Now you can step into Maria's shoes

24th February 2006 at 00:00
Newly qualified teachers curious about what their lives might have been like had they lived in the 19th century now have a chance to discover it for themselves.

A newly-established agency is recruiting newly qualified teachers and trainee teachers to act as Victorian-style governesses for expatriate and foreign families.

The English Governess agency, based in York, believes that there is still a place for the governess at the heart of the British family.

Catherine Suckling, the agency's founder, set it up last month after employing a student teacher to look after her two children during the summer holidays. The student combined formal learning with structured play.

"There's a niche in the market," Ms Suckling said. "It's a teaching job, but there's also childcare involved. Consumers want someone who can teach, but also someone who uses the Queen's English. And they'll be watching the children at the swimming pool or on the beach."

Ms Suckling hopes to recruit NQTs looking for extra summer work, along with current BEd students.

The governesses will work for expatriate and foreign families living around the world who want to make sure that while they are abroad, their children carry on speaking and writing English. Ms Suckling also hopes that expatriate families, who do not want to send their children to boarding school, will hire a longer-term governess.

Families will be vetted for suitability, but the governesses must also be well-matched to the job.

"A governess has to be resourceful - someone who can cope with her own company," said Ms Suckling. "She might be in a remote area of rural Italy for several weeks.

"She will thrive in a one-to-one teaching situation, and make the best of local culture. But it should also be someone who has something extra to offer, such as sport or singing."

Her template for the ideal governess is based on 25-year-old Victoria Smolen, an newly qualified English teacher and former governess to the Suckling children. She admits that her concept of the role was based on long-suffering Victorian heroines, such as Jane Eyre.

"I worried that I'd be treated like a servant," she said. "But by its nature, the job is with quite wealthy families. The children were well-behaved and I spent two months in Tuscany. It's actually quite glamorous."

But she concedes that there were moments when she did fall into the governess stereotype. In particular, she thought of herself as Maria, the governess in the 1965 film The Sound of Music, who teaches her young charges to sing.

"One of the children was quite upset because she was missing her mother,"

she said. "So I started singing a song for her. Then I thought, 'Oh my God.

I'm actually a governess'."

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