Tuesday, April 7, 2015

G is for the Importance of Giving a Damn!

     At schools all across Canada, there is a day set aside each year that has become known as "Pink Day".  It is a day when everyone, male and female, don pink clothing to symbolize their belief that discrimination according to gender is wrong.  Pink day had its origins in Halifax, Nova Scotia.  The story is that a male high school student wore a pink shirt to school and was subsequently assaulted by other boys who found his pink shirt (and the lifestyle that they assumed went with it) offensive.  The next day, as a means of showing support for their friend, dozens of people, boys and girls, all wore pink shirts to school.  The news coverage that resulted from this show of solidarity caused the Pink Day movement to be born and to spread across our country.   It has become a big part of anti-bullying education in all schools across Canada, as you can see from the video below.

     Obviously bullying is a bad thing and being opposed to it is a good thing.  However, Pink Day tends to bring out some mixed emotions for me. On the one hand, I adore the energy, the enthusiasm and the optimism possessed by all these terrific kids.  You can tell from the video that they are feeling the rapture and, having drank the Kool-aid, truly believe that they are changing the world.  How wonderful it is to see young people mobilized in such a positive way!  How beautiful their souls are as they, quite literally, wear their hearts on their sleeves.

     As an adult, my mixed emotions come into play as I wonder what is it that causes us to lose that fervent belief that we can change our world, too?  When do we begin the process of compromising with Life?  Why do so few of us fight that good fight our whole lives? When do we start to grow tired?

     I am as positive a person as there is but, even I, acknowledge that righting wrongs and lifting others up is burdensome at times.  There are moments when I wish for a break from the hectic pace of life so that I can retreat inside of myself and just be alone with my thoughts and my interests.  But, fortunately for me, one of the biggest benefits to being a teacher is that on those days when I am feeling pessimistic and lethargic and, worst of all, apathetic, I have the kids to turn to for help.  Their innocence is such that they don't yet realize that the world will very soon view them in sexual terms or that greed exists on a global scale or that mankind is a very violent species. What they think is that the world is awesome and that playing is fun and that I am a good person so, giddy up, let's go!

     Is it really as simple as the fact that we adults have lost the joy of being able to play and frolic and to imagine and daydream as a regular part of our day?  Would our world be better served if we stopped for a part of each day to paint or to putter in a potting shed or garden or to sing and dance? Why have we allowed our spirits to be waylaid by the petty and the pressing events that so dominate our time?  Why does playfulness hold no currency in our bottom-line world?

     I am my own best/worst example of this.  When I finished last year's A-to-Z Challenge, I was full of ambition and determination to continue writing daily, semi-weekly, consistently, whatever. But, a variety of events in my personal and professional life popped up and suddenly, I had stopped writing completely.  I was working harder than ever but feeling little satisfaction from my efforts.  I was listless and drifting. Where was my Joy?  But now that I am writing again, I feel more alive, more content....better.  For me, writing is play. Writing makes me feel young and vital and better connected with the world at large. I find my voice carries farther and resonates more when I write and that elevates my soul.  Perhaps, taking the time to write/play is the key for me to re-connecting with the much younger idealist who used to inhabit my body.

      There are many lessons that we, as adults, can learn from children.  Foremost, that childhood innocence and optimism is a powerful thing and that it has great value.  For that reason, I like my shirts and, my kool-aid, as pink as pink can be.  Happy Pink day, everyone!  Looks like I still give a damn!


My own daughters playing in leaves in our backyard.


Monday, April 6, 2015

F is for a Short History of Fame

     I was famous once.  It was just for the requisite fifteen minutes but, just the same, famous I was.

     The year was 1981 and I was in Grade 11 at the time.  As you can see from the photo from my high school yearbook, I was deep in the throes of teenage nerdiness and gawkiness.  I am in the centre of a "club" photo; not a sports club or an acting club or even a debating club no, it was a club for nerds named after a television quiz show for high school students called, Reach For The Top.

    The world was a much different place in 1981 than it is today.  Back home, in my little fishing town of Glace Bay, Nova Scotia, there was no internet. Cable television had not made its appearance yet.  There were no MTV music videos.  There were no such things as personal computers or computers in school classrooms.  Back in the day, we received our news and information from our local newspaper, our small town radio station and, of course being Canadian, two TV channels; the Canadian Broadcasting Company (CBC) in English and in French.  

     Our understanding of the world came through the filter of the CBC.  Our understanding of local news often came from the local CBC news casts and shows.  It was on one of the local CBC shows, Reach For The Top, that I rose to prominence in the eyes of my community.  Here is how it happened.

