RUTH HOLYER HUFFMAN
“JUST AN INCREDIBLE SPIRIT”
When the Last Hurrah took place, I was living in Cobalt and just couldn’t get down. I’m really looking forward to this Reunion. As soon as I saw Beck On Call advertised in our Retired Teachers Magazine, I got on the website and registered.
When I moved to Beck as a student, it was mid-October of 1953. On my very first day in Geography class with Harvey Stewart, the class was writing a test. I had to write the test. Of course, I didn’t have a clue what it was about because I had not done whatever this was. I handed the test in and got zero on it. If you failed a test, Harvey had you come in and rewrite it within a day or two. Anyway, he went over the material with me and a day or two later, I got perfect on it. Oh, I was so frightened that first day! “What am I getting into here?” I worried. It was very embarrassing.
One of the people who really stood out in my eyes was Pop Adamson. I think he was the reason I loved Math so much. In my first week or two at Beck, I was scared, but as the year went on, I was so glad I’d had him. If I remember correctly, I also had him again in grade ten and eleven. With Geometry, we’d walk in and he’d say: “What is the picture for today?” We were supposed to do a theorem. I was so thankful I’d had him. He’s the one who inspired me as far as Math was concerned.
What I remember particularly with Wilda Graber was guidance counselling. Toward the end of grade ten when there were maybe a couple of days of school left, my mother had a problem. I was so upset. I was fifteen at the time, and when I talked to Wilda, she was very, very helpful and very sympathetic. I felt an awful lot better after that.
Gladys Colwill I only had in grade thirteen. She was an excellent teacher, and you could tell she was very bright. Algebra was the most difficult of the grade thirteen Maths. Some of the concepts we were expected to deal with became different and more complex. She just seemed to have everything right there at her fingertips. As I said, she was an excellent teacher.
French I took all the way through. I had Mr. Pritchard in ten and eleven. I liked him as a teacher, but he was a little bit scary if you were not a good student. He threw chalk at people who weren’t paying attention, and he had a pretty good aim. He was very strict.
In grade thirteen, I had Mr. Bartley for French. I also had him for German in eleven and twelve, and I really enjoyed that. One thing that constantly amazed me was how he stood on the stage at graduation and just knew every student’s name.
I had Mr. Groat all the way through for Latin, although I didn’t take it in grade thirteen because I was taking maths and sciences. I found Latin very dull, but I’m glad I had it. It has been very helpful in so many things.
If you took Home Ec in grade nine, you had to go to an old house near Central Collegiate. We went there on a Monday morning. They taught Home Ec for Central there as well. The bottom floor was the kitchen. It also had an area for doing laundry and a living room because you had to know how to act properly as a guest (!) The upstairs was the sewing. You spent half the morning on one floor and half the morning on the other. I think the boys went to another school for shop, but I’m not positive.
When I went to Beck to teach in 1962, Industrial Arts, cooking, sewing and so on were available at the school.
For English, I had Roger Macaulay, Mr. Cropp, Mr. Langford. An interesting thing with Paul Cropp. I took the summer course to go into teaching in 1962 when I graduated from Western. You had to take three subjects you were willing to teach. I took Science, Math and English. When I came to Beck, Paul was the Master Teacher for the English. He gave me the highest rating that I received on any of my practice teaching. Afterward, he told me: “I’d be proud to have you teaching English at a school where I was.”
At Western, I ended up graduating in Botany. I didn’t know that I liked it because I never took Botany or Zoology in grade thirteen. If you took Science or Math, you had to take two English and two other languages. That was it. There was no room for another course.
I found out I really liked the Botany, especially at the cellular level. I became very interested in Cytogenetics. In my last year, I was sort of fluctuating between going into teaching or staying on and working on my Masters in Cytogenetics. The one professor really wanted me to, but I decided I wanted to go into teaching. I don’t regret it.
