Staff and pupils at The Mount in Penkhull were all friends
NORMA Machin remembers a school for the deaf and blind in Penkhull as being "a little world of its own".
The 85-year-old, of Lea Close, Baldwins Gate, joined the staff at The Mount boarding school at just 16 and spent all her working life there, retiring at the age of 53.
"We all 'gelled together' – cleaners, kitchen staff, supervisors, teachers and the children," says Norma, whose surname was Copestake when she started.
"We were all friends and I really, really enjoyed working there."
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Norma was born in Leek and started at The Mount as a student teacher.
"The school wanted an 18 year old," she recalls, "but I think they took me on just because I was cheeky enough to go at 16."
Norma reveals she hadn't previously considered training as a teacher before getting a job at the school.
"I'd always wanted to do something in music," she says, "but when I went to The Mount I took music to the deaf.
"You don't normally think of them going together, but we used to do dances and the children would tap."
Before going to The Mount, Norma was a pupil at Westwood High School, in Leek.
"I was young for my year," she continues, "and all my friends had gone to either college or university the year before, but I was too young.
"I got bored with being at school."
Norma remembers "working hard" when she began training as a teacher.
"I had no previous experience of the deaf," she says, "but I did pick sign language up.
"However, there are two schools of thought, and I was an oralist, which means you teach children how to speak and lip-read.
"We live in a hearing world and I felt they had to adjust to living in that type of world.
"Sign language was taught at the school as well, but the children picked it up naturally."
Norma taught a variety of subjects at The Mount.
"The subjects were just like those at other schools," she says, "but they were taught more slowly at The Mount."
Norma was delighted to see a photograph submitted by former pupil Eric Mountford, which featured on the front page of The Way We Were in January.
The picture of pupils and staff was taken in 1951.
"I'm the blonde lady on the left, near the back," she says.
"I had qualified at Manchester University as a teacher of the deaf the previous year, 1950, having previously been a student teacher for several years.
"I remember Eric Mountford, and of course, as he said, 'food was short'. "But of course, everything was rationed.
"I can remember as a teacher having my weekly ration – two ounces of butter, four ounces of margarine and eight ounces of sugar. It had to last for a week."
Norma says the food situation gradually improved, to great relief.
"No-one was happier than Marjorie Follwell, the matron," she says.
"She saved the special food for the weekends, for the children who couldn't go home."
One Sunday teatime, having put out a lovely spread, Marjorie said to Norma: 'Wouldn't it be lovely if we could give them food like this every day?'
Norma also remembers Derek Blackshaw, who was in her class in 1951.
"His old grandmother used to visit him every Thursday afternoon," she says.
"She was a lovely lady, and I still have the cake stand she bought me as a wedding present, as I married that year, 1951."
During her time as a teacher, Norma had three breaks to have her children and each time she thought she'd finished teaching.
"But every time the headmaster, Sydney Follwell, came and asked me to go back again," she says, "and I was always delighted and flattered."
Norma, whose husband Howard died two years ago at the age of 83, has three children, eight grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.
"I like to think I had a 'special rapport' with the deaf as I'm sure all the teachers had," she adds. "This went much deeper than a normal teacher-pupil relationship and was very rewarding.
"I've always felt that teaching the deaf was my true vocation."
The Mount was built by master potter Josiah Spode II in 1803, and was taken over by the North Staffordshire Blind and Deaf School in 1897.
The building was then bought by the North Staffordshire Joint School Authority, which was formed from the six pottery towns and the parishes of Wolstanton and Norton and used to educate disabled children.
It is now The Mount Education Support Centre and is also used by the nearby Willows Primary School.
Do you recognise anyone in these photographs or have any memories of The Mount? @Write to Colette Warbrook, including your full name, address and telephone number, at Features Desk, The Sentinel, Forge Lane, Etruria, Stoke-on-Trent ST1 5SS, or email firstname.lastname@example.org