      Reach For The Top was a quiz show that pitted two teams of area high school students against one another in a competition of general knowledge.  The show used to draw respectable ratings; especially in the towns and villages who had teams competing in a given week.  Well, as you can see from my high school glamour shot, I made my high school's Reach For The Top team.  We were all good friends outside of the team, nerds of a feather, if you will.  Without girlfriends to distract us, we all had lots of time for trivia which left all four of us feeling pretty cocky about our chances during the regional tournament that was upcoming.

     Reach For The Top was filmed in Halifax, the provincial capital of Nova Scotia.  Halifax is a four and a half hour drive from Glace Bay so, going there on an overnight excursion was very exotic to us all.   The format was simple: sixteen high school teams squared off in a round-robin, single-elimination style format.  All of the games were filmed in one day, even though the matches would be aired over the course of several months on local TV.   So, my friends and I arrived at the studio, early on a Saturday morning and were escorted straight into the make-up room. It is the only time I can every recall having make-up applied to my face but, apparently, we were too pale to go on just as we were.    
      Our first match was against a school from the southern reaches of the province.  We were taken to the actual set. After having watched so many Reach For The Top episodes over the years, actually being there was like being at the Taj Mahal or the Empire State Building.  The studio lights were far brighter than I expected.  It was hot there. Studio hands ran us through the technical aspects of pressing the buzzer to ring in our answers and how it was critical to avoid profanity because there was no five-second delay feature at that time. The show was live to tape.  When all was good,  signs with our names on them were placed in front of the chairs we were to sit it. The announcer came out and shook our hands and then, it was time to start taping.
Couldn't find a photo from my tourney but, the set looked a lot like the one in this photo.

     We did extremely well during our first match and set a provincial record for points at the time.  We  shook hands with the defeated squad and then, returned to the "studio audience" to watch the other matches.  Our second round match was against a local high school team and, whether it was over-confidence on our part or the fact that we just came up against a group of nerds even nerdier than us, we lost and the tournament was suddenly over.

     However, here is how I was the one out of the four of us who became famous.

     The most popular show on CBC during my youth was Hockey Night in Canada, which aired every Saturday night.  Everyone who owned a tv set watched Hockey Night In Canada.  Immediately after the conclusion of the game, the national arm of the CBC would turn the broadcast over to the local affiliates who, in our case, would air a five-minute free-time political broadcast by one member of the local legislature. Immediately following those five minutes, the local CBC channel would air a promo for the upcoming Reach For The Top episode.  So, whether you were really interested in the show or not, the huge Hockey Night In Canada audience was often still watching their tv, awaiting the local newscast, and, as such, they would see the Reach For The Top promo by default.

     Well, small things become big things in small towns and word soon spread that my team had set a provincial record during our match and that our match was going to be the one featured in the promo after the hockey game. So, everyone from my area sat glued to their sets and watched as the announcer stated, "...And coming up this week on Reach For The Top........."  The camera cut quickly to a close-upof the show's announcer asking, "Which Major League Home Run Champion once pitched a no-hitter?" The buzzer sounded immediately. Quick cut to a close-up of me answering, "Babe Ruth" and then the announcer says, "That's correct!"  The theme music played and the promo ended.

    Right then and there, I became the face of a great victory for my school and, by extension, my community.  That we subsequently lost, didn't matter.  I became a celebrity who brought home victory to our little town, even though, truth be told, I didn't answer as many questions as some of my teammates had. That was inconsequential.  There I was, before the eyes of my community, right on their tv screens, uttering a correct response.......a provincial record-setting response.

    The reaction was swift.  I was someone who was, and still is, fairly shy and quiet. I wasn't part of the in-crowd and never got invited to parties or asked out on dates.  But now, I couldn't walk anywhere in Glace Bay without car horns honking, people rolling down their windows to congratulate me and, best of all, girls.......girls actually wanted to talk to me. Sometimes, even girls from other schools who only knew me from that ten-second promo.  I was known everywhere by everyone....for a week or so.   Then, news of our loss leaked out and people moved on with their lives and I retreated into the silence of my solitary teenage world.

