How A "Progressive" Teacher Works

Every year parents and teachers wrangle about the new-fangled teaching methods. Do they work? Or was the old-fashioned way better? For some of the answers come inside an Edmonton classroom and see for yourself how Jean Dey handles grade one

ROBERT COLLINS September 17 1955

How A "Progressive" Teacher Works

Every year parents and teachers wrangle about the new-fangled teaching methods. Do they work? Or was the old-fashioned way better? For some of the answers come inside an Edmonton classroom and see for yourself how Jean Dey handles grade one

ROBERT COLLINS September 17 1955

How A "Progressive" Teacher Works


Every year parents and teachers wrangle about the new-fangled teaching methods. Do they work? Or was the old-fashioned way better? For some of the answers come inside an Edmonton classroom and see for yourself how Jean Dey handles grade one

THIS month the school bells and buzzers that summon children back to classes across the land are also bringing parents, teachers, school trustees and superintendents bobbing out of their corners like old prize fighters, ready to square off for another round in the perennial squabble over “progressive” education.

The dispute is the same now as it was last September and as it will probably be next September: Is present-day schooling really giving

pupils a richer, more comprehensive education, as its exponents claim? Or is it, as its critics say, merely producing a generation of frustrated teachers, puzzled parents and mixed-up kids?

One way to answer these questions is to see progressive education in action at the grade-teacher level, and one of the best teachers to watch is Jean Downie Dey, a slender auburn-haired woman of thirty-seven who teaches grade one at West Edmonton’s Coronation School.

In the midst of this educational furore, Jean Dey’s is a strangely happy uncomplicated school district. Her pupils are well behaved, well advanced in their studies and free of mysterious complexes. Their mothers and fathers are probably Canada’s most enlightened parents since, at Miss Dey’s they visit the school whenever they like and stay as long as they wish. Oddly, they are all happy with what they see there.

Odder still, Jean Dey is a happy teacher.

Teaching, to her, is not just a stepping-stone to some other job. She has never wanted to do anything else. She teaches grade one by choice, although she is qualified to lecture at the University of Alberta. All summer she instructs teachers at university summer school. All winter she either spends her evenings out making speeches about teaching or at home trying to improve her own teaching technique. Besides employing all the modern approved teaching devices, she is always inventing improvements of her own from things like sewing spools or empty pillboxes.

Everybody likes Miss Dey. A. G. Bayly, director of elementary education for the Edmonton public school board, who dares not play favorites among teachers, admits guardedly, “She’s one of our best.” Associate professor Eric Hodgson, a mathematics specialist with the University of Alberta’s faculty of education, sometimes calls her “the best math teacher in Canada.” Her principal, Loran W. Nichols, who has taught school for twenty-eight years, says flatly, “I consider the pupils in her class the luckiest kids in Canada.” At this Jean Dey blushingly loses her usual composure and pleads, “Don’t make me out a freak. I’m no different from most other teachers.” She is different, of course, through a rare combination of talent, training and love of her job, but there is nothing phenomenal about her or her school. She simply teaches progressive education

the way she believes it ought to be taught—and the way many other competent conscientious teachers are trying to do it, with varying results. She proves that modern curriculums and methods can work, if properly applied.

Her pupils read expertly, in and out of school. They breeze through textbook arithmetic problems and then invent and solve problems of their own. Every moment of their day is utilized.

“They don’t do anything just for the sake of keeping busy,” emphasizes Anne Carmichael, Edmonton’s assistant director of elementary education. “Everything is done to a purpose.”

The trouble is, the purpose of modern schooling is not readily clear to adults who plodded through grade one memorizing the multiplication tables on the backs of five-cent scribblers. To them progressive education appears aimless and often frivolous. To understand it and to appreciate the hopes and problems of the modern teacher, one must go to school with Jean Dey.

Both the school, a long low two-year-old building, and the teacher are calculated to interest a gradeone pupil. Jean Dey is a trim slight woman with a warm smile, amber-colored horn-rimmed spectacles and a pleasant well-modulated voice. Her reddish-brown hair is brushed in a sleek stylish bob and her wardrobe dazzles her six-year-old girl pupils: one day a snug-fitting rose-colored suit with a rosebud corsage, another day a black jumper skirt with white blouse, again a charcoal-grey dress with blue rhinestone brooch and earrings or, perhaps, a blue-and-white polka-dot dress with white earrings.

