In Praise of the One Teacher School

Winner, Written Bush Poetry Competition - 2020 Boyup Brook Country Music Festival, Western Australia
Third Prize, 2012 Bryan Kelleher Literary Award

In this land of long distances, the education of our children has always presented a challenge, dealt with in imaginative ways by determined country people. This poem pays tribute to a long-standing Australian success story and was written after a school reunion.

In Praise of the One Teacher School
(c) Shelley Hansen 2012

All my learning was done in the City
with a large school's competitive "push",
and when I was a kid we felt sorry
for the children who lived in the bush.
We believed they were quite isolated,
quite uncivilised too - as a rule,
and we thought of the things they were missing
being taught at a One Teacher School.

As the seasons passed by, I grew older
and the man that I love came along.
When we shared recollections of school days,
he informed me my thinking was wrong.
Then he spoke of the school he'd attended
with a teaching staff numbering "one",
and I gained quite a different viewpoint
as he told how his schooling was done.

There were many grades sharing the classroom
from beginners to graduate years,
and the teaching would be supplemented
by observing the tasks of their peers.
For the big kids assisted the small ones
with their reading, to help them advance.
Being part of a mentoring system,
comprehension was not left to chance.

They received their own special assignments
to maintain the school's upkeep and care,
and they lunched and they played all together -
there was no generation gap there!
And the teacher would have to be ready
for some duties he couldn't evade -
like removing a snake from the toilets,
or returning a cow that had strayed.

These lone teachers were faced with the challenge
of adapting the lessons to suit
many ages at multiple levels
so the seeds of instruction bore fruit.
But with consummate skill they succeeded,
though they often were single and young,
sent to "toughen them up" after college
to locations remote and far-flung.

But discouragement wasn't an option
as a great range of subjects they taught,
and with equal aplomb they expounded
mathematics and sewing and sport -
and the practical skills they imparted
built foundations for many careers,
as they nurtured both body and spirit -
soothing gravel-rashed knees, drying tears.

So it was that my husband convinced me
that I really had nothing to fear
that his schooling had somehow been lacking -
the reverse was true! It was quite clear.
But I still thought perhaps he'd missed out on
opportunities offered to me,
till the day we returned to his school house
for the seventy-fifth Jubilee.

Then I noticed the sense of belonging,
and the comments that came to my ears
brimmed with memories never forgotten
and with bonds that transcended the years.
And I saw something far more important
than scholastic achievements to earn -
The instilling of life's higher values
gave those children a reason to learn.

Now the One Teacher Schools are far fewer
than they were when my husband was young,
and as families move to the cities
schools are left with their praises unsung.
As the doors close, one after another,
we observe with the sadness of loss,
and we sense that an era is passing
as we burn every bridge that we cross.

But in order to deal with the future
it's important to look back in time,
and the lessons we learn from successes
are like footholds defining the climb.
So let's never forget the example,
shining forth as a faceted jewel
in our spectrum of fine education -
The Australian One Teacher School!

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