     I tell this story because it harkens back to a far more innocent time when it came to instant celebrity. I never had fan pages created for me on Facebook. I had no official followers. No one clicked Like beside a status update. The episode didn't air in perpetuity on Youtube. No internet trolls sought to sully my name simply because they could.  My life never reached the dizzying heights of having instant fame and money and groupies nor, did it reach the depths of being a cartoon meme, uttering "Babe Ruth!  Babe Ruth!" in any number of GIFs that would spring up like weeds.  Instead, I became popular. The feeling felt odd but, funny at the same time.  Then, it all went away, like it never even happened and life returned completely to normal.  I had nothing shameful to haunt my future, unlike so many young people today who have their fifteen minutes of fame in front of a world-wide audience.

     We live in times that are no longer innocent and, for that reason, education is so very important for children when it comes to social media.  Media literacy is now formally taught in schools but, as we all can attest, the real lessons for many of today's youth still come the hard way via the viral nature of our networking world.  If you have your own children at home with you, please help them to practise safe internet usage.  If you wish to learn about some basic safety rules for the internet, you can click here and here.  The internet is a wonderful invention and is allowing us, as a species, to communicate in ways that can positively impact our world....but, only when it is used with knowledge and an understanding of the potential dangers that exist. 

Friday, April 3, 2015

D is for Decisions and Disclosures

     “On an important decision one rarely has 100% of the information needed for a good decision no matter how much one spends or how long one waits. And, if one waits too long, he has a different problem and has to start all over. This is the terrible dilemma of the hesitant decision maker.” 
― Robert K. GreenleafServant As Leader
     As teacher, I am a leader of children.  As the leader, I am responsible for making countless decisions over the course of each and every school day.  My decisions affect how twenty or so human beings will spend their day.  Those decisions had better be sound.

     In most cases, my decisions are influenced by the academic nature of the situation. For example, for each particular lesson I must decide whether the class work as a whole group, break into smaller working groups or will the children work on their own at their desks.  I must decide of the length of my instructional time and the length of the student's work time.  I must decide on the resources needed for me to teach effectively and what materials the students will need to complete their task.

     These sorts of decisions form the backbone of an effective classroom. By knowing the developmental progression of your students, combined with knowing their personality make-up, it becomes easier to make appropriate decisions on their behalf.

     However, some types of decisions do not come so easily, even with experience.  These are the types of decisions that gnaw at a teacher's soul. The types of decisions that go beyond the curriculum and force you to consider the very nature of your student's welfare. These are the decisions that are no easier for me today than they were when I was a rookie teacher, 27 years ago.
     In the province of Ontario, in the country of Canada, where I teach, teachers are legally obligated to report suspected cases of physical or sexual abuse whenever a student discloses such information. This is one instance where I am glad that my hand is forced.  Dealing with a student disclosure is, arguably, one of the single most difficult moments of a teacher's career. I have had it happen three times in my 27 years.

     First of all, I am so incredibly humbled and honoured that a student in such dire straits would turn to me for help. To be viewed as a protector, a safe haven, is something that strikes at the core of my being.  I became a teacher to help make a positive difference in the lives of children and making that difference is never so crucial as it is when a child views your company as the safest place in their world.  But, on the other hand, the law compels me to report a child's disclosure to an agency called the Children's Aid Society (in my part of the world).  When a report is made by a teacher, the C.A.S. is further compelled to investigate on the child's behalf.  If the child's safety is deemed to be in imminent danger, the C.A.S. may remove the child from the custody of their parents and will place them in protective custody with a foster parent in a different geographic location. So, the decision to make such a report is not one taken lightly. For that reason, the law was created as it stands and the decision-making onus is lifted from my shoulders.  I have to make the call and have the conversation. I have to.   Moral obligations play no part at this time.  There is a system in place to protect the defenceless and its' rules govern my behaviour, the second a child discloses to me.
     As I have mentioned, three students have disclosed over the course of my career.  In two of the cases, the evidence did not support the child's claims.  However, once a file has been opened on a child and their family, that file remains open.  Often times, the C.A.S. officials will defuse the situation and direct the parents and/or the child toward other social agencies that can help all concerned to restore their faith in each other and live a more peaceful and harmonious existence together.

     But once, the situation was serious enough that C.A.S. officials actually removed a child from her home, during class time, as a result of my report.  The young girl (seven years old) had disclosed to me during the afternoon on a beautiful sunny Monday in October.  After school that day, I discussed the matter with my Principal and proceeded to make the call to C.A.S.   At ten o'clock the following morning, C.A.S. officials showed up at the school. My Principal knocked at my classroom door and asked me to have the girl gather her things and prepare to leave.  What things does one gather in such situations? Where was she going?  Would she be back?
     My Principal was ashen-faced and simply motioned toward the C.A.S. officials waiting by his office. The young girl changed into her outdoor shoes. She grabbed her coat and backpack, all the while asking me what was going on.  All I could do is mutter that it was going to be alright and to just go with the Principal.  Tears trickled down her face as she left, her backpack dragging on the floor as she walked.