“Our daughter, Linda, is so fascinated with Miss Dey’s clothes she gives us a day-to-day report on what the teacher wears,” says Lorna Porter, an auditor’s wife.

The classroom is equally pleasing, not much like the drab little schoolrooms of twenty or thirty years




ago. It has a grey-green linoleum floor, eight ceiling lights in aluminum shades, three blue-grey walls and one wall of windows, child-size bookand-Iunchbox shelves and coat cupboards.

There’s a green chalkboard (no blackboard any more), a long brown-paper streamer over the board bearing a hand-printed alphabet, a goldfish tank, two green turtles in a tray, a bowl of tadpoles, rows of crayon artwork in fiery reds and yellows, cut-out pictures of animals and children and half a dozen potted geraniums, African violets and philodendrons.

A clock face hangs over the chalkboard with hands set at seven and a printed legend below: “Seven o’clock is bedtime.” Once a mother told Jean, “Your word’s law around our house. My daughter never argues about bedtime because ‘Miss Dey’s clock says so.’ How about posting up a few more rules?”

Under the windows are half a dozen vertical bookracks, something like magazine stands. The plywood racks are Jean’s invention. They permit a child to choose his favorite book without thumbing through a pile. It’s easier on the books, too, which are all well-written entertaining children’s stories, not on the school curriculum but purchased partly with a school grant and partly from the teacher’s own pocket. Jean lets her pupils draw them out with “library” cards, to take home or to read for pleasure immediately after the day’s lesson.

Propped on an easel in front of the class are sheets of thirty - five - by - twenty - five - inch ruled paper, bearing hand-printed words (“Spelling’s not on the curriculum but they beg for it so much that I give it to them,” Jean explains), sentences and stories, all related to the regular grade-one reading lessons. A typical story begins:

“The black dog ran to his little house. He got his old red ball. He ran back with it to Billy. Then Towser put the ball down . . .”

The ruled paper is another Dey “original.” Once the sheets were plain. Jean persuaded the school board to have hers ruled like a notebook for easier, neater printing. The idea proved so useful that most elementary schools in Edmonton now order ready-ruled paper.

Meanwhile Jean is coaxing another improvement from her school board: a shoulder-high gadget she calls a “chart-holder.” It will stand high enough for pupils to see from the back rows, an improvement on the easel. The printed sheets will hang on rings so that Jean can flip them over like the pages of a loose-leaf notebook. The entire thing will save chalkboard space and provide a permanent collection of stories and sentences that are used repeatedly. It will have to be custom-made since Jean borrowed the idea from a Seattle school, then added modifications of her own.

She is always seeking to borrow or invent other teaching improvements.

“After all, that’s the essence of progressive education,” she says. “We must always go ahead. We have far more variety now than when I was in grade one. Then it was mostly reading, writing and arithmetic. Now we have arithmetic, reading, printing, water-color painting, crayon coloring, finger painting, puzzles, plasticine modeling, music and gymnastics. Children get a better-balanced, more interesting diet of education today.

“Mind you, we still have clever children and backward children, and always will. And we’ll always have teachers who go overboard on the ‘skill’ part of the curriculum, and so you have pupils who major in mud pies! But by and large,

I think more school pupils have more advantages than when I was a child.”

As she talks to me her pupils file in for morning classes. They’re lively but not unruly and a firm word from the teacher is enough to quiet the noisy ones.

“There’s more freedom nowadays,” Jean continues. “We’re kinder now than teachers used to be. But I don’t believe in letting them run wild. Children need and expect guidance. I’m a sort

of benevolent despot. Before I turn them loose I teach them how to use their spare time.”

The nine-o’clock buzzer calls classes. This morning it’s arithmetic and the class runs through its entire repertoire.

