to the boarding house, I discovered they were not even expecting me! They thought that the new teacher would have been notified that the school had to be renovated and would not likely be opened until the end of October. As you can imagine, it was not welcome news to me, for I realized immediately the late beginning would entail some tough going to get the years’ work caught up. It was not a happy prospect, especially for a young and inexperienced teacher just starting her first position.

Now I had to make a decision and quickly for the SS Clyde would be returning on our homeward journey the next morning. I could stay, and be paid for my time, doing nothing till school was ready but did that did not appeal to me for I was eager to begin teaching. Instead, I wrote the Superintendent that very night telling him what happened. I also informed him I wished to be assigned to another school and expected to have my wages paid until the school was found. Looking back on it, I marvel that I had the nerve to make such demands but at the time it seemed perfectly justified and natural. The innocence of youth perhaps!

The next morning when the SS Clyde docked, I was waiting on the Wharf to return to Change Islands. My letter was posted on the SS Clyde as soon as I got on board. One week after I got home, I received a reply from the Superintendent telling me he was making an investigation into the situation at Port Anson and would be in touch again as soon as possible. Within a week, I received another letter. This one containing a check for $80 and the offer of another school, the one room school at Woodstock (at that time a community of some 15 families).

I wired my acceptance at once and when the SS Prospero next called at Change Islands, I embarked for Pacquet (the nearest port of call to Woodstock). From there, I went by motorboat to Woodstock, arriving there on the 23rd of September. The children of the community were glad to see the teacher for they had been waiting all that time for their school to be opened for the year. I was glad too, as now I had a school and students.

In Woodstock, I boarded with Mr. Henry Simms and his wife, Irene. Out of my salary of $27.00 a month, I paid $11 for room and board. Mrs. Simms conducted the Methodist Church services, except when the minister from Pacquet visited about once a month. She asked me to take some of the services. Thereafter, she took morning service when I took the evening one, and vice versa. We also taught Sunday school together. I recall that I got my uncle who was a lay reader in our church on Change Islands, to send me some of his sermon books to use. Since there was no church building, the school had to be prepared on Friday for Sunday services. Singing was done without an organ, but luckily there were several good singers in the community, and I could hold my own in that respect, back then.

At first, I had about 55 students, but about a month after I arrived, my class was reduced by half, because about half of the families moved for the winter months to Hampton, were logging work was plentiful. Of course, in April most of the families returned and my class grew again.

I remember, too that in the fall and spring, the community held “syrup socials” named after the drinks served at such functions. At those socials there was a guest cake, and for five cents a guess you could try to find out what was hidden in the cake. Money raised in this way was put to good use in the community.

Early in June, although the school year was not quite at an end, I had to close school to catch the SS Prospero to get home for the summer. This was an acceptable practice in those days, as geographical isolation really dictated it. After spending another year at Woodstock, I taught for a year at Perry’s Island and then went to Shoe Cove Brook for the next two years. One thing I remember in particular about my first year in Shoe Cove is that there was no Sunday school before I arrived. I started a Sunday school with the help of Mr. Noseworthy and thus taught for six days of the week.

It is interesting to note that for those first five years, I taught all those grades in large classes, without ever having any professional training. Of course, there were many others who began their teaching careers in the same way. That's the way it was in those days, for there was a shortage of trained teachers. It was not until five years later that I attended Prince of Wales College in St. John’s for a year to train to be a teacher. I wonder what I was for those first five years. I certainly felt like a teacher and was treated like one by young and old alike.

(Reprinted with permission from the RTANL)