    "It will be alright," I told her. "I'll see you soon," I told her.

    That little girl never returned to our school.

    For the first few days that followed, whenever I took attendance, her absence was noted by me simply telling the class that she was away and would back soon.  As days turned to weeks and then to months, one of the students asked me one day if I was ever going to clean out her desk (because all of her things were still inside it). Her slip-on sneakers were there, along with her Barbie pencil case, her journal, spelling book, math book and various drawings and worksheets. The possessions of an ordinary child caught up in an extraordinary situation.  I left her desk filled for awhile but, eventually, we emptied it as a class.  I put all of her possessions into a bag. Her desk now empty, she became a mere memory. Eventually, the kids stopped talking about her. As a class, we moved on without her......wherever she was.

     I thought about her, off and on, during the next seven years I was at Grant Sine P.S.   I was never told where she was taken.  That, I suppose was for my own protection, as her parents did come in, from time to time, begging us to let them know where she was. I could honestly reply that I hadn't a clue but, that I hoped she was happy.  That I most certainly did wish.  In fact, I had almost forgotten about her until something reminded me as I was preparing to leave Grant Sine P.S. for my new school this past June.

     When I was starting my preparations to pack up, I began my purging as many files as I could from my four-drawer filing cabinet.  Being the Type-A personality that I am, I cleared out my files, starting with the top drawer and working my way down to the bottom.  By the time I reached the final drawer, I was so tired of the whole exercise and so disgusted at myself for having saved so much useless paper work, that I was pitching with extreme prejudice.  The recycling bin was full to overflowing when I cleared away the final file folder and saw a plastic bag sitting at the back of the drawer.  I hadn't reached to the back of the bottom drawer for quite some time and had no idea what "junk" was waiting to be discovered. I pulled out the bag and opened it and when I saw what was inside I had to sit back down. Inside the bag were a pair of slip-on sneakers, the Barbie pencil case and all of her drawings....everything of hers...still there, in the bottom of that cabinet; the residue of two decisions; her decision to disclose her situation to me and my decision to phone the authorities on her behalf.  As I sat there, cradling those shoes, I was reminded of the impactful nature of a teacher's decisions.  I hope, for her sake, that we both decided correctly.

     All teachers have a sworn obligation to help protect our students while they are entrusted to our care. But, unfortunately, I cannot be there for my students at all hours of the day. Still, no child should have to suffer in silence. If a child in danger cannot turn to another trusting adult, such as another family member, a neighbor, coach, church official, etc., there remains another alternative called Kids Help Phone. Children who call this number can speak to a trusted adult, in confidence and in privacy.  These counselors can advise the child on what to do next; be it providing contact information for other social agencies that can help or, in emergency situations, contacting 911 on the child's behalf.

     Childhood should be a time of innocence and wonder, where the biggest decisions should be about things like what socks to wear or whether to have white or chocolate milk with lunch. 
    Childhood shouldn't be about deciding how to simply survive the day.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

B is for Buddy

        Being comfortable in your own skin is difficult; especially when you are just growing up.  I am very happy to be an adult now and be able to view my life with a bit more detachment. I have come to grow comfortable with who I am and with how I have chosen to live my life. But, as a boy and, even more so, as  teenager, my life was filled with anxiety and self-doubt.  Was I handsome enough?  Did girls like me?  Was everyone else out having fun on a Friday night except me? Was I wrong to not like hunting and fishing and cars like many other boys I knew?  Was it ok to want to do well in school?  Was I simply a big nerd?!

     Well, as it turned out, I was a big nerd and I have grown into a man who is a big nerd, too.  And, I am ok with that.  That is the epiphany that I experienced that changed my life and made living it bearable.  I am quiet and prefer the world of my own thoughts......and, that is ok.   I like reading and learning and pursuing knowledge for knowledge's sake......and, that is ok.  I have chosen for my life work, a career built around the worlds of small children instead of the worlds of Finance or Law or the Skilled Trades....and that is ok.  There is nothing wrong with any of these other choices....for other people but, just not for me.  Coming to the conclusion that I could live a life of value and worth, on my own terms, and not negatively impact anyone else's life by doing so was the epiphany for me.   I love my life and how I am living it and I feel very lucky to be able to make that statement.

