On June 26, the Women's Advisory Committee of the Guyana Teachers' Union will be celebrating its 66th anniversary. This month Sunday Stabroek will be carrying interviews with three of the founder members of that organization, in recognition of their services to teaching and the community.
At 98 years of age, Gertrude Dolphin is a wizard at remembering dates, occasions and figures.
'Aunty Gertie,' as she is fondly known by all, was born on April 25, 1908, in Nabaclis on the East Coast of Demerara, and grew up in Victoria Village. Joanna, her mother, was a housewife and Henry, her father, was a headmaster. The second of five siblings she is related to the famous branch of the Dolphin family, her father being a cousin of C E Dolphin, after whom the Dolphin Government School was named.
Reminiscing about her earliest years, Aunty Gertie said she first attended the Victoria Congregational School, which is now closed. When she was seven years old, however, her family moved to Georgetown and she was transferred to Lodge Congregational School (also known as Salem), which also no longer exists.
In those days, Aunty Gertie said, your occupation was decided by your parents, and since her father was a headmaster it was automatically assumed that both she and her siblings were going to be teachers.
When asked what work she did after leaving school, she replied, "I never left school."
"In those days, when you got to the 6th Standard - yes, we had Sixth Standard," she said, laughing - "you were taken out to either teach or help a teacher during the day, and in the afternoon you had to give lessons." She took her first examination, the Primary School Leaving Exams, in 1923 and was soon employed at the same school where she had once been a student. After that came the second and third examinations. Owing to the fact you were required to pass your final examination before you become a fully-fledged teacher, Aunty Gertie was off for one year.
In April 1928 at the age of 20, armed with her qualifications, Aunty Gertie was employed as a teacher at the Clarkson Congregational School in Alberttown. She remained there until it closed in January 1929, following which she was transferred to Smith Memorial Congregational School. Here she stayed until her retirement in 1965 at the age of 57.
After leaving her first love, Aunty Gertie did voluntary work at the Guyana Craft Co-op Shop until that closed its doors four years ago. One of her great loves is book-keeping, a skill which she has been able to turn to good account in her voluntary work. She has been treasurer of the Women's Auxillary (WA) (now called the Women's Advisory Committee (WAC)) of the Guyana Teachers Union, the Women's Union of Smith's Church, and the Government Pensioners Association - an organization in which she is still active. She has also taught sewing at the Salvation Army.
An ardent church-goer - she became a member of Smith Memorial at the age 18 - she has been the Treasurer of her church for over twenty-three years. She was also a Sunday school teacher and was instrumental in carrying on the Christmas Bank.
Even though Aunty Gertie has no children of her own, she has a great love for children, which found expression in her chosen career. Children come from different homes, she said, and had different personalities, and since most of them did things they would not normally do at home, teachers had to be able to tolerate the different behavioural patterns. "Patience is the key," she insisted.
She expressed sadness about the school system now, noting that, "nowadays people say children are bad; we had what you call wicked children, not bad ones. But now children and teachers are both attacking and being attacked." There was never any answering back or disrespect in her day.
Noting that she has not yet been married, she said this was because she "was too occupied and wanted to be free" and never thought of burdening herself down. "Every afternoon I was occupied with something; Sundays it was church (all day), Mondays it was school and Christmas Bank, Tuesdays and Thursdays it was Torch Layer Group, Wednesday it was Girl Guides and church, Fridays is was choir practice and Saturdays it was Guides again."
When did she find the time to do things like teaching craft and being part of the Guides long enough to become a lieutenant, and to teach Sunday School? "I was always occupied and I found the time," she responded.
During her years as a teacher Aunty Gertie was part of a group of young teachers - the WA - who met on Wednesday afternoons to study, play games and promote efforts to raise funds for the organisation. It was part of the Teachers Association (TA). It was through their efforts that the Guyana Teachers' Union (GTU) was able to acquire the building it currently occupies, and was able to form the Teachers' Credit Union.
The ladies raised funds by having bring-and-buy sales, Christmas socials, tea parties and any other activity where money could be made. The WA met at St Andrew's School. When the funds were raised the accumulated sum was given to the TA as a contribution towards acquiring the building.
Aunty Gertie says her life has quietened down a lot now, owing to the fact that she is getting on and cannot move around as she would like. She is losing her balance and has to travel around by car, but she still tries to attend some of her most beloved activities. She lives with her brother, two of his children and grandchildren.
In closing she said, "I love teaching; I started out as a monitor and moved on from there, and if I had to live my life again I would choose no other profession."(Angela Osborne)