“The basic difference is this: modern education stresses ‘mastering’; the old method stressed ‘memorizing,’ ” Jean tells me. “When I went to school I was told, ‘Two plus two is four and you’d better remember it.’ Now, pupils learn to reason out answers, to add and subtract, to estimate distances and to improve their vocabulary from all the things we’re going to show you.”

Forty-three sets of bead frames come down from

the shelves. A bead frame has ten sliding wooden beads—five red and five blue—on a wire. Modem arithmetic is taught in units of ten. The contrasting colors enable a pupil to count five at a glance without laboriously counting off each bead.

“Now, quickly as you can, move seven beads from left to right. And no counting them one by one!”

With one “click” the class has the answer.

“Patricia, how do you know you have seven?”

A girl with coils of brunette hair and a jumperskirt like the teacher’s says, “Because there are five red ones and two blue ones and five and two make seven.”

Continued on page 92

How a “Progressive” Teacher Works


"Right. Jimmy, can you tell another way we know it is seven?”

"Because I have three blue ones left over at the other end and seven is three less than ten.”

They click off a few more problems. In each case they are reasoning out the answer, instead of reciting figures from memory as was the custom twenty years ago.

Next, each child pulls out a homemade cardboard ruler, marked into ten-inch units but with no numbers. This way they learn to estimate distances with the eye. They hide their eyes while Jean measures a line on the chalkboard. Everyone guesses its length. It’s six inches long and most of the class guesses correctly. Jean draws another line below it. By reasonI ing that four is two units less than six most of them estimate correctly that this line is four inches long.

Jean brings out a handful of cards, spotted with varying numbers of colored polka dots. She shows one for an instant, then: s ^ •

"How many dots?”

A forest of hands goes up.


"Four,” says a red-cheeked girl with a pony-tail hairdo.

"How did you know?”

"There were two reds and two blues and that makes four.”

"And was this an odd or an even number? Joanne?”

One of the blond Harper twins says, "An even number because if you put it in two groups of two there’d be none left over.”

Next they try simple geometry. On a flannel-covered easel Jean sticks colored paper triangles, squares, circles and rectangles, each with a flannel strip on its back. The pupils identify them all, although sometimes using oversimplified definitions: “a square

has four straight sides all the same,” "a rectangle has four sides but they don’t have to be the same” and "a triangle has three sides.”

The teacher hangs a large square board at the front of the room. It’s studded with nails and marked in quarters, two red and two green. One hundred colored disks hang on the nails in rows of ten, red disk against green board and vice versa. Jean rapidly removes thirteen disks.

"How many are left? Grant?” "Eighty-seven,” says a boy with six guns stamped all over his shirt. "How did you know?”

"Because there are eight full rows of ten, that makes eighty, and five red and two green, makes seven.”

Later Jean explains she sawed and painted the board herself, hammered the nails and, before buying plastic disks, used wooden spools as markers. She begged the empty spools from friends’ sewing boxes, painted them herself and still has several dozen left over which she’s trying to find a use for.

Another time, after taking a box of vitamin pills for tonsillitis, she was idly examining the box’s perforated lining and suddenly realized it had five rows, ten holes to the row.

"Ten units,” she thought. "Just right for arithmetic!”

She begged pillboxes from her friends, who have learned never to throw anything away. Now each pupil, using a pillbox lining as a pattern, can draw neat ten-unit rows of circles in his arithmetic book.

"Mind you, all these ideas of mine are based on ideas in books or as taught

“I have no children but you/’ said Miss Dey. “Guess that’s enough/’ a boy piped

in university,” Jean adds. "They’re available to any teacher who takes the trouble to look.”

As she explains this in an undertone, a boy saunters away from his desk. Jean permits a certain amount of classroom wandering for specific errands but this trip is unnecessary. She does not raise her voice but her meaning is unmistakable.

"Alan!” A nod toward his desk. "Quick!” Alan moves quickly. "We’re going to have to put a little glue on that desk to make you stick.” Alan grins sheepishly and stays put.

Now the class invents its own problems. Grant Keddie, of the sixgun shirt, says, "We had ten dogs and we sold five. How many are left?”

The class tells him. A girl invents a problem with daffodils. Another makes up a question about cats. The buzzer sounds recess.

