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Life Is Too Short To Drink Bad Wine: 25- Classroom Reality

“Woody suddenly stopped, turned to face me and with a look of amazement and certainly puzzlement on his face, seriously said, “Gayle, I think I love you!” This was the moment when I realised that this could be forever, come what may…’’ Gayle Woodward writes so vividly and directly that you can almost hear her voice telling you her life story.

For earlier chapters of Life Is Too Short To Drink Bad Wine type Gayle Woodward in the search box on this page.

In the winter holidays I went with my friend Margaret Pilbrow to her parents bach at Rotorua. We caught the train there and a bus out to Ngonotaha where we were to stay.

I felt quite the young working girl as we purchased food to cook (I had no idea of how to do this) and booked ourselves into a restaurant for dinner on the Saturday night. I remember dressing up for the dinner so smartly with high heeled stiletto shoes which proved so unsuitable when walking to and from the bus stop.

We had a bit of difficulty choosing from the menu but it was because we wanted to try everything and had to be mindful of the cost, having very limited student finances. We were paid a student allowance while studying. This was small, and smaller again than the men on our course received and in my case had superannuation payments taken out at source. We were bonded to teach for two years on receipt of this allowance. I had a further section at Kohimarama Primary School in the primers and enjoyed it immensely getting a good review again.

Later that year, my relationship with Woody took a more serious turn. One night, while strolling on the reserve at Mission Bay (we may have seen a movie there), Woody suddenly stopped, turned to face me and with a look of amazement and certainly puzzlement on his face, seriously said, “Gayle, I think I love you!” This was the moment when I realised that this could be forever, come what may.

I certainly felt the same. He was nineteen and I was eighteen. We had been seeing each other for three years. And I found new things to admire about him the day my Nana died, in December 1967. We were both having afternoon tea with Nana that Saturday afternoon. I was eager that Nana get to know Woody so we visited her often. She had been instrumental in finding out that Woody and I shared the same great great grandmother so thought he was very suitable, being family in a strange way.

That day, we were sitting in the front room of the house she had built with her own husband, and now shared with her daughter, son-in-law and grandchildren, together with my cousins Bill and Tricia. We were all sipping dainty cups of tea when Nana suddenly said, “I feel a bit funny”. With that, her head fell forward and the cup and saucer slipped in her hand. She was dead. All was quiet for a moment, until Woody ran to the phone and immediately called an ambulance.

Bill, Tricia and I rushed from the room in shock. I did not know what to do or what was happening. I saw that her mouth was open and her false teeth had slipped forward. I approached her fearfully to close her mouth. When I touched her face it was still warm and soft; the same soft skin I had always loved to touch. My fear left me and sadness replaced it. The cousins ran next door to summon neighbours, Woody called my home to let my parents know and we waited for them and for help to arrive. Woody was calm and exuded authority, a skill I have come to rely on over the years. This was certainly the first time any of us had ever seen a dead person and although Nana had heart problems and took medication, nobody could have expected her to go so suddenly the way she would have loved, with three of her four grandchildren around her.

I graduated form Teachers College with Distinction – an academic award, which probably proved that I could have undertaken University level study easily, especially English and History papers. I was informed that I had been appointed as a Probationary Assistant at Anchorage Park School in the new suburb of Pakuranga. I was to teach Primer Two and had to do so successfully for one year in order to become a qualified teacher.

I spent hours over the summer holidays making charts and musical instruments such as shakers and drums. I wanted music to be a big part of my classroom. It was a worry to me as to how I would get to the school. I had become very used to the public bus system to get to college in Mt Eden and to get me to the various teaching sections around Auckland. But there was no bus service from Glendowie to Pakuranga on the other side of the Tamaki River. I discovered that the Headmaster also lived in Glendowie and he kindly offered me a lift in his car morning and afternoon. I was shy about accepting but he seemed very nice and supportive. I found waiting at the end of each day until five o’clock when he would be ready to leave daunting. I was so tired in those first few weeks and felt I could fall to sleep by four o’clock if given the chance.

It was exhausting work - changing activities every fifteen minutes or so, accommodating different interests and abilities. Discipline was difficult. I was stressed and my voice would get louder and shriller as the day wore on. I so wanted to be one of the teachers I had seen while on section.

Each day started well and the children responded well to my use of music to call them to the mat and for changeovers. But when they were working at their tables in groups, it was the less able group that was always causing problems in the classroom. They were mainly boys (and I particularly remember a Maori boy, Shane), who never had pencils, would wander aimlessly around the classroom and chatted constantly.

They seemed to take up an inordinately amount of my time. I could not teach the way I wanted as I seemed to be always babysitting six boys. The Senior Teacher in Charge of Infant Classes came to watch me teach and did not think I was doing anything wrong. She said that I should just be firmer with my discipline but these children were only six years old and I felt that it was my limitations that were at fault. The nicest time of day was Story Time.

I had a talent for reading aloud and my love of books shone through. The children would be silent, eyes fixed on the pictures in the book I was holding up, with different marvellous expressions showing on their little faces as they empathised with the characters in the pages. The girls who sat at the front of the mat to be close to me would stroke my pantyhose clothed legs absently while they listened. If I had been lax in shaving my legs they would comment on the prickly feel. I loved their honesty. The year dragged on. I felt more confident and seemed to deal with the troublemakers more easily but I didn’t really feel that I was TEACHING them anything. I did not know how to test my methods.

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