School in the 1920s…

I show this picture to my 91-year-old mom and she is stunned. Where are the desks? Are they allowed to sit where they like? Who’s watching them? Where is the teacher??

We get talking about her own school days. She remembers walking to school, carrying her books in a suitcase, and meeting her friends Bertha and Joy. They sat in double desks with ink wells, facing the blackboard.

Mom recalls not enjoying school much and when I ask why, she tells me that nobody did! The teachers usually shouted although not specifically at her.  She remembers her teacher dictating spelling words. The girl beside her was ‘clever’ and wrote quickly, but she could not, of course, copy her answers. She recalls the teacher going round the class calling on each individual to respond and feeling relieved if she knew the answer.  She talks about her surprise when the 6th grade teacher once said something nice about her in front of the whole class  (‘I thought she didn’t like me’) and I love the fact that this special moment can still bring a smile to her face after eighty years. There’s a lesson there for teachers today…

A quick internet search brings up the history of the school and my mom  is amazed that I am able to find information, names and photographs from the 1920s. The site has a photo of Miss Meyer the headmistress at the time, and I’m told the children were afraid of her. I read that there was a hostel for girls who boarded at school during term time. My mom remembers she once forgot something in her classroom on a weekend and went, fearfully, to knock on the door at the hostel to ask if she could go into the school and retrieve the item.

I probe for more memories but, for now, that’s all I can get.

We don’t have ink wells any more, but it strikes me that in many schools, things haven’t changed all that much. Hopefully school is no longer a place for fear… of teachers, of failure, of humiliation or of punishment. I wonder how learning can occur under those conditions?

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