Mrs. Ball – One of a kind Teacher
‘A teacher affects eternity: he can never tell where his influence stops.’ –Henry Adams
Education: The latin root of the word education means “to lead out”
As you may know from other posts on my website I grew up on the little island of Grenada one of the Windward Islands in the West Indies.
Mom home schooled myself and my brother for my early childhood but eventually when I was about 9 or 10 I think, I was enrolled in the primary school, Westmoreland.
I was initially placed in 3rd form which I think was a year behind for my age. I guess overall I did well but my maths was a little behind. The school decided to move me into 4th form but I had to get tutoured after school by Mrs. Ball in Maths.
I don’t remember much about the what I learned in the tutouring other than it being Algebra and that it involved me standing beside her desk as she instructed me. Imagine being new to a school, then new to a more advanced class and then learning that somehow letters have some mathematical meaning. Learning this from someone you are terrified of -well it was a do or die Maths experience for me. I wound up doing quite well in Maths overall after I got the hang of Algebra and Mrs. Ball really was instrumental in my understanding and appreciation of the subject.
Every student of Mrs. Ball’s was affected for eternity. She may have terrified us in our youth but I think we all appreciated and respected her immensely as we have aged to adults.
Mrs Ball was a teacher with an overload of personality and I doubt that there was a single student who wasn’t terrified of her and simply wanted to do their best to avoid her wrath. She wasn’t a mean teacher but she had mannerisms that you did not want to evoke.
She was from England originally. I don’t know how long she lived in Grenada overall but I know well over 30 years. Mrs Ball never lost her British accent or her ability to rrrrroll those rrs. If she got upset in the class over some bad answer given by a student or over whatever else 10 year olds could do to upset the teacher she had no problem in expressing her displeasure.
She would screech the chalk on the blackboard over a particularly perturbing answer or when she would get at her wits end, she would actually pull her hair out. I don’t recall if she actually pulled any of her curly reddish-black hair out but as an impressionable kid the effect was all that was needed.
She taught other classes besides Maths but Maths was her main subject. Neatness was the underlying message of everything she taught.
We were required to do all our assignments and work in pen (fountain pen to be precise). In your maths exercise book you had to draw a vertical margin on the right side of the page. This was the only area you could use for scratch or problem solving and it was expected that you would use it to show your mental process to achieve your answer.
On the left side of the page, you would write out the problem and then change lines with your basic steps until you got your answer which would be labeled “answer= xyz” . Your answer needed to be underlined then skip a space to the next problem. If your work in your exercise book was messy or out of order you might as well not even bother showing it to her because she would not be able to see past the mess.
I remember one Day a student had to bring his exercise book up to her and apparently it had gotten some mud or dirt on the page and perhaps the writing was not neat either. She exclaimed that it was “rrrrrrubish” rolling those r’s as she flung the book across the room and sent him back to his seat. This sort of criticism might sound harsh in todays society and probably not tolerated in a teacher in today’s world but I promise you it was effective for us in the class.
My brother seemed always at the brunt of her wrath but I think he would tell you in retrospect that even he loved her though probably not then.
Mrs. Ball took charge of us putting on a school play, I believe it was the Prince and the Pauper and it was a musical of some sorts as I recall. My brother proved to be an excellent actor and Mrs. Ball absolutely adored him for his talents in this. She knew how to show her students value and how bring out our best though at the time we had no idea this was happening.
As an adult, when I would return home to Grenada to visit my parents usually for a month or so at a time each year I would go visit Mrs. Ball. She was in her 90s by this time and she would ask me to give her a ride to the beach. I would take her to the beach where she would get her nightly ‘sea bath’ then right there on the side of the road (on the traffic side) she would discretely change her clothes under a towel with such skill. She totally surprised me when she did this the first time but once again a lesson in ultimate respect for her because this is not something I would have ever imagined her capable of doing in the proper English lady setting but she showed me that was truly a Grenadian as well as a proper English lady.
I am so glad I was able to visit her in my adult years because I think this is when I truly realised just how much I had learned from her over the 2 years or so of her being one of my teachers. In our visits in my adult years, we would talk poetry and maths and philosophy. I was no longer in fear of her of course, but just filled with awe and admiration for this woman who had cherished and nurtured her students in a way to make us all remember her as a teacher for life.
As I reflect on Mrs Ball and the impact she had on my begininnings and future education I do feel she was a leader in so many ways. As a kid I couldn’t see the passion she had for Westmorland and us kids. I couldn’t interpret or understand in that way. She was the headmistress of the school and she made it all happen. Our school was known for students with excellent grades and acheivements and Mrs. Ball was instrumental in each of our successes. It was a full education from memorising poetry to solving long math problems she would give us aurally to solve on the fly. The arts, our handwriting, even the physical education and activity. Certainly there were a number of teachers in the school but once you were in 4th and 5th form primary, Mrs Ball took charge!! We left the school educated and ready to tackle secondary school at the ripe age of 12.