Recess is an uproar, especially in wet or snowy weather when coats and galoshes must be worn. Jean fastens four chinstraps, wraps five scarves and reties two sets of pigtails.

"Miss Dey, may I please have the skipping rope?”

"I don’t really think you need it, Lesley, there’s a foot of snow.”

"Miss Dey, this morning me and my sister . . .”


". . . uh . . . my sister and I had to shovel snow till a quarter to nine.”

"Miss Dey, somebody took my boots.”

"Miss Dey, will you please zip my zipper?”

"All right, let’s see if we can walk out quietly.”

A heavy silence settles over the room. Miss Dey settles into a chair and tells how, a few days earlier, six-year-old Jonathan Sibun asked, "Miss Dey, do you have any children?”

"Why, no—except for all of you in the class.”

"Oh,” said Jonathan thoughtfully. "Well, I guess that’s enough for any woman.”

The buzzer sounds again. As in most modern schools the pupils relax, heads down on desks, then stand and stretch, then hunch down on the floor a moment to compose themselves after recess.

By this time two mothers have dropped in to sit quietly at the back of the room. Jean greets them cheerfully and goes about her business. After a few tentative giggles the pupils ignore them too. Both teacher and students are used to spectators. Every day for eighteen weeks in the year, Jean has two student teachers from the university under her wing. Occasionally, the university or school board brings exchange teachers from foreign countries or other special visitors to see her in action.

But she is particularly glad to see parents. At the beginning of each year she urges them to "drop in anytime.” Through the term she seizes every opportunity to renew the invitation. Last March during Education Week, most teachers allotted all parents one half day to visit school. Generally, the resultant crowds made a normal halfday’s teaching impossible. Jean Dey divided her parents into five groups, invited one group each morning of the week and proceeded with normal routine. Each afternoon she coached student teachers.

"I was nearly dead by Friday night,” she confesses, "but I thought the parents might as well see a normal school

day in action. It’s awfully important that they know me and I know them. I want parents to realize that although the pupils may appear to be wasting time, I know exactly what they are doing every minute and why they are doing it.”

At first the parents were astonished at being wanted around school but by May this year all but six of the forty-two homes had been represented by a visit from one or both parents. All were delighted with what they saw, particularly with Jean Dey’s reading results. According to critics like Dr. Rudolf Flesch (Maclean’s January 1, 1955), modern primary-school children can read only what they study in school primers.

But Mrs. Frank Morris, a former teacher, says, "Our Marsha brings home one of Miss Dey’s library books every night.”

"Elizabeth loves her library books,” says Mrs. L. A. Douglas, another former teacher. "She has learned not only to read but to think about what she is reading.”

Mrs. Robert Harper, wife of an oil company president and mother of the twins, says, "Joanne sometimes gets up at six-thirty in the morning to finish a storybook she brought home the previous night. When she and Marianne start out to read me a story they want to read the entire book!”

What Interests Children

Jean Dey also quarrels with Flesch’s theories that primers are duller than they used to be, that phonetics and the alphabet are no longer taught and that modern children memorize words without grasping their meaning.

"Here’s one of those 'interesting’ primers of the past,” she says, producing the 1921 Alexandra reader. "Listen to this dandy little story / had in grade one:

Apples, apples, fine red apples.

Will you have one, will you have one?

Take my apples, take my apples. Please take one, O please take one.”

Next she produces a modern primer, We Look, and See, the first of a fivebook series that Coronation grade one pupils study. The series is one of three approved for use in Alberta. She reads a passage:

Come, Puff

Come and go up

Go up, up, up

Come down, down, down

"Naturally, that’s dull for adults,” she says, "but it isn’t meant for adults. It interests children who have never read before and it is usually all they are capable of reading, in the beginning.”

She turns to Our New Friends, the fifth book in the series, which her class was studying by Easter this year. A typical passage begins:

One fine day a little yellow duck went for a walk. As he walked along the road he met Grey Kitten . . .

"You see, these are straightforward little children’s stories with little repetition,” Jean says. "And they are reading these in their first year. As for children simply memorizing the stories from their readers—well, obviously Flesch hasn’t seen reading taught meaningfully. My pupils not only read but they discuss the stories, draw

posters about them, cut and paste pictures of the characters in them and build cardboard projects related to them.”

