Thanks to my old teacher

Mary McEneaney

I February 2014 I posted For what it’s worth: My Patronus Charm. It sat quietly, mostly by itself, at the back of the class: nobody asked it any questions and it never put its hand up. It was there as a reminder, mostly to myself, of why I became a teacher and why, despite the tough days, I keep going back into the classroom. It was about a teacher who, unknown to her, meant a great deal to me. It was a personal story, but, I hoped, also a universal one.

About 6 months ago my cousin Sheila (@Northamptonpod) found my blog on Twitter and asked my permission to share it with friends and our wider family on Facebook. Immediately my piece had been moved to the front of the classroom: people, who knew me well, suddenly knew me a little better. Forty-plus years ago I had been a talkative, plump 6 year old, full of stories and bullied for sounding English. I had also been saved by my teacher.

The message of my blog had been that teachers have an impact on young people whether they know it or not. That impact can be enormously for the good, but rarely will the teacher ever learn about – or be thanked for – the good that they did. And that’s fine. But, having told trainee teachers and my pupils about this teacher of mine, I did want to find out what became of her. Naturally I hadn’t maintained contact with my classmates from then. Google was no help: it turned out I didn’t know how to spell her name. But one cousin, Anne, remembered her as her neighbour from Dungannon, and she was confident she could track her down.

Anne did find her, Mrs McEneaney. She went to her house, took this photograph, let her read my blog. Yesterday I chatted with my old teacher on the phone. She retired a long time ago, having taught children to read and write and do sums for 42 years. She didn’t quite remember me, but I was just one of 1200 kids she taught. She did remember the things I remembered, like the shelf of library books she kept in her room, the books that were my lifeline. She said she had never been thanked for her service, but she wasn’t bitter about that: she spoke instead about her vocation, and about how tough it is for teachers today. She was very pleased that I too am a teacher, and delighted to learn that History is my subject. She has promised to send me a chart for my wall on the Easter 1916 Rising.

Still a teacher.

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