Monday, August 10, 2009

Valued and Affirmed

In 2001 I attended the University of Tasmania's second campus at Launceston for a UTAS Master of Education Summer School. A short introductory task for one of the many courses that I attended during that summer school was to write an anecdote to share, about a time in your own primary schooling when you felt valued and affirmed. This is the ancedote that I presented.
"The year is 1960, the class is Standard two at Central New Brighton Primary School in Christchurch New Zealand and the teacher Miss Coe is straight out of training college. We all really liked Miss Coe and she really liked us, we just knew she did. She said and did things that told us quite plainly that we were important. She said things like:
"I like that idea"
"That sounds like fun"
"Yes that sounds great, let's do that"
"That is interesting, tell me more"
"Yes great, I think we can do something with that idea"
I remember lots of stories being read, lots of music being played and lots of 'hands on' art and craft activities.
One of the art and craft activities was a simple way to make a puppet. You cut the top off an old sock, stuffed it with old rags, sewed up each end and sewed on buttons for eyes. A lot of the class made these puppets at home as well as at school and by the end of the week the puppet population outnumbered the pupils.
One day Miss Coe read us a story called 'Baba and Celeste'. Baba and Celeste were elephants and in this story they got married and went on their honeymoon in a hot air balloon. Now around about this time I was desperately in love with a particular girl in Miss Coes standard two class, and after the reading of the story I declared that my puppet wanted to marry the puppet that belonged to the girl of my deams (this girl was either Ursula or ProtoUrsula). After bursting forth with this rather confused declaration of a sort of proposal of marriage by proxy I felt embarrassed and I remember blushing and feeling rather foolish, but luckily I was saved by the lunch time bell.
When we returned from lunch we were confronted by a large bright red balloon with a small puppet sized box cellotaped underneath it. This apparition was hanging from the classroom rafters by a long piece of string in such a way that it could be raised and lowered easily. We weren't at all surprised at this because this was vintage Miss Coe, she liked our ideas and acted on them, she had heard my request for a prompt marriage of the two puppet paramours.
I remember a large number of marriages between various puppets took place that afternoon and I remember the smile of nuptial bliss on my puppets face as he soared above our heads in a bright red balloon with the puppet of his dreams.
I think this classroom marriage was celebrated by doing lots of written language afterwards. Miss Coe had turned my embarrassing moment into a teaching moment.
I felt valued and affirmed as a result of all this and I remembered this incident 38 years later in 1998 when I recieved back from my marking tutors, one of my assignments for the Diploma in Educational Management. My assignment came with a note stating that she thought she had taught me in Standard 2. My tutor for this paper was a Mrs Eleanor Burt, whose maiden name was Coe."
Postscript - Eleanor Coe later sent to me two pieces of work that I produced in Standard 2. One is an alarming piece of writing (Thank God there were no school psychologists around in those days), and the other was a little book titled "The Hunter and the Tigers and other stories, A Smith Book, By Pal." It contains a couple of interesting stories amongst a large amount of very dull material. I found out later that she kept a huge amount of childrens work and had a very large archive which she gave back whenever she met her former pupils. I found this out on this very same MEd course in Launceston. One of 4 kiwis that attended the Summer School was an Advisor to Schools. She told me that Eleanor Coe was the head of the Schools Advisory Division. Nothing much had changed, she was well loved and respected still.


Janice said...

Alden, it's too bad that all teachers are not like Mill Coe! In my career teaching adults, I heard over and over again that some teacher or other had told them that they would never succeed, that they couldn't do math, that they were bound to make a mess of their lives. Many of them had, too, and one wonders if those harsh teacher words played a role in that. I discovered that many of them were ADD or ADHD, and their creativity and intelligence, because it followed a different course from the 'norm', worked against them because many of their teachers just didn't understand. I'm glad you had a Miss Coe, and Ive a sneaking suspicion that as a teacher, you also were Miss Coe!

Alden Smith said...

Janice that is very kind of you to compare me with Miss Coe. The truth is that I think we all gather together all this informal sort of mentoring and use it as an approach to many things in life, and I have certainly looked to the 'spirit' of some of my good teachers in forging my own approach.
It is a shame that so many people have negative memories of their teachers and it is a shame that so many teachers have actually earned that negative image. But there are many (the majority) who deserve respect and thanks for a job well done.
I think that worldwide there is an understanding that each child should have an individual learning plan which takes into consideration their individual modes of learning, intelligence, giftedness, creativity, special education needs, personality etc, etc, - but we are still trying to deliver these new insights in the old package of one adult in a classroom with a whole lot of children. Often the distance between theory and reality is a yawning chasm and I think we need nothing less than a huge revolution in the organising of schools, the delivery of the curriculum and the way we regard and treat children. But that requires political and social will, a lot of money and a sea change in attitudes.

Janice said...


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