Miss Ethel Tompkins was, without a doubt, the most devoted teacher I ever met but I, like other students at the East Ward School, hated the thought of passing into her classroom where she taught Grades III and IV in what was known as Room III. in our six-room school.
Like all teachers she too had a nickname; "Tomcat", and as I recall she bore that name all through her teaching career that numbered probably 45 years or more.
Miss Tompkins lived at 16 Queen Street in the terrace just east of Caroline Street along with her mother and sister and her only other family were her students whom she worked for from the time she arose from bed in the morning until she retired at night. We lived on St. Paul St. and you could set your watch by her as she passed our house at 7.55 in the a.m. on the way to school and then again at 4.55 p.m. on her way home.
I can't recall ever having seen her smile but remember vividly that stern look of hers. If we did something we shouldn't have we would be compelled to serve a detention at 4.00 p.m. until 4.20 and that seemed like an eternity working on a project at your desk and listening to the wall clock tick away 1200 painful seconds and feeling it worse than writing lines!
I recall taking an Arithmetic problem to her one day and she told me the answer was wrong and to take it back to my desk and do it over again. This occurred three times and on the fourth attempt I made a terrible error when she told me it was still incorrect and to go back and do it again. It was at this point that I looked into her face, her tall slim frame towering over me, and said "I can't do it!" She took me by the shoulders and gave me a shaking (teachers could do that in those days) and said "I don't want to ever hear you say that again but instead you will repeat the following ten times. "I can and I will!" "
There I stood in front of the class repeating those words only being stopped once and told to say it with greater emphasis following which I was sent back to my seat to work on the problem for a fourth time. Returning to her desk with the fear of God in me, I handed her my assignment once again. She looked at it, took her red pencil and put a large "C" on my work and said "there, didn't I tell yo you could do it.
The final year in her room my report card showed I stood 5th, 3rd and 2nd in my class and was excused from writing the June examinations.
I don't know how many times in my life that I have repeated those words she taught me when I have run into tough situations but as the years tick away I to realize more than ever that what she did she did for her pupils and had only their interest at heart.
Thank you, Miss Tompkins, I know you're teaching "up there" and I'm sure I just didn't happen to be around when you did smile.