The teacher who taught me the gift of reading and writing.

In the September after I was four, I went to school. The Garrison Primary School in Old Portsmouth was a collection of old corrugated iron and wooden huts and had four classrooms to the best of my memory.

I was in the infants’ class, along with about 15/20 other eager young entrants.  I wanted to be there very badly because my two elder sisters had already introduced me to some letters and words and I was desperate to learn more.  Even now I can remember the feeling of anticipation as my mother walked me from our home to school that first morning in my new clothes and squeaky Clark’s sandals.

I remember that the desks were old and scratched with a blackened hole where the ink wells used to reside. Tiny chairs with hard seats were uncomfortable and led to twitchy bums and fidgeting.

Our teacher was standing by the blackboard and I can still see her.  Blonde, younger than my mother who was in her early 40′s, so about 32 I would think. She had slightly protruding teeth that gave her a lovely smile and she stood patiently as we all settled down. When we were quiet, she introduced herself as Mrs Miller and then she said the words that filled me with excitement and delight.

“Today, we are going to begin to learn how to read and write as these are the most important lessons for young children to learn”

I spent my first year at school with Mrs Miller and I loved every minute. I can remember eagerly waiting for the next lesson and my hand was always the first up when she asked someone to read from our well-worn books.  I can almost feel her gentle guiding hand as I began using our ruled note books to copy small a’s and capital A’s and the rest of the alphabet.

Reading and then writing has been the greatest gift that I learned.  Mrs Miller obviously loved doing her job, but she and the millions of teachers around the world who teach children to read and write probably do not realise how much of an impact they have on our lives.

To illustrate how inspirational she was, I still remember her name and how she looked 57 years later and I still treasure the gift she gave me of literacy. Apart from being able to read any book that I wished, my career in industry, radio and television would not have been possible. Nor would I be able to pursue my love of writing books, poetry, short stories, my blog and keeping in touch with friends and family.  It also impacted my verbal communication skills, and I certainly do love to talk!

This gift is precious and needs to be put into perspective.  It is estimated that globally over 800 million people cannot read or write. Around 70 million children do not have access to primary education and over a million people in the UK struggle with reading and writing.  This impacts their everyday life in virtually every way.

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Sally Cronin is a broadcaster, blogger and author of several books on health and also fiction.  She lives in Spain and is working on two new books on care of the elderly in the home and a novel.

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