I must have been in the third year of High School when I first noticed Miss Crute, mainly because I had been assigned to her English Literature class for the next term. She was all of five feet three inches high swamped by the black teacher’s gown that all teachers wore at the all-girl grammar school which I attended. She was softly spoken and walked with a quiet dignity, always modelling an outdated beehive and pince-nez spectacles. I couldn’t help but notice as I passed her classes that all students would sit quietly and attentively whilst she spoke and I assumed that was because she was one tough old harridan like many of the other teachers. Consequently, I dreaded the day when I would too be sitting to attention alongside all my classmates listening to yet another mind-numbing lecture.
The very first morning, I slunk into her class and claimed one of the desks at the rear whilst awaiting the hellion herself. As we all made to stand she gestured for us to remain seated before what I came to discover was her usual soft-spoken greeting of “Good Morning Ladies”.
She opened the pages of “To Kill a Mocking Bird” and started to read aloud. In the stillness you could have heard a pin drop and for that short time we all became a captivated audience in the world of Atticus, Scout and Jem. When she stopped reading, it was like a magic spell was broken and we’d all woken up but what followed that and every other reading was a frank and lively discussion of the characters and plot. Unlike many of the other teachers, she actually asked us what we thought and suggested that we put ourselves in that situation; would we too have been as charitable and as fair as Atticus. Thereafter, the week couldn’t pass quick enough until I was back in that classroom listening to Wuthering Heights, Tess of the d’Urbervilles or Great Expectations.
Of course, I never realised it at the time but this gifted teacher was sharing more with us that just an admiration of literature. It was only years later, that I understood that the lessons learned in that dusty old classroom were far more important than just a mutual love of books.
It is the supreme art of the teacher to awaken joy in creative expression and knowledge.
Picture kindly provided by the talented Rhonda at 50 Shades of Gray Hair