     But, when I was younger, I lived with far less certainty that who I was...was enough. Being young is one of the toughest gigs out there. I wouldn't trade my worldly experience for youthful possibility, no matter the money. However, I have chosen for my career, a profession charged with the responsibility of helping  young people to make sense out of their world in ways that matter to them.  That is an awesome responsibility.  As teachers, we are nurturers of self-esteem. We do, in a school setting, what good parents do at home; we plant the seeds of a positive self-concept within the children in our care.   

     There are many ways in which we attempt to accomplish this at school. Let me share with you but one, tangible method currently employed at schools within the boundaries of my School Board.  Admittedly, I have chosen to discuss the concept of the "Buddy Bench" for personal reasons, as you shall soon see. 

    Here is a news report in which my daughter appears on camera.  The story is about The Buddy Bench, which appeared at my daughter's school in an attempt to promote healthier social play during recess times.

     Personally, I think that it takes a lot of courage to publicly declare that you are friendless in a social setting such as a school playground.  But, the reality is that to be lonely at school is not uncommon.  Many children grow up feeling different or inadequate and, as a result,  end up more spectators than participants during times of social play.  Navigating the mine field that is the social side of school is a skill that not all children can master on their own.  Some need help from caring adults at school, at church or from coaches on sports teams.  Some need help from their peers.

     At my daughters' school, they are promoting the concept that being friendly is, at times, more than just being with your favourite friends.  It is about shining a light on those who sometimes find themselves at the margins and then, being willing to help.  Sometimes, all the help that a lonely child needs is for someone to come and sit beside them for awhile on a bench. There is much compassion and humanity to be found in the simple act of companionship. Hopefully, my daughter will have such a friend if ever she is lonely while at school.  Just as importantly, I hope that she will be that friend should someone else ever feel alone amid the crowd.  A simple act of kindness can be the building block to a better world.  

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

A is for Adventure

     My name is Tom MacInnes and I am many things: a father, a husband, a teacher, a proud Canadian, a lover of words and language and stories and so much more.  If you have never visited my blog before then, welcome!  I hope you enjoy your stay and come back to visit often throughout the A-to-Z Challenge and beyond.  If you are an old pal-o-mine then, welcome back!  It is good to see you again.

     I am writing on an education theme throughout the whole of this Challenge.  I love being a teacher of young children. It fills me up completely.  I, also, love to write so, to write about something I love doing is a joy for me.  I hope that becomes evident as you read through my posts.  

     It is exciting to be at the very beginning of a beautiful adventure.  Whether it is Lucy at the Lamp Post from The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe  or the beginning of the school year, there is almost nothing as satisfying as a journey well-experienced.

     A good story and a good school year both have many things in common.  For example, with books and with my students, I enter into the adventure with a degree of familiarity. For instance, I know that there will be a certain sense of structure to the stories being told and that the story, at the beginning, will be markedly different from the story that resolves itself at the end. I, also, am aware that there will be characters, both minor and major, who will add their own unique flavour to the broth.  As well, I know that each will be filled with their share of intrigue, disappointment, surprise and joy.  Some stories bound in print, move slowly. Some school years do, too.  Some characters are memorable and leave a lasting impression on one's heart and mind; some students are like that, too.

     However, even with the familiarity of standard story structure or of a semester-filled school year, each journey involves the unexpected, if it is to be worth anything in the end.  A master story teller can touch your heart, while stretching your imagination and, at the same time, imparting knowledge that makes the reader or listener a profoundly new and better person for having experienced such talent and skill.  A school year is no less stocked with wonder.  As a teacher nearing the end of his career, I am so completely and totally indebted to my students for their tireless efforts to educate me and to expand my mind.  They have touched my heart in countless simple yet, profound ways. They have shown me such imagination and determination and resilience. Their natural curiosity fuels my teaching and fills my days with such a sense of humility and gratitude for being afforded the opportunity to experience the world with new eyes.  Teaching, as in reading, is a journey that is most satisfying when we allow ourselves to be open to the wonder and beauty of Life.

     As I embark on another A-to-Z blogging journey, I am hopeful of a most satisfying experience, filled with interesting characters who will, also, touch my heart and expand my mind.  Good luck to everyone.  Glad that this beautiful adventure has finally begun!!!

Artwork by Skleppi

Saturday, February 28, 2015

That Damned R.I.D.E. Programme!

