Teaching Out of Bounds (Part 1)

by Marie-Beth Wright

My spouse, Carl Wright, was a career teacher whose first teaching assignment occurred in 1959-60 at Botwood. Armed with a Grade One teaching certificate at 17, he set out by train and only returned home at Christmas. It was near impossible to communicate with family throughout the year. Imposed boundaries indicate where we are allowed or expected to operate. Their meaning is enhanced today in the on-going Covid 19 pandemic, for free movement has been restricted or disallowed. So it was for teen-aged teachers sent throughout the colony’s, later, province’s schools, to a specific island or cove who arrived at a surprise destination after a six-week summer training in St. John’s. They were now outside their comfort level, “out of bounds”, in terms of leaving family, friends and the familiar far behind.

Teacher preparedness and teaching assignments were highly similar throughout Newfoundland and Labrador for nearly fifty years. Indeed 2021 marked the 100th anniversary of Newfoundland’s Normal School’s teacher training but the Probationer’s Summer School long remained a complementary source of staffing schools until 1969.

Many Newfoundland schools were staffed by teachers holding a “P” license and who were taught at the former Prince of Wales College on LeMarchant Rd in St. John’s from the late 30s onward, alternating some summers with the new Memorial College on Parade Street. Attending this short pedagogical preparation outfitted the teacher with a Probationary or “P” teaching license. Attending a second year would upgrade you to “B” standing. In the words of Nita Roberts of Brookfield, Bonavista Bay, who attended in the summer of 1950: “I had passed my CHE (Council of Higher Education) exams and went off to St. John’s. Everyone who did so to become a teacher would get $60 for board for the training period. We came from every cove and inlet in the province, 16 and 17 year-olds, not knowing how to use a telephone or flush a toilet!”.

The Hon. Clyde K. Wells, describes his early education in a one room school house in the tiny railway town of Stephenville Crossing. In an article in Anglican Life, “From Anglican School House to Premier's Office”, he relates, “In grade 7, I was taught by a 17 year-old boy who had just graduated from high school in the spring and took a six-week summer course in teacher training. My grade 5 teacher was Miss Ida Burry of Greenspond. Her on the job memories illustrate the social enhancement these fledgling teachers brought to their postings. The former Miss Burry relates, “I was church organist at Safe Harbour whenever the Minister visited. At Lawrenceton, I played three times each Sunday. In Valleyfield, I played in turn with two others and in Greenspond, whenever needed. I helped organize church programs at Mother’s Day, Easter, etc. and also school Christmas concerts. I played for weddings and funerals and helped whenever needed for any other community events”. Ida finished her teaching career in the regional hub of Gander in 1958 in a new modern K-12 school.