Flashback about my school days because of ironing linen

Our prefect corps


The needlework class

While I was ironing linen this morning ( and cursing this boring task), my mind drifted back to the days of our Needlework class and our teacher, Ms Roeloff. That was one lady we never messed with. In fact, we were terrified of her and her eyes that bored into you. Her petite frame belied her thunderous, firm voice and her solid gait. She reminded me of Shakspeare's lover in " My mistress's eyes are nothing like the sun.' You could not describe her well-coiffured hair as 'wires' but she definitely ' walked (thumped) on the ground'. I suppose if Shrek was around in my day, I think they would have been a perfect match.


Once we were inside the needlework classroom, you would make sure your spine is erect, your head well positioned on your shoulders and your eyes receptive to the greeting. Of course, you would already have ensured your shoes are clean and your fingernails are cut short and minus nail varnish. After the greeting, you would then get busy. Heaven forbid if you crucified a cross stitch on your embroidery or if your hemline of your garment under construction was skew. The speech that followed would have sworn you had just desecrated a holy garment. We would muffle our giggles when one of our friends was given The Speech, but inwardly you hoped you hoped you would not be the next victim.


I remember we had to go to school - reluctantly - on the then Republic Day, a holiday in the old South Africa, to receive extra practical sessions to complete our needlework projects. Everybody else would be home, except the Needlework group. But there was no way she was going to be celebrating and neither were we, as far as she was concerned. In her own way, while we were refining our deportment, we were conscientised about our history and our need to strive for quality and excellence in everything we do.


The English class

I have to tell you about our Greek English teacher, Mr Cockinis too, while we are turning back the clock.


Cockinis was another hard task master who did not settle for mediocrity. Whenever we expressed an opinion, we had to justify or substantiate our view. We hated this interrogation and complained incessantly, but our Greek man would not relent. We had to rack our brains to find reasons or when we could not provide motivation, we simply became more boisterous. When we heard the loud thump on the teacher's desk, we knew our teacher had had enough of our nonsense. Once we were settled, we would just pick up where we left off. Yes, Mr Cockinis was waiting for the "motivation", the evidence, come hell or high water.


I don't know when it happened, but we eventually self-regulated to the point of being able to have wonderful debates and discussions with our teacher. Our vocabulary suddenly had all these strange words like "hyberbole", "antithesis" and "critique" flowing effortlessly from our lips. Yet, when our essays were returned with mini essays in the margin, detailing all our inconsistencies and our poor grammar, we wanted to "oxymoron" the Greek man himself. We were taken to Maynardville Open Air theatre to watch Shakespeare and we were drunk on all the iambic pentameters and the blank verse for the duration of our 2-year stint in English class.


During my second year at university, I was stumped by Pope's "Essay on man" that I had to critique. I sent a note to Mr Cockinis via Isaac, our neighbour, requesting some input from my English teacher, Mr Cockinis. As expected, he had jotted down a few ideas on a double folio sheet and added a postscript summed up as follows:

Given that I had researched the poem and read commentaries ( nuance: do your research, interpret the commentaries), I would be able to flesh out his rudimentary comments And a reminder of the spelling of his surname ( I had omitted the "k"). Still in character. No handouts and no sloppy spelling permitted.


Once we strip all their idiosynchrosies, the fluff that made learning sometimes so unpleasant, we find that we have been left with a treasure trove of wisdom by our teachers. I can see a bit of Roeloff-Cockinis interwoven in my life. And it just took the humble iron to trigger these memories.

The postscript attached to the notes on Essay of man, that my teacher, Mr Cockinis, sent me




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