“My Story” Chapter 21

“My Story” – by Randall Butisingh.

(Reminiscences during my life beginning 1913)

CHAPTER TWENTY-ONE

It seemed that I was destined to end my career in the walls of a school.  One day my father told me that the manager of the school where I used to teach had asked me to return to teach at St. Augustine’s Anglican School at Buxton. .  I could not get employment anywhere, and I needed money to buy food and clothes; so I turned out at the beginning of the month to work with the same headmistress.   This time I was paid twelve dollars per month and not fourteen which I received before I left.  The Education Department had changed the system by introducing two new examinations in the Pupil teacher system.  These were the Teachers’ Appointment Examination which entitled the candidate to be a pupil Teacher after he/she has passed the School Leaving Examination, and the other was the Fourth Year examination, which after passing it, the candidate gets fourteen dollars per month.  Because I had left school, I was paid the new rate based on a Third Year teacher. Anyway, that pay was good for me.  I paid three dollars for boarding and the rest for other essentials in keeping with my profession.

I was much older now and better able to cope with the pupils.  I had a good relationship with the headmistress whom I respected and with the other teachers, some of whom I worked with before.  At this time, the Teachers’ Certificate was reintroduced and I began to read for it.  One of the books we had to study was School Management.  The book was heavy reading and I did not approach it with enthusiasm.  Still, not liking teaching, but doing it through necessity, I read and crammed what I thought would be given in the examination.

It was not long after my return to teach that the headmistress retired.  I was asked to prepare a farewell address for her.  I did one in gold ink and the manager and teachers approved of it, with slight alterations. I also wrote a valedictory poem which I read on the day of the farewell.  The children sang, “We shall meet, but we shall miss her’ and the manager gave a speech.

Her successor was Mr. Russell who as a young man some year earlier, was senior master of the school.  He was head of the Anglican School in Bartica; played the organ, and was selected in preference to a man who was his senior, and better qualified.  This could have been a humiliating experience for the older man, but it was not. Mr. Russell was a gentleman, a polished individual, and the two of them became great friends.

I was happy when Mr. Russell took charge.  He was a strict disciplinarian.  I can remember when Mr. Russell was a member of staff a few years earlier; the first day he came to school as senior assistant, when the school was in chaos, when relationships between head teacher and teachers were strained and the school suffered; standards dropped and discipline was bad.  At an inspection, the report stated “pandemonium in the school”. … it was chaotic.

Mr. Russell knew that, and those were the days when the rod was considered a deterrent to recalcitrance and a stimulant for learning. So, the first thing Mr. Russell did was to inspire fear in the troublemakers.  It would sound unbelievable and even criminal today, but those were the early thirties when corporal punishment was permitted in school.  So this young man jumped up on the desk and began showering blows on the backs of the bad boys.  He then forced them to drink stale water from a cask which was being soaked prior to being washed.  After the exhibition, the head teacher called him and reproved him.

The next day he did not report for duty and was absent for a whole month. When he returned, he adopted a less harsh strategy. However his presence in the school had a salutary effect.  The teachers liked him.  Because of his presence, discipline was restored in the school.  He played the organ and trained the choir.  He was a good teacher and a good churchman.  His greatest weakness was his temper, but inwardly he was a kind man who loved children.  He was a role model for the boys; he organized inter school cricket and spent time training them.  His handwriting was good; and a few of us would try to imitate his calligraphy.   Even today, I have in my possession letters in his unique script written to me as we became good friends and kept up a regular correspondence.

He did not remain long as senior assistant teacher, but was promoted while still young to head teachership.   I remember vividly the farewell we gave him at the vicarage lawn.  We were all sorry that he was leaving, and as a man who did not spare the rod, it was touching to see the tears flowing from the eyes of his pupils.

Mr. Russell was now back, succeeding Miss Glasgow as Headmaster. When I came to greet him, he threw an arm around me and brought me close to him measuring my height against his.  He was a towering six footer and I five feet ten, tall for an Indian in those days.

Now he was back at St. Augustine.    Immediately after he took charge as Head Teacher, there was a change in the atmosphere of the school.   His past reputation as a disciplinarian was well known. He brought instant discipline, and this was a great relief to the teachers.    He loved children and his relationship with the teachers was good.   Under his headship, the school progressed.  There were more passes in the School Leaving Examination;  gardening was introduced as a subject in the curriculum and was a subject for examinations. It was not only about this, but I was free to initiate extra-curricular activities.  School took on a different meaning for me and a little illness could not keep me away.

I plunged into the extra-curricular activities with great enthusiasm.  I initiated practical School Gardening, Tailoring, and Handicrafts.  I added a new dimension to Physical Training, Military Drill and stunts to make it more interesting.   Young Geoffrey Dolphin, who is now Canon was star in the pyramid building.   He was courageous and could climb easily.

Every year the school would observe May  Day Festival with dancing around the Maypole and crowning of the May queen,  a festival celebrated by the Mother Country in those days of colonialism, but I added activities that were new, military marching and pyramid building for bonus entertainment. This practice was however abolished with the advent of Independence in 1966.

I was a believer in the training of the hands and that pupils from an early age should be trained in the use of their hands, since in those days children had only a primary education.  British Guiana was an Agriculture based country with very little opportunity for other employment. Except for some tradesmen and shopkeepers, the majority of the population worked on the sugar estates, some were rice farmers, others grew vegetables and fruit, and some were fishermen. Only a small minority, those who were able to pay for a High School education or earn a scholarship, moved up to white collar occupation and middle class status. This meant that education should be so planned that the teen-age youth, after leaving school at the most critical period of their lives, could begin doing something useful to keep occupied and not getting into trouble, for “the devil finds work for idle hands to do”.

So if one knows the basics in gardening, this is a salutary field for beginning.  He will be brought close to Nature and learn her ways.  He will learn the seasons, the miracle of birth and growth; He will show joy in the peeping bud, the blown flower and the ultimate fruit.  He will appreciate his insect, reptile and other animal friends, and he will benefit from the open air life.  He may come to learn that his is a noble task, as the sustenance of his fellow human beings depends on him; and most of all he will learn the ‘Dignity of Labour’.

For instance, if someone is trained in handicrafts, they could make articles from the abundance of materials around them.  The coconut palm, which is abundant in British Guiana, supplies fibre for mat and mattress making, leaves for making hats and thatching, and ornaments from the hard shell that surrounds the kernel. They can make mats from discarded rope.  The bamboo can be split and used for fencing his little kitchen garden, for making ash trays and various ornaments. There are endless opportunities to be self sufficient if one knows what to do.

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