William "Slim" Davis    1926-2015

“You say you're not special because the world doesn't know about you, but that's an insult to me. I know about you.”
― John GreenThe Fault in Our Stars


     William "Slim" Davis was my wife's Grandfather.  He passed away on February 12, 2015, at 89 years of age.   He didn't die of anything in particular; not cancer, heart attack or stroke. He simply died from having old parts that were worn out from a life time of hard use.  In many respects, it is the way to go.  Imagine, not dying of anything but, instead, simply drifting away.  That's what Slim did.        
     Surrounded by those closest to his heart, Slim relaxed his will to live, gave one last silent breath and his life ended.  It was all so sudden and peaceful that, at first, his family didn't even realize he had ceased to breathe. But, he had and was gone. Just like that.

     Most folks who knew him called him, "Slim".  My daughters called him, "Grandpa Slim,” even though, technically, he was their Great-Grandfather.  Slim Davis stood over six feet tall but never cast more than a wisp of a shadow in his life, owing to a build that could best be described as willowy.  He was a soldier for Canada in World War II and, upon its' conclusion, settled in Cobourg, Ontario, Canada. He married his sweetheart, Mary, and fathered four children; two of whom survive today; a daughter named Carolyn (who my girls call Aunt Sis) and a son, Bruce (who is my Father-in-Law and who my girls call, Poppa).  Bruce, in turn, fathered two girls; the eldest named Keri (who is my wife) and the youngest named Stacy (Aunt Stacy, we call her).

     I met Keri slightly over fifteen years ago. Although I was 36 years old at the time, it felt as though my life was just truly beginning.  Unbeknownst to me, at almost the same time as I was falling in love with Keri, Slim was losing the love of his life, Mary. She passed away a few months before Keri and I began dating. Her passing set off a series of ever-diminishing concentric circles of loss for Slim; circles around which Slim wandered for the entire fifteen years of our relationship. 
     Loss of Love (his Mary, passing), loss of purpose (he had retired from a lifetime worked at a furniture store as a mover), loss of independence (he lost his driver's license after an accident which, in turn, caused him to have to leave his home and move into a retirement residence), loss of health (he couldn't drive so, he walked everywhere. Then, he found walking hard and was forced to sit much of the time. In the end, he lay in a hospital bed almost every hour of every day, sitting up, beyond his capability.)   But, the measure of a man is not in what he loses along the way; it is definitely about what he imparts to those lucky enough to know him. I consider myself to be one of those lucky ones.

     But, before our relationship ended, it had its' beginning.   It was our first meeting that paints the memory of the man that I carry with me in my heart as I stop to mourn his passing. It is this first meeting that I will describe to you now.

     As my relationship with Keri first blossomed in Love, the time soon came to meet her family.  As it turned out, the first member of her family that I ended up being introduced to, was Slim.
     Keri warned me that Slim could be a bit prickly at times. She told me not to be thrown by the tattoo of a naked lady that adorned his fore arm nor, by the state of the vinyl flooring in his kitchen, which had torn and been patched back together with a staple gun. She said that I would be able to judge the success of the visit by whether or not Slim invited me downstairs to his basement bar which was adorned with a variety of girlie posters, mugs in the shape of a breasts, where the liquid within came out of ceramic nipples and a table lamp that had naked females stencilled into the lampshade which would, when turned out, rotate and cast shadows on the wall of the lovely ladies.

     We arrived at Slim's bungalow-styled home early in the afternoon.  He was in his living room with his dog, Pepper, watching Wheel of Fortune on the TV, as we let ourselves in the side door.  When Keri introduced us, Slim shrugged his shoulders and tilted his head in an "aw shucks" manner and shook my hand.  He immediately invited me to sit down and offered me a beer.  As he did, he called me, "Partner".  We made small talk about the weather and about the half-hour drive down to his house. As the Wheel of Fortune wheel clicked away,  Slim leaned forward in his chair and lobbed the hand grenade of a question that was really burning in his mind. He asked me for my opinion of "that damned R.I.D.E. Programme".   *(The R.I.D.E. Programme stands for Reduce Impaired Driving Everywhere and involves local police manning a series of roadside check points. They, then, check the drivers of all cars who pass by for signs that they had been drinking.  It is a very successful and important safety programme; one that has won many awards and saved countless lives.)
     This question was the real litmus test, as it turned out.  Since Mary had passed away, the widowed Slim had taken to waking up each night in the wee hours of the morning. He would dress, climb into his car and drive around the streets of Cobourg to, in his words, "see if anything was going on".  There rarely was anything "going on" except for those R.I.D.E. Programme check points which were interfering with Slim's late-night sojourns. He couldn't understand why he kept getting pulled over ("It doesn't make sense,” he would say)  That a single man, driving slowly up and down the streets of town in the middle of the night (prowling, in the minds of some), attracted the attention of the authorities, seemed lost on him. I smiled at Slim and simply said that I was glad the police were keeping dangerous drivers off of the road. But, I agreed with him that it must be a pain to get pulled over when you were simply trying to get on your way.  Slim replied, "Damn straight, Partner!"  He relaxed his body and sat back down in his chair. A few moments later, he invited Keri to show me the basement bar. :)

