I have just begun reading Storm in the Village, the third book in a series about life in a fictional English village called Fairacre. The series was written by Dora Jesse Saint, under the pseudonym Miss Read, which is also the name of one of two teachers who instruct Fairacre's children in a small, two-room schoolhouse. At the start of the series, which begins with Village School, Fairacre's other teacher is Miss Clare, who has served the community for over forty years. By the end of Village School, Miss Clare has retired from teaching, but certainly not from life itself. I read Village School last summer, and have just finished reading the second book in the series, Village Diary a few weeks ago. All three books are set in the 1950's, which is when they were written and published.
As a former full-time elementary schoolteacher, I can certainly identify with the character of Miss Read, especially as I taught in a small, private school that, for better or worse, had many things in common with the fictional Fairacre School. A strong sense of community and a serious lack of resources are just two of these commonalities. My experience homeschooling my two daughters provides another connection between myself and Miss Read; as she copes with teaching a multi-age class, with students ranging in age from about eight to eleven, I struggled with the much less daunting task of teaching two children of different ages many subjects, not all of which overlapped. I wish I had been reading the Fairacre books at the time I was homeschooling my daughters; I'm sure I could have drawn much inspiration from Miss Read's handling of this issue of a multi-age classroom, as well as many others which confront educators in both traditional and non-traditional settings. Questions of motivating and rewarding students, the value of traditional methods of teaching versus new educational philosophies, and--especially--the importance of life experience compared to formal teaching training, are just a few examples of such issues that Miss Read ponders over and over again.
While I could have chosen any number of quotes by Miss Read herself that have resonated with me thus far, I was really struck by a passage I read today in the first chapter of Storm in the Village, concerning the retired Miss Clare:
Often, during the day, Miss Clare would look at the clock and think of the children at Fairacre School. The habits of a lifetime die hard..."
While I don't look at the clock each day and wonder what my former pupils are doing, each year when Autumn approaches, the memory of the sights, sounds and scents associated with many years spent in a small Catholic school compete with the first glimpse of a scarlet leaf, or the first whiff of a smoke from a neighbor's chimney. I can almost feel the chalk dust coating my fingertips, and hear the heavy, tarnished brass bell calling the students to their proper lines in the schoolyard. Such memories spring from not just my years teaching, but also my life as a student, and have become, I think, symbols of the importance that education has had in my life. For sixteen years out of the first twenty-two of my life, I was a student. Then for the next twenty-five years, I was a teacher in some capacity: full-time, part-time, in private and public schools, and finally, at home. This centrality of education in my life what, more than anything, I endeavored to pass on to my daughters when I was homeschooling them, and it is what the Fairacre books most evoke for me personally.
However, there is plenty of life outside of the classroom to be found in Fairacre, and each person who reads any book by Miss Read will be sure to find their own connection to this unique rural, English village from decades past. For despite these dissimilarities of time and place, the people who inhabit Fairacre are universally, timelessly human.