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The Catholic Teachers’ College class of ‘57-’58:Front row, from left,Yvonne Le Gendre,Beryl Gould, Sylvia Otway, Yvonne George.
Middle row: From left,Rita Labastide, Evelyn Douglas,Manueline Rivas,Evadne Ferdinand, Monica Rivers,Lorna Nurse, Jean De Souza.
Back row: From left, Gloria Jacob, Lorna Thomas, Joyce Alcantara, Rita Rodney, Rita Thomas, Josephine Simonette,Dorothy Victor, Lorna Wilson.

By Lennox Grant

More than half a century later, the shield-shaped monogram on the left breast of their uniform shirts remains a virtual brand on their hearts.

The monogram says “CTC.” Those wearing it were 21 women from north, south and central Trinidad who had arrived with their suitcases in early 1957 for a two-year residency at the Catholic Teachers’ College.

The CTC was then based at St Joseph’s Convent on Pembroke Street, Port-of-Spain. Though run separate from the nunnery and the secondary school of that name, a parallel regime of Catholic devoutness and disciplined order applied to the trainee teachers.

It was all meant to last, and the religious and personal culture developed at CTC survives past the teaching careers of the class of 57-58, to be held in common and celebrated by those still around.

A Trinpad exercise book, lovingly preserved with a hard cover against dog-ears, records the reunions annually held for 32 years including October 28.

Events are documented in the cursive handwriting taught today only in some Montessori pre-schools. One report is in narrative form, but the rest are in ruled columns with a roll-call listing names and addresses of those attending, under headings stating dates and places.

A more compelling historical object is the eight-by-ten photo for which 19 members of the class of 57-58 posed in three rows, hands clasped at their waists.

The fresh faces of women, average age 21, wearing period hairstyles and shoes, are captured by the camera for the black-and-white print. On all uniform shirts stuffed into dark, belted skirts reaching past the knees, the CTC monogram stands out.

It would be 20 years before they inaugurated their annual reunion on the Divali public holiday which appeared to be the most convenient for attendance.

The first, attended by 11 graduates, is recorded at the home of Evadne Ferdinand in Arouca. She had stood exactly in the middle of the 1957 photo, but from that first reunion she and her classmates have welcomed CTC teachers from other years.

Over three pages of the Trinpad copy book, an unidentified hand jotted a wrap-up of the first 13 reunions.

After Evadne’s in Arouca, they met at Monica’s in Phillipine, then at Joan’s in Santa Cruz, then at Janet’s in St Clair.

In 1981, they went to Tobago; thereafter to the heights of Lopinot; Asa Wright Centre; Caratal; and Diamond Vale.

Guayaguayare in 1987. “What a lovely day,” said the report, recounting Sylvia’s menu of chip-chip curry and greenfig pie.

“Where we go next is anybody’s guess,” the report concludes in 1989. But the roll-call from 1990 discloses trips to environmental and tourist sites, such as Buccoo Reef, Wild Fowl Trust, Stauble’s Bay, and Knolly’s Tunnel, but also a clear focus on Catholic religious places.

Venues for Divali get-togethers, expressing and keeping alive faith and friendship, include Our Lady of Victory Church; Mount St Benedict; Emmaus Centre; Credo House; La Brea Presbytery; Point Fortin Charismatic Prayer Centre; Caroni Prayer Centre; La Gloria de Jesus in Talparo; Infant Jesus of Prague in Matura. Last October, a 23-member CTC group met at Lourdes House in Arouca.

This far from their student-teacher days, reunited classmates and friends seldom look back nostalgically on the CTC experience.

Like Sangre Grande-born Rita Rodney Rigault, present keeper of the Trinpad record book, they recall, when asked, the old days when the training of a teacher could take eight years, starting at age 14.

In the 1950s, opportunities for secondary education were still narrow. Promising early-teen students still in primary school were selected for a vocational path that began as unpaid “monitors,” or teaching assistants.

After taking and passing increasingly rigorous annual exams, practical and theoretical, monitors gained promotion to pupil teachers, and then “certificated” teachers.

Two years yet remained for the finishing-school refinement in training colleges like CTC whose graduates will have attained the ultimate “trained teacher” status.

Competition for entry was keen.

For Catholic women, resident in a convent setting, training college meant immersion into a restrictive campus life.

They took turns to use a single bathroom, and the day began with 5 am mass. Instruction starting at 8 am included mathematics, English, English history, psychology, handicraft, music, choir, art, home economics, and teaching methods.

Students weren’t free to run downstairs to the iced lollies vendor; they threw and he caught the money; then he tossed up his products to the hands at the windows.

Lights went off by 10 pm, and any study after that was by flashlight or candle. In the pre-TV days, they also lacked radio.

No young men were anywhere in the picture, at least not on the surface.

“We had no distractions,” Monica Rivers recalled last week.

At 6.30 pm, curfew time, the doors were locked. It took pre-arrangement and string pulling with the prefect for the key to be lowered to admit a student returning late from a date.

Carnival, a passing parade in the streets outside, didn’t figure in their focus. To go dancing, a student had to take the weekend off and stay elsewhere.

Still, the women found ways to have fun in class and in the dormitory, gossipping, sharing jokes and home-made treats, making practical jokes, and secret outings to buy roti in St James.

Still, what followed was a teaching career in which they were legally obliged to remain unmarried. A woman risen to Headmistress rank was still to be called Miss.

Colonial norms receded, and that rule eventually changed.

Asked for her recollections about rebelliousness or deviant behaviour among her classmates, Monica Rivers said, “I don’t know about ‘deviant.’ In those days, you followed, or didn’t question. You didn’t protest.”

©2003-2004 Trinidad Publishing Company Limited

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