It was nothing short of a miracle that Mrs. Conboy managed to keep her sense of humour in our rowdy often boisterous classroom at Glen Tay Public School. After all, she had some of the most ‘lively’ boys in the entire building nestled snuggly at the back of her classroom. They all seemed to sit in a tight cluster at the far left side of the six neatly-spaced rows that ran from front to back, close enough to the windows for them to become distracted more often than not.
I often wondered if that was why they had chosen Mrs. Conboy to be in charge of some of the oldest and most challenging characters in the shiny new school, a building barely four years old at the time. The powers-that-be had decided in their questionable ‘wisdom’ to close down all of the one-room school houses in Lanark County and to bus us all from near and far to the modern, gleaming school on Harper Road.
So there she was, not a particularly tall or imposing lady, but one with enough of a serious nature, tempered with a quick smile that managed to keep order in a class of almost forty students. Many of her charges were large, strapping, farm lads, with high levels of energy that might have been better served in a sunny open field, than trapped inside four closed walls, so far from their homes and waiting chores.
I don’t think I have ever played as much softball before or since, as I did that year in Mrs. Conboy’s class. She was wise enough to know when the activity level in the classroom had gone beyond an environment suitable for learning and she’d announce that we’d be taking a break from our lessons to play a game of ball. Off we’d go outside to the ball diamond at the back of the school, carrying balls, bats and gloves. Sometimes we’d play for just half an hour, sometimes an hour or more and I think it all depended on Mrs. Conboy’s calculations of just how much pent up energy needed to be burned off before returning to class.
When she wasn’t keeping order in her classroom or acting as an umpire at our frequent softball games Mrs. Conboy was an excellent teacher. Standing at the front of the class, beneath the portrait of Queen Elizabeth II, she managed to convey to us the finer points of English grammar, how to construct a decent poem, and maintaining good cursive writing skills so that our long-hand would not be mistaken for that of a doctor’s.
She also taught History and managed to bring some of the characters from the past back to life again in her colourful descriptions. Her lessons were always sprinkled with some of her own slant on the facts and a bit of her own brand of common sense thrown in for good measure. She was not afraid to toss her own opinions into the mix, nor did she hesitate to ask us for ours. Nothing seemed to please her more than to get a good debate going in the classroom and she encouraged our participation and challenged our arguments.
Above all, Mrs. Conboy understood children. She knew when it was time to sit and learn and when it was time to get some fresh air and burn off some energy. She knew how to calm down the rowdy boys with a mixture of a stern tone and a smile that never seemed to completely leave the corners of her mouth. She inspired us to be the best we could be and to go out into the world and be good citizens and to make a contribution to our communities. She gave us the tools to accomplish our goals and expected no less than excellence.
If we’re lucky in life, we can all name a teacher or two like Mrs. Conboy, who made a lasting impression, who stays in our fondest memories and whose voice we hear reminding us that if we work hard we can achieve our goals. A teacher need not be a Harvard professor, nor an Oxford scholar to make a lingering impression on a child. A good teacher needs to understand that not all education comes from a book, but can come from a sunny day on a baseball diamond sharing laughter, and developing friendships and social skills. Mrs. Conboy, like other great teachers leaves a lasting legacy, as we, her students from so long ago; continue to be inspired to always do our best. Mrs. Conboy, you will not be forgotten.
(This post is in memory of: Dencie Ellen (Tryon) Conboy,
July 02, 1922 – July 21, 2013, Retired Elementary School Teacher)