Welcome to the School Days, Reminiscences series in which my champion bloggers and authors share reminiscences of their school days. It’s my small way of thanking them for their support and of letting you know about their services and publications.
This week, I am pleased to introduce Pauline King, The Contented Crafter. Pauline and I have been online friends for a long time. I can’t quite remember where we met, but I think it may have been through Geoff Le Pard.
Pauline and I clicked straight away as we have a lot in common and share many similar views about education. At one time, each of us even contemplated starting our own school.
I wish I’d known Pauline and had the opportunity of working alongside and learning from her while I was still working in the classroom. Although Pauline says that she has left that part (teaching) of her life behind, it doesn’t stop her sharing the value of her experience and words of wisdom when prompted. We shared so many in-depth conversations in response to posts, that I decided to give more space to her views in posts of their own. Follow these links to share in Pauline’s wisdom.
Before we begin the interview, I’ll let Pauline tell you a little about herself.
I’ve had many incarnations as wife, mother, student, teacher, teacher trainer and mentor, curriculum writer and advisor, community hub developer, new worker trainer, and [whew!] life coach. In between I painted, crafted, hand worked, gardened and generally tried to create beauty around me where ever I went. Oh, I forgot to mention ‘world traveller’!
These days I’m [mostly] a very contented crafter and pursuer of serenity. And of course, I live with Orlando, a now elderly Maine Coon cat of great distinction and forbearance and a most delightfully joyful pup who goes by the name of Sid-Arthur [yes, a play on Siddhartha for those of you who picked it up]. They feature prominently throughout this blog.
I’m retired now and happily spend my days doing whatever it pleases me to do. Sometimes, in between my crafting projects, I still coach now and again, gratis, as a thank you for this blessed life I’ve been given.
Welcome, Pauline. Now let’s talk school.
First, could you tell us where you attended school?
Porirua, then a village, now a city. In the Wellington area. NZ
Did you attend a government, private or independent school?
What is the highest level of education you achieved?
Originally nothing. I was pulled from school by my mother before I turned 15. I later gained School Cert and UE via correspondence as a young adult and at the age of 33, I trained as a Waldorf teacher.
What work or profession did you choose after school and was there anything in school that influenced this choice?
It seems I always wanted to be a teacher, but the circumstances of my life dictated otherwise. In my 30s I was finally enabled to follow that dream through the initial support of friends buoying up my low confidence and a series of fortuitous events that allowed me to enter the Waldorf training despite not having a state teacher training which was then a requirement of any Waldorf trainee teacher. (It was here I heard for the first time that I was seen as a graduate of the University of Life — a designation that delighted me.) I believe that meeting kindness and being encouraged in my early school years ignited the wish to be a teacher.
What is your earliest memory of school?
The first day of school, I was 5 years old and terrified. My mother pushed me into the room and shut the door on me and I was crying as the teacher came to get me. But the thing that caught my eye was the book display. You know those shelves that hold books with the full cover showing. There were so many books and they all looked so beautiful and enticing. I stopped crying and the teacher let me stay there looking at the books. I still remember the first book I looked at, ‘Orlando the Marmalade Cat’. I don’t remember anything else, but it was clearly a very important moment in my life. That teacher went on to become a champion of mine and I never forgot her many kindnesses and through her my love of reading flowered.
What memories do you have of learning to read and write?
I don’t remember learning to read. It came very easily. Writing too. At age 10 my essays were entered into inter-school competitions by the headmaster. Later he asked me to not write fantasy, but to write about ‘what you know, your life’. That was the end of my writing career. 🙂
What do you remember about math classes?
I have no recall of maths classes.
What was your favourite subject?
I loved all the humanities classes – reading, writing, history, geography, social studies. I loved music too, until I was pulled from a combined class practising choral singing and told to stand at the front of the room and listen as I was singing off key. That was the end of my musical career too. I never sang in front of anyone except for my babies for many years.
What did you like best about school?
