Lately, I’ve been doing a little research on schools and education here in Newfoundland about 100 years ago. I’m interested in the life of one of my distant ancestresses, who became a teacher soon after the turn of the century. She left behind a wonderful collection of postcards, and somewhere in what I can piece together of her life from those postcards, I think there is the kernel of something that will become another historical novel set in that era.
But back to the research on schools … I was reading a little gem called the Report of the Public Schools of Newfoundland, 1901, and looked up data on the school in Coley’s Point, the town where many of my family lived, which at the turn of the century had a little over a thousand people. The school had 120 pupils and ONE TEACHER. Here’s the school inspector’s report on the Coley’s Point school and its teacher, James Norman, who earned $343.88 for his year’s work in 1901:
At Coley’s Point I found the school uncomfortably crowded for satisfactory work. With considerably over a hundred children, ranging from Alphabet to Standard VI, the wonder is how Mr. Norman succeeds so well. He is most conscientious, not sparing pains, nor time, so long as he can improve his pupils. An assistant is occasionally employed, but a permanent one is needed if the bigger children especially are to receive such an education as shall fit them for their future calling.
“The wonder is how Mr. Norman succeeds so well.” Or, how Mr. Norman has not already taken to drink, had a nervous breakdown, or jumped off the wharf! Over 100 students in all grades, ranging from five years old up to at least 16, with an occasional assistant?? I can’t even wrap my mind about it.
As I get ready to wrap up another school year, I can’t stop thinking about poor Mr. Norman. I wonder what became of him? I’ve been a teacher all my adult life and I have the greatest respect for my fellow professionals, including the dedicated teachers who teach my children, and all the teachers I’ve worked with over the years. No matter where or when you teach, it’s a job that has its challenges. But let’s face it, very few of us today will face the kind of challenges that James Norman faced in Coley’s Point 109 years ago. He, and others of his generation in many, many places, were true pioneers, bringing education to isolated communities in the face of incredible obstacles.
Next time I feel like complaining about something at work, I’ll be thinking of Mr. Norman!!