Recollections of a Teacher (Excerpt #1)

by Miss Day

In 1911, at the age of 15, I called upon Dr. Blackall, who was Superintendent at that time with his office in the Colonial Building, St. John’s. When I asked him if he thought I was old enough to go teaching, he considered I was rather too young and inexperienced to take the duties of the school about me. I wished to go to an outport teaching, as I had dreams of doing this from the time I was 10 years old.

The following year I was one of a commercial class at Butler’s College. When we graduated, most of the girls took positions downtown. But each time I was consulted about applying for a job, I refused and to the amazement of teachers and students, when I was asked why I did not want to do office work, I replied, “I want to go teaching in an outport”.

My mother could not understand me at all, and very much wished for me to remain in town. And though we were in the habit of obeying father, who was away from home at the time, and told him all about it. A few days later, my mother had a letter from him telling her he thought it would be wiser to allow me to carry out my intentions to teach as “she will soon find out whether she likes it or not”. He also told us about the school in Hillview (White Bay) which had a Church of England teacher for the fall term only; the children attending math school for the remainder of the year. He said I should apply for it, as I should have the opportunity of seeing him once or twice a week. He was captain of the Trinity Bay boat at the time.

Well, I paid Dr. Blackhall another call, thinking surely, he will not refuse me now. Dr. Blackall remembered me, and when I told him of my father's suggestions to go to Hillview, he thought well of it and immediately made plans. My preparations for the journey to Hillview were very quickly made. When the day came for me to go to the railway station, it was with a feeling of joyous anticipation. Hadn't I known that I would be returning for Christmas I, no doubt, would have felt more keenly the separation from my mother and family. But I was filled with so much enthusiasm for the work I was about to do, I had little thought for anything else.

My father met me at Clarenville and took me onboard his boat, the “Ethie”. We spent the night there and when I wakened in the early morning, we were on our way to Hillview. The usual crowds had gathered on the wharf on our arrival and my father was acquainted with most of the men. A look of surprise was on their faces when my father introduced me, not only as his daughter, but the teacher. After all, I was just a young girl with my hair tied back in curls. And if they had a feeling of apprehension one would wonder at it. However, I had no misgivings myself, as at that time, the spirit of adventure was strong upon me, and I felt quite capable of anything. Maybe later, when I had talked to my boarding mistress, and was acquainted with the actions of some of the bigger boys towards their last teacher I did not feel quite so confident.

Never shall I forget that first morning when school was opened with hymn and prayers, and I had a little talk with my new pupils. I was not a fluent speaker by any means, but I think I managed to get across to them that I wished to do everything in my power to help them and asked for their cooperation, especially from the bigger boys and girls - some of them were as big and old as I was myself. Everything went very well, and it wasn't long before I was feeling quite maternal towards the little ones who had just started at school and were endeavoring to learn their alphabet, backwards and forwards, as was the custom then. I learned to love them very much and they loved me. There was scarcely a day that one of them did not come and take me by the hand and say, “Will you please come and take tea with us today?”. Their parents were most kind and considerate of me too and I was very happy indeed, though I had my difficult moments.

There was one boy in particular, Alex, whom I knew from the start would be likely to make trouble, as he had been the chief troublemaker with the previous teachers. So, I tried a little strategy on him. For instance, a few days after we had started it, the “Ethie” came into the harbor, and I wished to go to the wharf and see my father for a few moments. I set them all to work. Then I asked Alex if he would kindly keep an eye on the younger ones, adding, “the older girls and boys will naturally behave as though I were here” - it worked! When I returned, I found everything as it should be.

There were days when everything seemed to go wrong but on the whole, a definite progress was made, which made me very happy. They had not had any physical exercises, so we began those, and the children were very interested, and in a few days could do quite a number. We had been working about a month when an inspector came along. He said, “Now Miss Day, please carry on just as though I was not here”. I am sure I found it harder to do this than the children did. But we got through it till it came to the physical exercises. These too would have gone off very well hadn't we had a new pupil who wasn't at all sure of himself, having little sense of coordination and therefore was doing the wrong thing all through, with a silly grin on his face. This proved fine amusement for the other pupils, and I was nearly in convulsions from wanting to laugh out loud. Even the inspector relaxed and lost his serious face for a few moments. After, when the children had been dismissed with a half holiday, we enjoyed a good laugh together, the inspector and me.

Reprinted with permission of the NLTA