My best teacher - Kirsty Wark

9th October 2009 at 01:00
Children were seen - and certainly encouraged to be heard - by one infant teacher whose classes inspired happiness and hard work

My best teacher was Miss Smith, my infant mistress who taught me during Primary 1 at Kilmarnock Grammar School, which took in pupils from the age of four. She made me love school from the start.

She was tall and thin with reddish brown short hair and specs. She was firm but kind, which I always thought was the best way to be. I never remember discipline being a problem, and there were well over 30, maybe 35, in the class. I can remember more about being in her class than I can with any other class in primary school.

Practically every day it seemed we would be doing some kind of music and there was a lot of singing. When I was growing up, it was very much a case of children being seen and not heard, so you were supposed to be quiet. But not in her class. I always thought she encouraged a great deal of happiness.

She was the most inspirational teacher; she made being at school fun. Our classes used to be quite structured - we sat in desks around the room - but on Friday afternoons, we could go wild. She would play music and we could all career around. We used to do a lot of speaking out loud - poems and stories. That gave us confidence in speaking and communicating. We could all read at the age of five and that was down to her encouragement, as well as Mrs Nelson and Mrs Kelly, the other infant teachers.

Miss Smith also made sure that the walls of the classroom were covered with our artwork. We'd have Easter bonnets and paper up on the walls and we'd put tissue paper all over it. There was always something going on in the classroom, and on the walls, the artwork was always changing.

I was at Kilmarnock until 11, then I went on to Wellington School for Girls in Ayr. Although I don't support single-sex education now, at the time I thought it was great to be educated with other women. Maybe it was because at the time there was so much going on in the outside world about women's liberation. It was great to talk to each other about it and be in a female environment.

I was at school in the late 1960s and 1970s. In the winter, we had a long journey on the bus to school in the mornings, and I remember somebody had worn warm bloomers as it was very cold. In assembly then, we had to march out with our skirts held up so they could make sure we were wearing the regulation grey knickers.

I was involved in a lot of activities in secondary school, such as debating and drama, and I think Miss Smith's lessons, especially the reading out loud, developed that side of me from an early age. I loved literature and went on to study it at university. Even now, I find it really weird not to have a book beside me and I read a lot on the train to and from London. I'm so lucky in my job that I get to do both the cut and thrust of politics, and the discursiveness of the arts.

Miss Smith gave us a great start to school and the joy of having such a great start stayed with me. She was a wonderful woman.

Kirsty Wark is a patron of Maggie's Cancer Caring Centres, which offer emotional support and practical advice to anyone affected by cancer, as well as libraries full of information resources She was speaking to Meabh Ritchie.


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