Thursday, 9 March 2017

Internatonal Women's Day

was yesterday? Do we really need one? Isn't it a bit like "Mothers' Day" and "Fathers' Day"? Shouldn't every day be "women's day" - and "men's day" too? 
I went to a funeral yesterday. It was the funeral of a woman who lived to 101.  She had done a lot before I met her and she still did plenty after that. Being a woman didn't stop her. She didn't "get mad" she simply "got even". If she wanted something then she worked on getting it. 
When she started school she decided she was going to be a teacher - and she kept on wanting to be that. She told me once "I never wanted to be anything else." Her niece said the same thing yesterday when she gave the eulogy.
D....never married. She had no desire to marry. She was married to teaching. 
It was no ordinary teaching job she sought though. She started out that way because she had to but she went from there to first work in a new school for the disabled in one state - and then came to this one to build a similar school here. 
The school no longer exists. It was an outstandingly good school but the philosophy surrounding the education of children with special needs changed. They were "integrated" into the "normal" school system instead. While the school existed it catered for the unique learning needs of the children who attended and, just as importantly, it gave them life skills. There can be few other "special schools" of that nature which produced two PhD's and several other degrees, an extraordinarily high "open employment" rate and an involvement in the wider community which would put almost any other school to shame.  
This is just what D...thought should happen. It is what she worked towards. She showed that "special" education didn't mean isolation from the rest of the community but involvement in it.
I met her at the school. She was quite a formidable sort of person. You didn't "muck around" under her. She was, even when I first met her, considered "a bit old fashioned", especially about things like manners. But, her students loved and respected her. If Miss G... was pleased with them they were happy. They knew they had to work hard for her, that her standards were high.
There were about fifty old scholars there yesterday - many of them in wheelchairs. No, not easy to get there but they made it to say goodbye to their Miss G...
The service was simple. There was just a hint of old "school assembly" about it. I was transported back to all the school reunions I had attended. They started when the school closed and went on until the old school hall was no longer available about five years ago. They would take the form of first having a "school assembly" with the tradition of the school hymn and "the Song of Australia" being sung and other little traditions. We all knew what to expect. After that everyone would talk, catching up on the year. Some of the conversation would be in sign language or by using communication devices. What were people doing now? Miss G... would be there in the thick of it all. She knew every student and every member of staff. In her "announcements" she would tell of special achievements. I missed some years when I was away in other places but I would get the "newsletter" and I would always make sure I had sent a note so that Miss G... could tell them what I had been doing. 
She was that sort of person. You didn't quite dare not tell her, "I have done this." She expected people to get things done, just as she herself had got things done. 
When International Literacy Year was finally announced she told me, "Good but now I expect even more of you..." I would not have dared to stop demanding the right of everyone to a means of communication.
She never stopped. She lived alone until she was 99. She spent the last two years of her life in a nursing home. Depending on other people was not her style but she accepted help in the way she taught her students to accept help - with dignity and graciousness.
Hers was a life well lived.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

It sounds like Miss G was the perfect teacher, a very rare commodity.

Now we do not have special schools, special children have to make do with part time special education during their education, but they often don't have teachers who can even communicate with them. My great niece has started high school at the nearest high school, where they would have known since she started kindy that she would attend that high school, and they do not have a teacher who can communicate directly to her. She is a bright kid, but totally deaf.