And she points out the posters lining the walls.

"We most certainly do use phonetics,” she continues. "Pupils don’t 'sound out’ words the way I did years ago. Instead they learn to look at and analyze words. They form a mental rather than a vocal image. They learn that if this word says 'thank’ that one says 'think’ and so on.”

She divides her reading class into three groups, partly because her class is large and partly to separate the rapid and slower readers. The first group dives for a low table surrounded by small chairs at the back of the room. Jean prints words on the chalkboard.

"You’ve been having trouble with these two.” She points to "store” and "story.”

"Marianne, do you know this letter?”

"It’s 'y.’ ”

"And what do we hear it say?”


"That’s right. Now we know the letter V on the end of 'store’ sometimes says 'ee’ too, but in this word it doesn’t. This is just one of those words we’re going to have to watch.”

They study other difficult words, then open the primer, Our New Friends, to a story about a squirrel. First, they discuss it from the illustrations.

"What does it look like the squirrel’s doing, Linda?”

"He’s looking for nuts.”

"And what does he see? Reid?” "Well, I guess he sees those nuts Dick and Jane picked.”

"What do you think he’ll do? . . . Well, let’s read the page over to ourselves and find out.”

They read it silently, looking for information rather than mere words. Jean hurries back to the other pupils who are printing sentences concerning the day’s lesson in their exercise books. She returns to the reading table and asks more questions. Everyone understands the story now. To prove it, they take turns reading aloud, smoothly and with TT surprising amount of expression. The "shifts” change until everyone has had an oral lesson.

Then Jean stands an easel in front of the class and produces some of the hundreds of pictures she has cut from magazines and pasted on cards. ("I spend hours doing this. The other teachers call me Cut-and-Paste.”) She props a picture on the easel.

"Who knows what this is?”

Hands fly up; everyone knows it’s a goat. She writes the word in chalk. Someone spells it aloud; obviously these pupils know their alphabet. They repeat the drill with a picture of a boat. They recognize the rhyming phrase "oat” in both words. They discover that using it with "c” makes "coat.” By the same process they learn to build "pan” and "ran” from "man.”

"I know I’ll toss out some of these methods eventually, for we must progress,” Jean tells a mother when the lesson ends, "but I honestly believe this is the happiest form of reading instruction to date, if it is properly taught.”

By this time the children are deep in library books. In its first year, Coronation School received a fortydollar grant per room to found a small library of extracurricular books. Each year since, each room has received a twenty-three-dollar grant to supplement its library. But since children’s books range from fifty cents to two dollars each, the grants don’t go far. Sometimes the rooms hold Easter plays or Halloween tea parties for parents, adding a few dollars to their fund. Jean

frequently buys volumes from her own pocket; her room has about one hundred and fifty books. She can’t resist a new one. Once a friend saw her in an Edmonton supermarket; while other women bought groceries Jean browsed through the children’s storybooks.

Reading class is followed by livelier fare like music or gymnastics. Music means learning and singing simple songs, some of which serve the extra purpose of teaching street-safety rules. The hit songs in the room this year, according to popular request, were God Save the Queen and O Canada.

Twice a week there’s a gym class: running, jumping and skipping to music and games like follow-the-leader. The teacher gets a workout, too, for she must join in as vigorously as a sixyear-old.

Back in the classroom, blond blueeyed Donna Barber tells the teacher, "Today’s my birthday, Miss Dey. Don’t forget to spank me.”

So, as she does for every pupil’s birthday, Jean "spanks” the child —this lime it’s seven strokes—everybody sings Happy Birthday to You and Donna passes around a box of her mother’s homemade fudge.

Why Teachers Need Holidays

The day ends with a few pupils showing and describing some novelty they’ve brought from home. One girl has petrified wood from the Drumheller Badlands. Another has a rocket plane cut from a corn-flakes box. A boy in blue jeans produces a tin star.

"Is that a sheriff’s star?”

"Yes, Miss Dey.”

