Mr. Cooper was a great teacher

From our January 2014 issue

By Joyce (Morice) Falcon – Calgary, Alta.

Our school was nine miles south of Biggar, Sask. Take No. 4 highway then turn one mile west to Triumph School. My first three years were a waste of time. Then, a miracle happened.

Our cloakrooms got straightened, the classroom had nothing on the floor but our feet and no noise or commotion. No one can learn unless all is quiet.

We lived three miles from school and when it was 30 or 40-below, our neighbour, Stan Doan, took us to school in the morning and dad brought us home at 4 o’clock. My sisters, Barb and Irene, drove at other times.

The Doan children were Irene, Marjorie, Vera, and Kenneth. (Are any of them still with us? As I’m 93, they may not be.)

Mr. Cooper taught Grades 1 to 8. In the morning it was reading and writing, and after the first recess, we had arithmetic.

Every day after the noonhour was for a different subject. I believe Thursday was for agriculture, with a bit of horticulture and agriculture too. Friday was for grammar. Other days were for geography and Canadian or British history.

A live wire like a snake

There was hygiene in Grade 4 and physiology in Grade 5 and 6. Hygiene was more than wash your hands and clean your teeth.

It was the structure of the tooth, how many teeth you have in your head, where they are located and the purpose of each, why you should not have a fly in your house, and the principle of electricity. A live wire is like a poison snake: if you don’t respect it, it can strike.

In Grade 5 and 6 physiology, we learned the systems of the body.

One day Mr. Cooper was teaching us the Ten Commandments. He explained that ‘covet’ meant you should not want what someone else has. You should be satisfied with what you have.

So, he read: “Thou shall not covet thy neighbour’s wife, his man servant, nor his maid servant, nor his ox nor his ass.”

Well, the only one I had ever heard of was one someone would like to kick. I thought, how stupid, why would anyone want that – and to put it in the Bible? I got the giggles.

Mr. Cooper looked at me and frowned slightly. He knew I had been listening and he knew I loved to learn, so he had to be the culprit. He looked over what he had read.

It took a minute or so then he started to laugh. He laughed so hard that his face turned red and tears ran down his cheeks.

That day I learned that in some countries a small donkey is called an ass. See! You can learn something every day. If that had been my first teacher and I had giggled, I would have gotten the strap.

Mr. Cooper didn’t believe in homework. He said: “If a child is in school from nine in the morning until four in the afternoon that is enough.” He was right. We didn’t need homework.

A hair-raising episode

Mr. Cooper had fair, wavy hair. I remember that because our school had about four large windows on the west side that could be opened top or bottom.

One day we had a couple down from the top and a bat came in. Mr. Cooper had read that if a bat got in your hair, you had to have it all cut off so he walked around with a newspaper over his head while the older boys got the bat out.

We always had spelling after the last recess, and if there was time we had music. Our teacher was a trained pianist, and a good one, and also played Hawaiian guitar. We sang all the old Irish songs, Hawaiian, and Steven Foster melodies. It was wonderful.

For me, Mr. Cooper was one of the greatest Canadians who ever lived. Thank you, Margo, Sask., for giving us Wilfred Emerson Cooper.