||I fiercely loved all my
public school teachers, Mag Ruffman asserts, but I managed to select
In 1963, Avonel Monkman taught Grade 1 at L. M.
McConaghy Public School in Richmond Hill. She was very stern with us, says
Ruffman, but she clearly loved us and she taught me how to read. For this I am
forever indebted to her.
Although she wanted to be an astronaut then, not an actor, Ruffman
loved to read out loud. She used to flip ahead through the reader, looking for the
passages with the most exclamation points, like when the dog got into the swimming pool.
When we got to that page, Ruffman recounts, I would carry on, I poured
my heart into it and I would make these really dramatic scenes. Mrs. Monkman must have
appreciated it because somehow I got the idea this was fun.
Thats one of the reasons Im citing these three
teachers, because they put up with me, because I had way too much energy, Ruffman
The energy that made her a rambunctious student continues. Mag Ruffman
is an actor (Olivia Dale in Road to Avonlea), contractor and carpenter, and a
host, creator and writer. She currently has two shows on WTN, A Repair to Remember
and Men on Women, and a third in development.
Ruffman encountered her second remarkable teacher, Marilyn Letcher, in
Grade 6. That was the year everyone was starting to get bras and it was a huge
scourge if you didnt have a bra. Mrs. Letcher had this really calming effect on the
Grade 6 mentality.
For one thing, she was a total babe. She had that high beehive
hair and was just so hip and she spoke with the clearest diction I can remember in a
teacher. She was strict but had a really even hand in the classroom. She was noble. You
wanted to be like her.
Ruffman remembers her class as terribly boisterous and that she used to
fall down dramatically, just for fun. You can see what Mrs. Letcher had to put up
with, says Ruffman, but she had this quality of self-possession and grace and
yet leadership that was inspiring.
Joyce Insley was Ruffmans Grade 8 teacher. Mrs. Insley was a
true grammarian, says Ruffman, Consequently, my grammar rocks. I can write
because she was extremely encouraging. Taking a sentence apart and breaking it down into
pieces I loved doing that. But you had to have someone instructing you who thought
it was fun, too, or you were going to hate grammar. I just love it when somebody knows
whether to use a colon or a semicolon. Its like knowing how to set a table and which
fork to pick up first.
Ruffman also credits Insley with teaching her how to crochet. I
was left-handed and so she had to reverse everything for me. Now I work in a different
medium construction or carpentry or wood. But that was when I learned I could
That year, Ruffman also got her first taste of stage glory. She recalls,
We did the hippie version of Twas the Night Before Christmas and Mrs.
Insley gave me the biggest part the narrator. Not that I was that good or even that
people told me I was good. But that was the beginning of a career. It was so fun.
Ruffman concludes: I was passionately devoted to these teachers.
And because I felt that way, I did really well in school. I think that if a teacher can
create that bond with their students where the students truly love them, well then the
whole world is a better place. Youre fascinated by everything and curious. You think
your mind can go on expanding forever because somewhere along the line back in public
school, somebody gave you the idea that it could.