In the book Forties’ Child, Tom Wakefield recounts his experience growing up in the British Midlands during World War II. When I read the book, one passage struck me as a perfect description of what makes a good teacher. Read it and you just might agree:
Everything changed in the second year. There must have been just as many children in the classroom, but somehow the room seemed bigger than the one we had left. Perhaps it was because everything was in order in that classroom, everything was in proper place. There were corners for this and corners for that, our desks had our names stuck on them, so we knew our place. So did Miss Craddock. You could never go into that room when she wasn’t there. In the mornings she looked just the same as we had left her in the evenings. She was never absent or late for school. Sometimes I wondered if she might have slept there.
Miss Craddock was very tall, one of the tallest women I have ever seen. She wore flat shoes; I don’t know what her clothes looked like because I never saw her with any on. That is, I never saw here in a frock, or a pullover and skirt. Two large smocks covered her up. They buttoned down the front. One of them was patterned with blue and white daisies, the other one was of pink-and-white check. I liked the daisies one best; I think she must have done too because she wore it more than the pink-and-white one. She never buttoned them, even the two buttons at the top, but she might have buttoned these up had her neck not been so long. She said herself she looked like a giraffe, yes she did, when she was showing us pictures of animals. Miss Craddock didn’t mind us laughing when she told us this, she laughed her self.
Giraffes are beautiful animals and that is why I fell in love with Miss Cradock. I think that is why, although her eyes were big and blue, her complexion fresh, she always smelled as though she had just got out of the bath, she smelt of clean washing, no scent to her, just this clean smell.
How would you know what a teacher smelled like? Well, at some time during the day Miss Craddock would cuddle us. Hold us quite close to her and say something very special. We all got the same treatment. As I had never had it at home I suppose I appreciated it more than some of the others. The room was never noisy like the other one had been, this was funny because I can’t ever remember Miss Craddock shouting. There were eight groups for reading lessons and she would float from group to group. I can’t remember how she taught us to read, in fact I can’t remember not being able to read. I had not been in her class long before she extracted me from the groups althogether; she would give me a book that she had brought from home or borrowed from her friend Miss Moore and tell me to read it on my own. Later, she would ask me what the book was about.
“Well now, Tommy, and what do I start you on next, we can’t have you standing still, can we?” I didn’t know who the other person was when she said ‘we’ because she handn’t married. I had mentioned to my dad that I’d like to marry her.
“Ah, and you could do a lot worse,” was his reply. I never asked her, I couldn’t, although I would have liked her arms around me much more than my daily ration.
Even playtimes were different in Miss Craddock’s class. Other teachers disappeared down the corridor into a small room, but Miss Craddock always sat behind her desk. She would send one of us for her morning hot milky drink. This was an honour and we all sat up and looked at her appealingly, hoping that she would choose us to do her a favour. Most of the class went out to play like the rest of the school, but if you wanted to stay inside you could, and if any child had a cold or Miss Craddock thought they were not well, she would have them in the room with her. I rarely went out to play. I read, sometimes I just talked to her when there weren’t too many children in. She was interested in everything and I never had met anyone who could listen as well as she could. Not that I thought she was perfect. No, she told lies, I think they were lies although she never went red when she told them, so for her perhaps they weren’t lies at all.
What do you think was the secret of this teacher’s magic? I would be delighted if you left a comment with your opinion below.
You can order Forties’ Child by Tom Wakefield from Amazon.com or perhaps find it at your local bookstore.