Joining the Convent as a novice teacher…

When I was 17 I left the embroidery work shop, and went back to school as a boarder at a girls college outside Oamaru. It was run by the Dominican nuns and I went there to see if I could cope with life in the convent and teaching. I had charge of the little ones out of school hours and helped with some of their lessons and there were a few classes of my own to attend as well. I was there for two terms and it was decided I was a suitable applicant for the Religious life and I went home for the second term to get my required clothes together, then returned to Dunedin to enter the convent as a teacher.

The Dominican order was at that time a very strict order of enclosed contemplatives, which meant complete silence except during recreation hours twice a day or when we were teaching. The novices were not meant to speak to the professed sisters and silence was strictly kept in all buildings at all times. If it was necessary to ask a question or pass on a message it had to be written down and passed on.

The school was part boarders and part day school and was for secondary students only. In those days it was classed as a private school, but back to back with it was a smaller public day school for primary girls and boys. That was where I taught standard one and two. They were a tough little mob and very hard to control.

I also had to take my turn on playground duty. One day a girl of about 11 was showing off by climbing up a basketball goalpost, and when told to get down let go and slid down catching her leg on a piece of metal jutting out from the side of the pole. It cut a small gash in the soft part of her upper leg. I took her in and cleaned and disinfected her cut and put a bandaid on it, then sent her back out to play. I did not think to report it because it was only minor, but next morning her mother came to school and demanded to know why the child had not been taken to hospital to have it stitched, and complaining the child would be scarred for life. The cut was only about one inch long (2.5cm) and probably would not leave a mark at all.

Of course I was hauled over the coals for not reporting it, but was quietly praised for dressing it so well.

One day the teacher of the infants was transferred to another school and I had to take over her classroom of 5 to 7 year olds without warning or preparation. To make matters worse our novice mistress sat in the back of the classroom all day not saying a word, but watching to see how I got on. I did not know any of the kids by name or what class they were in but somehow I managed to keep each group busy all day without a rumpus and when it was over was told I had kept the children occupied all day but had not taught them anything new.

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