     Slim and I got along very well the entire time we knew each other.  He was always very respectful towards me.  Part of that was because I was a man and he was definitely a man's man. But part it was, also, that I was good to his grand daughter, a good father to my own children and that I had a respectable job that I appeared to be good at (school teacher).  As a man, I measured up.  That counted for a lot with Slim.

     As it became evident that Slim's final days were upon him, my father-in-law asked Keri and I if there was anything that we wanted of Slim's as a memento.  At first, I could think of nothing.  Slim was not a materialistic man so there were no possessions of monetary value that needed to be salvaged. But then, after some thought, there became a growing need within me to have something that could be just for me, not to be shared with Keri.  So, I asked Bruce to go through Slim's collection of flip-it girlie calendars and select the prettiest girl who happened to represent any of the pages dated May 16th, the day Slim was born.  Bruce granted my request.   The young lady in question now graces a place of honour in the room where I keep my tools, some of which I got from Slim when he left his house and moved into the retirement home.   

Slim, on the occasion of his 80th birthday.
    As a man, Slim measured up. That counts for a lot with me.
    Rest in peace, my friend.  You were unforgettable.  Thanks for everything you ever did for me and my family.  I am better for having shared our time together.  God Bless.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

These Are The Faces

Data.   The numbers.    The bottom line.

So many people have opinions about so many things in life based on data, numbers and the bottom line.

Although I teach my students about numbers, I certainly don't consider them to be numbers.  They may produce data but, they certainly are not data in my eyes.  My bottom line rests squarely on the notion that the relationship I share with my students is based on the fact that they are people....young people, yes but, people just the same.   They are never mere data to me.  Their hearts beat and their minds dream.  They are real and, that alone makes them so very special and their stories so worthy of being told.

So, when I decided to write a series of posts about my former students, I did so primarily to add a dose of humanity to the educational conversation that is so skewered toward data.  These children are the faces of education and these are their stories:    the Wedding Edition!!!!!

                Imagine that impish grin on an adorable seven-year-old face and you'll have some idea of what my every day was like the year Andrew S. was my student in Grade 2.  Here he is on his wedding day and I couldn't be happier for him.   When I think of what it means to be successful in Life, Andrew qualifies on all of the most important counts:      
               1- He is a very good worker and believes in the dignity of hard work.  Andrew has worked in many dirty, back-breaking labours over the course of his adult life but, he always sees each task through to its conclusion.  Just as he always did with whatever classroom task I managed to put in front of him.
               2- A tour through his Facebook photo albums shows a Love of family that has been consistent throughout this life.  I, also, taught his sister, Shanna, when she was in Grade 2.  She has grown into a beautiful young woman who boasts proudly that her best friend is her brother.  When my year with Shana was ending, I spoke with her mother who warned me to "get ready for the next one", meaning Andrew.  Truth be told, I couldn't have enjoyed teaching him more.  He was always that kid who would lose his pencil or report a broken lead, just as work was to commence. He'd always say it with that impish grin on his face. If he only knew how much I enjoyed his antics then, perhaps, he may have become a "handful" but, as it was, he readily accepted my direction and always got his work done in the end.
                                                                         A couple of years ago, just as supper was stewing on my stove, the telephone rang. The voice on the other end of the line said, "Hi, Mr. MacInnes. It's me, Andrew S. Do you remember me? I just wanted to call and see how you were doing."    Did I remember him?!  How could I ever forget that face and that mind!   Thanks for the phone call, Andrew.  I appreciated it a lot.   Congratulations on your wedding, as well.   You deserve all of the happiness Life has to offer.

Christine! Christine!
                  The Poetry Queen.