"Are you the sheriff of this county?” A small appreciative giggle runs through the room. A few pupils clean chalkboards and erasers, feed the fish and turtles and water the plants. The buzzer causes a final flurry of coats to be buttoned, scarves to be tied, rubbers to be found.

"Mias Dey, somebody lost a white mitten.”

"And here’s a green one, Mias Dey.” "Well, put them in the lost-andfound box.”

"Good night, Miss Dey.”

"Good night, Lesley. Now hurry home so your mother won’t worry.” And the room is empty.

"Now you know why teachers need two months’ holidays every year.” says Jean. "People often say to me, 'How do you ever pass the time with grade one?’ I tell them, T just don’t have enough time to do everything.’ ”

With that, she goes on working until five or six p.m., either at school or at home.

"I’m not a 'grind,’ ” she insists. "I do it because I like it.”

Her home is a snug one-bedroom apartment on the second floor of a private house. An electric fireplace, gay drapes and homemade cushion covers brighten the small living room. On the wall hangs her Bachelor of Education diploma, earned in 1953 after seven summer-school terms. She’s obviously proud of it but jokes casually, "Why do they write those things in Latin? The only part I can read is my name.”

After dinner she usually tries the daily Edmonton Journal crossword puzzle and vows she’ll solve one someday. Then, often, she does more school work—painting spools, sewing cos-


Subscribers receiving notice of the approaching expiration of their subscriptions are reminded of the necessity of sending in their renewal orders promptly.

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tumes for a play, cutting and pasting pictures for word-recoinition cards —while the radio plays softly.

"I haven’t bothered getting TV,” she says. "If I had to watch that I wouldn’t be able to cut and paste! Some people take to strong drink; I just cut and paste. Of course, I won’t refuse a drink on special occasions.”

Her social life is simple. She’s an indifferent sports fan, which caused her some embarrassment when Frank Morris, co-captain and guard of the Edmonton Eskimos, called at school one afternoon for his daughter, Marsha.

"I might have said something intelligent about the Grey Cup,” she mourns, "but I just thought, 'Mmm, nice pair of shoulders.’ I’m so used to seeing big handsome fathers come for their children I didn’t pay much attention.” She likes dancing and sings in an Edmonton teachers’ chorus but, most of all. she likes to sit home reading anything from popular magazines and Pogo to Charles Dickens or the poems of Robert Louis Stevenson. Her landlady once remarked, as she hurried out to make a speech, "It’s a shame you have to go out tonight, Jean. You’re

such good company for yourself.”

Speeches for home and school associations or teachers’ conventions occupy much of her spare time. For two summers she has taught at the University of Alberta summer school and now her fame has spread. This year she had to refuse a summer school post at the University of Saskatchewan. Obviously, Jean Dey never strays far from school life.

But she has never wanted to; the urge to teach was literally born into lier. She grew up on a farm near Ardrossan. Alta., seventeen miles east

of Edmonton, the youngest of four children. Her mother had taught school in Aberdeen, Scotland. Two aunts on her Scottish father’s side were teachers. Her two sisters became teachers. Her brother married a schoolteacher.

Almost as soon as she could walk, Jean began playing school. She cornered and "taught” the neighborhood kids, taught her dolls, and if nothing else was available, taught make-believe classes. While other kids made mud pies she made up imaginary lessons.

The elder Deys had great respect for learning and in the evening they all sat around the parlor with books or magazines.

"I was furious because I wasn’t old enough to do this fascinating thing called reading,” Jean remembers. "Finally, when I was about four, I began bringing out a book called What Katy Did on the Farm. I’d turn the pages slowly and scan them from top to bottom. Couldn’t read a word but at least I didn’t feel left out.”

By the time she was five she had learned to read with her mother’s help. But her first years of school were disappointing. Since she could outread most pupils her age, she baffled the teachers. One day, to keep her busy, a teacher made her copy a poem into her exercise book. The next day, lacking a better idea, the teacher told her to do it again. Jean refused and was soundly slapped. But no matter how inept the teacher the young Deys never sought sympathy at home.

"In all those years I never once heard my mother criticize a teacher,” Jean says. "In our house, a teacher was just a little below God.”