For me in those first years, school was a safe place to be and I was fortunate to have in the early years women who took an interest in my welfare and some who even tried to help intervene in my home life. Their kindness made a huge impression on me and was probably partially responsible for the longing I felt to become a teacher. They also had made me feel so safe that when the harsher teachers entered my world and humiliation and failure became the norm, I still liked school. It was better than home, I guess. I know I was, from a very young age, gathering information and evidence about what made a good teacher and what made a bad teacher. It would all eventually come in handy when I parented and later became an actual teacher.
How do you think schools have changed since your school days?
My initial experience of state education is my own and the first two years of my children’s education. (In the final six years of my working life I came up against the failures of the state system when I developed programmes for youth at risk in job training.)
When I had children, I looked for something else outside the state system for them but had the resistance of my husband to work through. Later after my daughters both had bad experiences with teachers he agreed, and we transferred them to the local Steiner School. There I watched my children bloom and blossom and there I too found my place. It’s a wonderful thing when you find your tribe and I had finally found mine.
What do you think schools (in general) do well?
I think in general schools provide an adequate education for students who have an academic leaning. But, as you know Norah, I believe that true education is sadly lacking. It seems to me the role of education is to awaken the mind, to develop the skill of learning, to prepare people for a life of learning and enough of an interest in the world to want to learn about it.
The reality is we spend all our lives learning, yet so many think they go to school to learn the skills needed to get a job. I don’t know how many times I’ve heard a young person (or even a parent) complain that reading a certain book will be of no use to them after school and science or maths adds nothing to the skill-set they need for getting a job.
It seems nobody talks to them about the joy of learning, of widening horizons, of deepening understanding or even of exercising their thinking capacities and developing their brains. I’ve met many 15- and 16-years olds who can’t write their own addresses down. They have no self-esteem, are angry and confused and turned off from society. They don’t have the skills to hold down any kind of job because they also haven’t learnt about taking personal responsibility at school or at home.
How do you think schools could be improved?
I’d love to see a return to a balanced education that includes academia and the arts and life skills. I’d love to see each classroom be a living community where all kinds of kids learn to get along, learn to appreciate each other and learn that not everyone is good at everything. But that everyone, even the least able, has a skill and a personality that offers much. Where tolerance is taught and practised, and respect is modelled and expected. A place where different cultures and different beliefs are seen as interesting and intriguing and when it’s all boiled down, people are people and we all feel the same way over the things that matter.
I’d like to see geography and social studies and all kinds of real arts and crafts come back to life in the classroom, I’d like to see kids singing and dancing and playing together in between learning the Three R’s. I’d like to see the slow expansion of a planned curriculum that ensures a deepening understanding of the natural sciences — again attached to the developmental stages and understanding of the students. Never bring hard facts too soon to young people — they kill childhood!
I’d like everyone to understand that we live in a world that is changing so quickly that it is highly likely the jobs their kids will do haven’t yet been invented. The only way to ensure their children will succeed as adults is that they will have a healthily developed sense of themselves, their interests and their abilities and be able to think, to assess, to understand the needs of the world and to have the entrepreneurial spirit to meet them. It’s less about passing exams and more about an ability to learn; less about gaining the skills for a job, more about gaining an ability to learn new skills.
Thank you for inviting me to join with your esteemed guests Norah, it is very kind of you.
Thank you for sharing your reminiscences of school and thoughts about education in general, Pauline. As always, it’s a pleasure to discuss education with you and, while it was great to hear of your early experiences and the influence of kind teachers, I am in total agreement with you about how schools could be improved. If only we could get those who make the decisions to listen to and enact your wisdom.
Find out more about Pauline King
on her website: The Contented Crafter
Connect with her on social media
Browse her gift shop to purchase your own special piece of Pauline’s art or craft.
If you missed previous reminiscences, check them out here:
Look for future interviews in this series to be posted on Sunday evenings AEST.
with more to follow.
Thank you for reading. I appreciate your comments. Please share your thoughts.