As a little girl, I went to a tiny village primary school in North Yorkshire – one so small that it only had an Infant class and a Junior class. The number on roll varied between 40 and about 65 from memory.
My teacher was also the Head. Mrs Cowan taught me all through the whole of Infants except for “top Infants” as we called it (which would be Year 2 now), when she moved through to the Juniors, only for me to follow the next year meaning that she then taught me for the whole of Juniors until I left the school in Year 5 as we were moving to York. Imagine having the same teacher for your whole primary career bar two years . . . Imagine if I hadn’t actually liked her! Thankfully that wasn’t the case and I thought Mrs Cowan was just wonderful, my Mum jokes that she was like a third parent.
Because of the nature of our tiny village, everyone knew everyone and as such, when we left Mum and Dad stayed in touch with lots of the people who lived in the village, including my teacher – in fact I used to write to her myself for a while. I think the last time I actually saw her was when I was 12 and she came to visit us in York to watch me playing the flute in a show at school. (She had been the one to teach me to play three types of recorder before I was 10.) Each year my parents still get a Christmas card with a short update and it’s one I always look forward to reading – I would still recognise her distinctive handwriting anywhere.
For years Mum and I have kept saying we must go and visit and take the kids to meet Mrs Cowan. I can see so many similarities in Ben to my own attitudes and learning styles as a child and I’ve often wondered what Mrs Cowan might think of him, of all three of them. And so finally, this weekend, we did it. We took the children to meet Mrs Cowan and spent a lovely afternoon with her. She’s no longer Mrs Cowan and actually remarried several years ago but despite being 37 years old, I’m not sure I will ever be able to call her anything else!
I loved listening to her chatting to Amy and reading to her the way she would have done with us as children, and telling her all the things I remembered about the phrases she might use – “touch and take” or “look with your eyes and not with your hands” for example, or stories about children in our class and even lessons I remember her teaching us. Her impact on me as both a person and a teacher was huge, in fact as Mum told Mrs Cowan on Saturday, she was the reason I went into teaching in the first place. I wanted to teach from a very young age and that was her influence.
It’s funny that as a teacher myself I often forget how much of a part I play in a child’s life and how much they might remember when they are older. And then I recall that lesson on fractions with the mini rolls that Mrs Cowan taught me when I was about 7yrs old . . .
As if to prove the point, and with incredible timing, on Friday night I was eating dinner my family to celebrate my sister’s birthday when one of the waiters came and asked “Excuse me, are you a teacher?” when I replied that yes, I was – he asked “Are you Miss Hallinan?” and, as it turned out, two of the waiters working in the restaurant were ex-pupils of mine. This has never happened to me before as I no longer live locally to the school I taught in for so many years. I have friends who still work there, so I hear stories of what some of our ex-pupils have got up to but these are often not great news. I can’t tell how lovely it was to see two polite young men, happy and working hard and to know that I helped to get them there (though it did make me feel very old). They told my Dad that I had been one of their favourite teachers, which was of course lovely to hear.
For the rest of the evening I couldn’t stop thinking about these young men as the little boys they had once been. Although I had recognised their faces and their names were familiar when they told me, it took me some time to place them and to remember them properly. It’s over five years since I left my school in Leeds and even longer since I had taught these boys, I taught each of them when I was pregnant – one with Ben, one with Chloe. But the more I thought about it, the more I dug around in my memory the more I remembered about each of them and the classes they were in. It made me miss teaching.
People often ask if I will go back to full time teaching and for the most part I answer with “Why would I?” but seeing these boys on Friday night reminded me of what I loved so much about it – about the relationships with not just the pupil but their whole family, of seeing them grow up and supporting them through that and of the fun I had doing it. Of course it’s easy to look back with rose tinted spectacles and I know that full time teaching wouldn’t suit me right now – with three children of my own to take care of but I did love it. And I did it well.