Her dismal school days didn’t quench her enthusiasm for learning or teaching. By the time she was twelve she had completed grade nine, the final year in her rural school. That was 1930, the first depression year. There was no money to pay for her board in a high-school town. She couldn’t even find a housewife who’d let her work for her board. So for three years, with her mother’s help, Jean struggled through lessons at home. Each year, she wrote standard examinations and in 1933 completed grade twelve without ever being in a high school.

Two years later she was able to afford a year at Edmonton Normal School. Then an idle year passed before she got a job. In 1937 she went to teach Divide School near the bush settlement of Lake Isle, about seventy miles west of Edmonton.

"Remember,” James Dey told his daughter as she left, "we may be poor but you don’t have to accept just anything. If it’s bad, come home.”

It wasn’t good but Jean stayed. Divide School was a log shack with fifteen children in nine grades. Today the scent of burning tamarack still reminds her of the smoky woodburning stove. Pictures pasted on the log walls rippled in and out like washboards. One afternoon early in the year her class fell strangely silent. She was congratulating herself on her discipline when a small voice piped, "There’s a snake behind you.”

She whirled to see a garter snake shinnying through the floorboards. She swallowed hard and asked the boys to remove it. After that snakes often wriggled through the floor and Jean understood why—"the teacher before me ran out of the school screaming.”

But it was a good year, for after all she was teaching. She played softball with the pupils ("I was the best first baseman they’d ever had”), dislocated both thumbs and tore the knees out of her stockings. She boarded with a farm family and every night read aloud to the father, a Canadien who’d never had a chance to learn reading

or writing. She walked a mile and a half to school and ate enormous meals of home-baked bread, potatoes, chicken, rich farm cream and flapjacks. By the end of the year she’d gained twenty-five pounds and earned six hundred dollars.

Her work so impressed the school inspector that she was promoted to the village school of Sangudo, sixty-nine miles northwest of Edmonton, a job every rural teacher in the district wanted. At that, it was no bargain. She taught forty-nine children in grades one to six, and every day at train time all forty-nine stood up to look out the window.

"That is, they did for a week or so,” she says. "I can be tough if I have to.”

Two years later she moved to Vermilion, Alta., and in 1944 went to Edmonton. Then the postwar student crowding began. For three weeks in 1946 she and another teacher taught sixty-two grades one and two pupils in the same room at the same time. Then the home and school association intervened and they taught a half day each for the rest of the year.

About then the University of Alberta

Pay Attention, Children!

In times of desperation The greatest consolation

And comfort and reward are little folks. In their fresh, unsullied bloom They're an audience to whom

I unflinchingly can tell my oldest jokes.


faculty of education, seeking demonstration teachers to teach primary classes on the campus for the benefit of student teachers, spotted Jean.

"We chose her from a great many teachers and she did a fine job, a superlative job,” says Dr. William McDougall, in charge of teacher training at the university. "A primary teacher must be sympathetic toward children’s problems without becoming maudlin. Jean Dey is that way.”

Three years later she rose to lecturer. This was a coveted job with considerable prestige, but one day, after two years of it, she decided, "I want to accomplish something I can see.” She returned to grade one and last fall went to Coronation School as assistant to principal Loran Nichols. By this time she had acquired a measure of fame.

"It was embarrassing for Mr. Nichols and me at first,” she says. "I came with this silly sort of legend attached to me and I guess he didn’t know what to make of me. For a couple of months we hardly spoke. Then everything turned out all right.”

What really happened was that Nichols, a big, quiet, capable man, simply reserved judgment for a while, then decided that the Dey legend is largely fact. The legend continues to grow, too, much to Jean’s embarrassment. It was best expressed on March 11 this year when, to end Education Week, the Edmonton teachers’ chorus sang at Coronation School.

Naturally, her pupils and their parents attended and naturally, being short, Jean had to stand in the front row. And in the hushed silence before the first number, four-year-old Barbara Barchard, whose brother is in grade one and who can hardly wait until she goes to school, cried gleefully, "WHY, THERE’S MISS DEY. I SURE LIKE HER!”

No one had the heart to scold her. Everybody likes Miss Dey. ★