Most people went to summer school then, rather than taking the year at OCE because if you wanted to take the year, you went to Toronto. After three or four years at university, most of us were anxious to get out and start working and earn money rather than being a poor student. It wasn’t much of a preparation for teaching. More like baptism by fire; however, a lot of teaching you learn as you go along. You make a lot of mistakes in your first few years, but if you decide to stay in teaching, usually you figure out the right way to do things, then you feel more comfortable with it. The first few years involve a lot of trial and error.
In talking to different people about high school experiences, I realized we were so fortunate to be at Beck. For the most part, we had good teachers, and we had such an incredible school spirit.
Any time one of the teams was playing, there was such a huge turnout for the games. Those singing auditoriums were one of the big things that brought the school together. Just an incredible spirit throughout the school. By the time I started teaching, it had changed a little bit because the school was considerably larger. There just wasn’t quite the same closeness. It may also have been the times. We were into the sixties, and things started to be a little different in the high schools.
A teacher at Beck, Gail Hornby, got sick in May of ’62. I had just graduated from Western and had already signed to teach at Beck in the fall. They phoned to ask if I could come in for the week to supply teach for her, which I did. It was good because then I knew what the routine of the school was. It had changed from when I was a student, and when you’re a student, you’re not as aware of the routines as you are when you’re a teacher.
The policy on late to class, policies on absences, things like that…as a student, you sort of know what you’re expected to do, but as a teacher, you’re more aware of what your responsibilities are. You have to do something to ensure the students are there on time, or what is the consequence if they’re not? Getting into the routine while I supply taught that week was a good way to introduce me for the fall.
When I went to Beck, I never heard it described as a working class family school.
It’s funny coming back to the same school you went to as a student. Certain people you feel sort of at ease with, others you just never feel you could call by their first name. Mr. Armstrong was one of those. There was NO WAY I could call this man by his first name. A few of the others it took me some time to address by their first name, but eventually I did. Generally, it was easier with the women.
Vern Franks was the head of Science, and he was not there when I was a student. Right off the bat, there was no problem.
The staff rooms were segregated. There was a woman’s and a men’s staff room, if you can imagine. When you did have time to sit down and relax in the staff room, you were just with women.
Someone I had a lot more respect for after I became a teacher was Edna Durrant. I’m not sure why, unless it’s that I got to know her a little bit more as a person.
When I started teaching, many times, I was the ONLY woman teacher of those subjects. I felt it was important for the girls to see that a woman was interested enough in those subjects to go on and teach them.
Almost every year, I taught Math. I also taught Chemistry, Biology and General Science. In my first year at Beck, I taught seven classes a day. One spare a day for preparation. Out of the five days I had that one spare, on two or three of them, I was supervising study hall. This didn’t leave much time for preparation.
The interesting thing about the science was that I wasn’t teaching it in the same room. I’d have to go from one lab downstairs to another lab upstairs and then back down again. I was in at least two labs, maybe more. It was a lot of running around.
In my second year, I taught grade nine Math, grade nine Science, grade ten Science and grade twelve Chemistry. I had a little more mixture but also a little more work because four courses were involved.
There were a number of young teachers who seemed to be a group among themselves, and the old teachers seemed to be the same. I felt as if I was caught between them because I had been there when the older teachers were teaching. It definitely put me in a different position.
In September 1964, I went to the old St. Thomas Collegiate, which was torn down in 1967. I taught all the grade twelve and thirteen Chemistry the whole time I was there.
The last school I taught at was Central Peel. In that there were more women math teachers than male math teachers, it was very unusual. It seemed strange when so frequently I’d been the only woman teaching math and/or science.
Living in Brampton, I often met kids I’ve taught but don’t remember their names nor they mine. When they ask mine, I say: “Well, could be Holyer, Huffman, Holyer or Richardson.” The way they look at me is funny. After I separated from my first husband, I went back to Holyer. Ed Richardson and I were married in ’91. Ed was a teacher at Central Peel as well. That’s where we met.
I feel very fortunate to have attended Beck as a student and to have had the opportunity to begin my high school teaching career in such a warm, caring environment.
Both as a student and teacher, Ruth, your dedication, pride and love for Beck shines through!
Copyright Carol Lowe September 9, 2004
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