Revered West Bay teacher recalls old days of hardship and hope

Teacher Iris Bodden remembers keeping the strap at hand, but never once did she have to use it on any of the 1,000 children she taught during her time as a teacher. 

Celebrating her 95th birthday on 26 July, Ms Bodden recalls her earliest memory and first teaching job on Boggy Sand Road in West Bay more than 80 years ago. 

“Mosquitoes! There were so much mosquitoes I don’t even know how those poor children learnt anything,” said Ms Bodden, shuddering at the mere thought of life in those days. 

“Every little child came to school swinging a smoke pan and all the school windows were closed and the children were beating and scratching all the time… Those were bad days.”  

But all turned out well, as today Ms Bodden gets satisfaction knowing she is alive to see several of her erstwhile students as upstanding and prominent members of the community. 

Former students Rudy Evans, Daphne Orrett and friend Loxley Banks could not resist the moment to recapture information from their childhood days and joined Miss Bodden to once again hear her say how much she loved her pupils. 

“The children today are spoilt rotten, they are not growing up the way I did, we were taught how to work and respect others,” said Ms Bodden. “We did not think that anything just came so, and worked hard to get it. They have every chance to learn, the opportunity is there. I don’t know what kind of teachers they have but they should be trained. Children miss their families and homes when they come to school and it is important that a teacher be loving and understanding to fill that post.” 

Ms Bodden grew up on Pond Road, not too far from the little one-room school house building she attended as a schoolgirl and where later, in her teenage years, she began teaching. 

She had a loving mother and father whom she said were good parents. Her father Gerald Leigh went to sea and mother Mary Ebanks was a seamstress who took in sewing from the neighbourhood.  

Her older sister supervised the younger siblings in such chores as washing, ironing, sewing and cleaning the house. They were taught to work because they were not rich and each morning chores had to be done before they headed off to school. 

“I became a teacher because I loved children,” said Ms Bodden.  

At age 15, she was given the job to help out in the classroom until eventually she was paid 10 shillings every month. 

“A teacher has to have lots of patience for teaching, more with the older children – sometimes it required the patience of Job,” Ms Bodden said. “I kept a little leather belt that my father had discarded on the end of the table and, if a child misbehaved, all I had to do was look at the strap and that was enough. Usually the punishment was standing in a corner for a while.” 

Ms Bodden disliked the way some parents acted and thought they should have gotten the strap. She gleefully recalled one incident.  

“This disagreeable woman felt her child could do no bad. One day, after I scolded her child, she turned up at the school. ‘Look ya, Miss Iris’ she said, as the head teacher asked what was her complaint. ‘That woman who think she white spanked by son on the bottom’. The head teacher took one look at her and said ‘If you do not behave yourself, you will be put across the lap and spanked.’ She left quite humiliated.” 

When Ms Bodden saw other teachers using the strap, she would put in a word for the children, who appreciated her standing up for them.  

“I loved the children, it thrilled me to see them growing up doing something and learning,” she recalled. “A child once told me when he got married, he would bring me a present, but I told him fruits were okay, that was only if his family had enough to share.”  

Teaching under Thomas Hill, Ms Bodden believed the most important thing infants should be taught is how to behave. When it came to alphabets, these were incorporated into outside games, with smoke pans in hand. 

When it came to dealing with parents, she firmly told them she taught the children as she would do her own. Most of the parents gave her full rein with the children because no matter what they did, they were all treated equally. When a parent was not satisfied with the way things were done and threatened to take a child away, they were told to go right ahead because there is no other schools to take them to. 

Former students  

Daphne Orrett, a teacher by profession, says she will always remember Ms Bodden telling her she was a smart little girl and the little book Royal Primer with its alphabets illustrated by pictures from which she taught. 

“I never saw Miss Iris get angry. Disappointed, yes, when she would have to deal with the children but never did she use the strap. Her hands showed me how to make ones and twos, and how to sew. When a student learned how to write, they were placed with others who were not so smart. She is an angel that did not have wings,” Ms Orrett said. 

Rudy Evan, a former Cayman Islands Deputy Commissioner of Police, recalls the school uniforms being made from Gold Medal flour sacks. These he said were washed and beaten until the writing was removed. 

“Parents made sure children went to school on time, we had to line up military style before we entered the classroom, each child was checked from head to toe for cleanliness, and the common phase ‘Cleanness is next to Godliness’ was always used’,” he said.  

He also recalls students being on time when the school bell rang; staying after school to clean the classroom; slates cleaned for next day’s lesson and whether you had shoes or not, your feet had to be clean. 

“If a girl saw a boy with his pants below his briefs, it was a turn-off,” said Ms Orrett.  

“For school and church and everywhere we went, we were examined and that instilled in us cleanliness,” added Mr. Evans. 

When it comes to teaching, Ms Orrett said you have to love children and be excited about the process of learning.  

“It is not about the money but the excitement for every child to learn and do well. To a teacher, it should not matter about the child’s standing and have an attitude – if you are here to learn, then learn. That child is dependant on teachers for his or her education,” she said. 

Ms Orrett claims a teacher’s job is not just in the classroom; it is a full-time job and one of the most rewarding vocations in the world. 

“It is so easy nowadays for people to talk about parents do this and the teachers do that, but the responsibility lies squarely on both shoulders,” added Mr. Evans, “It takes a village to raise a child.”  

“Many children today are raised by foreign nationals and may not have the same values as the parents. The parents need to let the person know their values to teach the children and the child needs to see the caregiver as someone who instils discipline and give directions,” said Ms Orrett.  


Iris Bodden shows a copy of the Royal Primer school book used in lessons. – Photos: Jewel Levy


Comments are closed.