Miss Everitt came to mind today. It is 18th January, the day when the church remembers the Confession of Saint Peter, Peter who once put on his cloak before jumping over the side of a boat into the water.
“What sort of person was Peter?” asked Miss Everitt one day when I was in the infants class at High Ham School.
“Please Miss, he was rash”.
(Where did a small boy of seven, maybe eight, years of age, in a tiny rural community, learn a word like “rash,” if not from the teacher?)
“Yes, he was rash sometimes. Anyone else, what other things would we say about Peter?”
Arriving in her blue Ford Anglia each morning, bespectacled and stern, Miss Everitt took education seriously. There was never homework, but there was hardly need for it. The school day for infants ran from 9.15 until 3.30. Apart from breaks, the day was filled with active teaching, there was rarely a moment to drift, rarely a moment when concentration was not demanded.
Miss Everitt would have “ladders” on the mantlepiece, league tables formed from cork board in which labels were pinned, your name could go up or down, according to how well you were doing. Never being at the top, the ladders were never very encouraging.
A friend had cardboard football league tables with the clubs’ names being printed on labels with tabs that could be inserted into the slits in the card after each Saturday’s results. For some reason we had a bizarre, and utterly irrational, dislike of Charlton Athletic, about whom we knew nothing, and would put them at the bottom of Division 4, regardless of the result. There would have been a desire at times to similarly manipulate the classroom tables, but one would not dare have touched anything; Miss Everitt would know if something had been changed and would know who was responsible. Miss Everitt always knew who was responsible, no matter what the misdemeanour.
More encouraging than the tables were charts with spots, the spots being earned by attainments, though fifty years later, it is hard to remember what the attainments might have been. Encouragement was not a quality that was in plentiful supply, doing one’s best was the default position for being in Miss Everitt’s class. If there were the slightest suspicion that maximum effort had not been applied to the completion of a piece of work, Miss Everitt would express her disapproval in forthright terms.
There was little patience shown towards those who did not meet expectations of literacy and numeracy. One pupil, almost a year younger, but in the same academic year, was told in no uncertain terms that the work that had been done was not comparable with that of others in the group. It seemed unfair when watching at the time, it seems even more unfair five decades later. To be spoken to about work, when one had tried. was bad enough, to be spoken to in front of the whole class must have been a painful experience.
Perhaps the regime was harsh, stories from those in later years suggested a mellowing with the passing of time, but there are no memories of anyone being slapped and hardly a memory of a raised voice.
Trained in the 1930s, Miss Everitt was a teacher of a former age. The world had changed beyond recognition during her classroom years, but the lessons she taught have endured through many years since; including the story about Peter jumping from the boat. Over fifty years later, it still seems rash to put on one’s cloak only to jump into the water. Miss Everitt would have had a word with him about such silliness.