Forget Miss Jean Brodie, meet Mrs Devine

13th November 2015 at 00:00

Last month we had World Teachers’ Day, when people around the globe shared their memories of educators who had made an impact on them.

Where have they all gone? The characters, the mavericks, the ones who just wanted to teach children and most certainly did not have a sore derrière from sitting on the fence.

I’m the product of one such teacher, Mrs Devine. In fact, I think I may be turning into her.

She was my infant school headmistress, and a rare breed indeed.

I happened to mention her recently in conversation and was informed that “those infant mistresses were a law unto themselves”.

That’s absolutely true.

My first memory of Mrs Devine was her striking look: sticky-out tartan skirt, matching red nails and lipstick, and a bun with a posh clasp – Miss Jean Brodie would have faded into the background alongside her.

As far as I am concerned, the Mrs D way is still very much in its prime.

I suppose it’s only now in my teaching career that I’ve come to realise just what an impact we can have on young people. Hindsight allows me to see how good Mrs Devine was.

She was Curriculum for Excellence when it was still a distant twinkle in the sky.

Four capacities? Aye, she brought those to us and more.

Experiences and outcomes? Every day was an experience, with a palpable, memorable outcome always just around the corner.

This was the woman who would lead whole-school assemblies in song to allow the teachers time to prepare and correct – long before the McCrone Agreement on teachers’ conditions in 2001.

Mrs Devine taught us about Scottish culture and history, spoke French to us, brought in authors to read to us, and had us playing and reading music together.

She encouraged us to write “beautifully” and imaginatively.

Paperwork? I’m sure she did it, but not when she was with us.

Mrs Devine taught us to be creative in every which way we could, but she was as strict as she was fabulous.

She called us “my darling” and hugged you if you had a sore knee, but would also tear a strip off you if you deserved it.

There’s the famous and oft-repeated story of, “Can I go to the toilet, Mrs Devine?” to which the curt response was always, “I don’t know, can you? Don’t you mean may I go to the toilet?”

That still gets quoted on many a night out.

This is the woman who quite frankly didn’t play by any rulebook because her children needed her to be and do so much more.

I aspire to be like Mrs Devine – there’ll be no bruises from sitting on the fence for me either.

Gillian Campbell-Thow is chair of the Scottish Association of Language Teaching. She was named teacher of the year at the 2014 Scottish Education Awards

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