Back to the Future for Our Schools
Professor Joe Goldblatt
Miss Binkley noticed I was struggling with cursive handwriting and instead of admonishing me she handed me a story book and whispered “Joe, read this story and after school I will help you with your writing.” From this skilled teacher and her kindness, my professional writing career was launched from my small desk during my first year of school.
After all the other children filed out of the classroom to walk home, Miss Binkley led me to the blackboard that had several white long horizontal lines. She placed her hand upon mine and firmly showed me how to master the art and science of cursive writing. With each succeeding stroke I became more confident and soon my individual letters became words and then sentences. And it all began with one experienced teacher taking the extra time to help an individual student who had the misfortune or good fortune of being the only child in the class who was left handed.
As nearly 800,000 pupils start or return to school in Scotland this month, I am confident that they too will meet a teacher with the compassion, dedication and skill of Miss Binkley. I have had the privilege of volunteering in dozens of Scottish schools from Westray in the Orkney Islands to Galashiels in the Scottish Borders. During my time in our schools with each one having over 1000 to under 100 students I have been consistently impressed with how our nation’s teachers effectively manage to achieve so much, with so often too few resources to support them.
The creativity and generosity of these men and women has inspired me time and time again as I witness how they on a daily basis literally pull white rabbits out of empty hats to educate one pupil at a time. As I sit in the staff room listening to their daily challenges I am further encouraged by how often they speak positively about their pupils and how they may help them. Rather than wringing their hands in frustration, on a daily basis, they roll up their sleeves and go back into the battle for the future of Scotland by helping from the front line to create new and engaged citizens for our wee nation.
However, they cannot win this battle alone. When both our sons were in primary school my wife and I served consecutively as presidents of the school Parent Teacher Association. Although we had busy careers, we followed the role model of our parents and stepped forward to be present in the school building where our children were studying. We simply wanted our sons and their teachers to know that we were full partners in this enterprise of providing the best education for our children. As a result of our engagement, I believe our children benefitted from the reassurance that we cared about their future and the teachers were cognizant of the fact that we supported their important work.
Our parents not only supported the local schools we attended, they also, from time to time stepped forward to defend our individual rights. At the end of my school career, the Vietnam war was in full force and I was opposed to this long, costly and deadly incursion. Therefore, I chose one day to wear a black arm band to high school to protest the war. One morning my very conservative high school teacher noticed my symbol of protest and immediately sent me to the Principal’s (Head teacher) office for punishment. The secretary told me to be seated and the Principal would see me soon. A few minutes later my father walked into the office and accompanied me to see the Principal. Papa leaned across the large front desk of the Principal, looked him straight in the eye and said “In this country we protect freedom of speech. Unless you allow Joe to return to the classroom, I shall sue the school district, the school and you personally.” The Principal looked up to me and softly said “Go back to class.”
While I do not believe that every parent has the need to step forward as did my father to forcefully defend their children’s rights, I do firmly believe that all of must now step forward to guarantee a positive future for school education by providing greater support for our teachers. This support may be in the form of joining and becoming active in the PTA or occasionally volunteering to help with school fund raising or other activities and to positively contribute to the future of our children and in turn to the future of our nation.
Fifty years after Miss Binkley had helped me learn how to write I received in the post the third edition of my first text book. I wrote the first college text book in my field and it has been re – published eight times during the past thirty years. During this time I also authored, co – authored and edited dozens of other books including my personal memoirs. As I was writing my memoirs I fondly remembered my P1 teacher who with her 1950’s hair bun with an ever ready number two yellow pencil piercing its crown leaning over to help a wee boy.
I was able to locate Miss Binkley’s home address and sent her a copy of my latest book and inside the front page I wrote “For my teacher, Miss Binkley, who taught me to write. Your mighty finger prints are on every page of this book. Thank you.”
A few weeks later, one evening during our dinner time, our phone rang and a small quivering voice announced “Joe, this is Miss Binkley. Thank you for your book. Thank you for the inscription. I was just doing my job.”
Miss Binkley died in 2019 at the age of 104. However, her contributions to my life and thousands of other pupils insure that her spirit and contributions shall indeed live forever. I have the same confidence today that our Scottish school teachers may make similar contributions to the future of our nation and with our support and engagement they too, similar to Miss Binkley, may produce our future citizens whose contributions will be boundless.
Professor Joe Goldblatt is Emeritus Professor of Planned Events at Queen Margaret University in Edinburgh, Scotland. He attended San Jacinto Elementary School in Dallas, Texas where his first teacher was Miss Ora Lee Binkley (1915 – 2019). He is the author of numerous books in the field of events management and to read about his views on other subjects visit www.joegoldblatt.scot