I’m doing what I have always wanted to do…teach. I have taught all grade levels from preschool to grade twelve and my journey in the classroom began way back in 1977 as a student teacher. I can remember my practicums vividly, especially one group of grade three students who decided to sit like “Mork from Ork” in their desks, heads down on the chairs, knees on the desk tops, bottoms pointing towards me. When I entered the classroom that morning and saw that, all I could do was sit at my desk and laugh until the tears streamed down my face! If cell phones had been invented then I would have hastily grabbed my iPhone and posted the picture on Facebook. I’ll bet I would have gotten a million likes!
There was also the practicum from H.E… double hockey sticks! A teaching nightmare that almost caused me to have a nervous breakdown. It wasn’t the fault of the students per se, but a tyrannical mentor teacher, who hated the idea of someone usurping her role (even slightly) in the classroom. It is interesting that out of nearly one hundred and fifty student teachers that started that year with me from the University of Victoria, only fifty came back to continue in the education faculty the following year. Practicums had a way of weeding out those who could not “cut it” in front of the classroom.
But my journey with teaching did not start after high school, but long, long before then when I was a student. I am indeed blessed that in my lifetime, I was fortunate enough to learn the art of teaching from master-teachers! Memorable, caring individuals who filled my head with knowledge, built on the foundation of my dreams, and encouraged me to ask questions, explore and search for answers. Mrs. Lees in grade four, Mrs. Peterson in grade five, Mr. Songhurst and Mr. Hopwood (Gr. 6 and 7) and then in high school: Mr. Parslow, Mr. Snider, Mrs. Lidster, Mrs. Oke and Mr. Sankey (my high school principal). However, the most sparkling gem of them all was Mr. Tom Scrase…oh, how I loved every minute spent in his classroom! He made history come alive for me, and challenged his students to do the unheard of…write a hundred page “Depth Study” as he called it, on a World War 1 or 2 event. We didn’t work in partners either! I remember I spent months researching and collecting pictures and reading book after book on the Holocaust. (This was before the internet people! It meant going to the library and digging through books, newspapers, magazines and microfilm and collecting data that way. Also no computers or typewriters to use to write my report. It was all hand written!) I wonder what students, even university students would say today about getting that kind of an assignment and being told they couldn’t use their computers or the internet to aid them?
But we did it! Even the students who were less than stellar in the classroom handed in a completed report. Mr. Scrase was like our coach throughout the entire process, spurring us all on so that we knew when we handed in that assignment that we had REALLY accomplished something spectacular. I didn’t know then but I have come to learn that it wasn’t so much the contents of our individual reports that he marked us on but the EFFORT we took in doing the assignment. He gave us a seemingly “impossible” assignment and then applauded the entire class when we did the “impossible”. I’ll never forget it! I will also never forget how he spent time with us, talked with us, treated us with respect and listened to us. He spent little time in the staff room because he preferred spending lunch hours in his classroom watching “Hogan’s Heroes” reruns with his students, pointing out historical “flaws” along the way as we giggled at the comedic aspects of the show. And on occasion, when his call to pay attention in class went unheeded, he would hurl a piece of chalk in our general direction, that would bounce off the back wall above our heads and snap us to face forward. He called it a “warning shot” :) I will never ever forget Mr. Scrase. (I named one of the characters in my “Love the Wounded” book after that beloved teacher. It was my way of honouring his memory!)
I model some of my teaching after Mr. Scrase, although hurling chalk is strictly verboten :) I expect my students to try something that challenges them to go way beyond where they think they can go, or what they think they can do especially in writing. Last year, I taught a creative writing class that had each of my students take on the NANOWRIMO challenge. For those writers out there who have never taken on the National Novel Writing Month (November), it is to write 50,000 words in one month. For those of us who have written novels, that word count is a small novella at best but for students who are in junior high, the thought of writing 500 words is a daunting task! I challenged my students to write at least 20,000 words as their goal. All of the students surpassed that mark with a few writing the full 50,000 words! Again, it was not so much the story or content I applauded them on (although we spent the next several months editing and polishing the stories and learning a lot about building plot, characterizations etc. etc.) but I applauded them on accomplishing something NONE of them thought they could do: write a “novel” in a one month! When I handed them their certificates of accomplishment, their faces beamed with delight. I knew then how Mr. Scrase must have felt when he handed me back my Depth Study and saw the look on my face when I read his comments on the cover page: “A +++” “A job well done!”
Yep, there’s a sermon illustration in that, I’m sure :)