Where I spray-paint my thoughts…

“How Mr. Norman Succeeds So Well”


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!!


5 thoughts on ““How Mr. Norman Succeeds So Well”

  1. Incredible! I have trouble with ONE 5 year old!

    • Wow! That is simply amazing! Your research sounds very interesting, and like something I would enjoy. My Dad started teaching at the age of 17.

      • Jacqueline, that’s the other thing I find amazing about teachers in the “good old days” … how young they started at the job!! What kind of training did your dad have, at 17, for teaching? Just his own high school, or any teacher training?

  2. Oh, MY! I taught 32 high-schoolers at once. It was hard! And they were all the same age, studying the same subject.

    My hat’s off to Mr. Norman.

    • My record is 36, Katrina, and that was INSANITY. And yes, they were all a single Grade 10 Social Studies class. I know teachers in those all-grade classrooms used to rely on older kids to help younger ones (and probably had much better classroom discipline than today) but it still boggles the mind. I suspect the fact that he made much use of the older kids to help teach the younger, may be the reason why the school inspector thought the older children were getting shortchanged on their own education.

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