     Christine will always be remembered for three things that don't necessarily show up in the bottom line of anyone's educational ledger:
     1- She had one of the best laughs of any student I've ever had.....all soft and full of teehees, with the occasional snort thrown in for good measure.  I think I deliberately read more stories with funny jokes and incidents in them, just so I could hear Christine laugh.  Her laughter was like church bells to a choir.
     2- Christine was, also, one of the sweetest students I have ever had the pleasure to teach.  Sometimes, as a teacher, you have to teach formal lessons about how to be a good friend, how to display empathy and honesty, how to be a responsible citizen and so on but, with Christine, it all just came naturally.  She was that good friend to others. She was that kind-hearted soul who shared her snack with someone who had none.  If anything, the times when I had any dealings with Christine were when someone had done something to her and her little heart would break and her innocence would need sheltering from her personal storm.  It is often unreported, when discussions regarding "teacher effectiveness" are given but, there were days when the most important role I played in an entire school day was to hold Christine's hand when she was sad during recess (while I was out, on duty).  Eventually, I would tell enough jokes or make enough silly comments that she would smile....and then, snort a little. :)
     3- Finally, I taught Christine in Grade 2 and then, again, in Grade 3. Both years, Christine wrote poems that I submitted, on her behalf, to our School Board for inclusion in a poetry anthology that they put together.  Both years, she saw her work become published.  She, instantly, became the "Poetry Queen" and has been called that by me ever since.
     Christine now lives in one of the most beautiful places on the planet:  Whistler, British Columbia! Not surprisingly, on her wedding day, she and her husband, Tim, were married outdoors, with the Rocky Mountains as their backdrop.  She was as beautiful as her scenery.
     I am very lucky to have, as my Life's work, a profession that brings me into contact with hearts such as Christine's. I am the better for having made her acquaintance and I congratulate her on becoming Mrs. Poetry Queen.  :)

     This lovely young lady is named Kelci.  On her wedding day, she married a teacher!!!!!!   I would love to think that her experience with me was so enjoyable and life-altering that it played a part in her being drawn to a man who, also, strives to make a positive difference in the lives of others. But, truth being told, he is model-handsome and I am sure that this was a bit of a factor in the attraction, too.
     When I first started re-connecting with former students via Facebook a number of years ago, Kelci was one of the first that I sent a "friend" request to.  She, and her sister Madison, along with her Mom and Dad, were a presence in my life over the course of a good, four or five consecutive years of teaching.  What a wonderful family they all were and my introduction to them was through Kelci.  I remember even spending part of my summer holidays reading with Kelci in exchange for homemade chocolate chip cookies (which were delicious, I must say!)
          But, what really sets Kelci apart (and her family, too) is her incredible sense of loyalty to her friends.  Since meeting her again on Facebook, I have watched her grow up, from a child to a young woman, in a circle of true and trusted companionship with several of the girls she met in school.  Being able to provide a level of friendship to others and have it returned in kind, isn't something that just anyone can claim in their lives.  It takes a special person to love and be loved, in equal measure.  It takes someone like Kelci.
          Kelci may be model-pretty but, that isn't what truly makes her beautiful.  She possesses a beautiful soul and a loving heart which, if I had to quantify it and turn it into data, might prove a little daunting but, just the same, it proves the success of her Life beyond any measure. To find Love is to succeed in Life. To give Love, is to forever be remembered and cherished and held dear to the heart that beats along side yours.
          I wish Kelci and Darren all the best in their lives together.  I am grateful for having been able to watch her life unfold as beautifully as it has.  How lucky and rich am I!!!

          Somewhere on-line or on Talk Radio or some such venue, there is a discussion going on about the state of our schools.  Regardless of what anyone's numbers say, I say that any school system that produces the types of beautiful people I have talked about in this post, is on the right track and should be applaud, not nitpicked.  To see the smiles on the faces of these "kids" as their life stories take them into adulthood, is all that I need to know to be able to say that my time has been well-spent in the classrooms of my province.
         It is back-to-school time for me. Who knows, maybe one of my new little Grade 1 students will end up being featured, twenty or so years from now, in another "Wedding Edition" of Cobbie's World!  It wouldn't surprise me in the least!  

        As for my own wedding..........I want you to think about that moment, when the Bride and the Groom have their first dance.  The reception hall becomes hushed.  All eyes turn towards the happy couple; their bodies pressed together, two hearts beating as one.  I want you to remember the song that was played during that dance; something sweet and romantic, no doubt.   Well, at my wedding, my wife and I decided that we couldn't bear the thought of all eyes in the room watching us turn in circles for five minutes. It felt like torture to us.  So, for our song, we didn't choose something sweet and romantic. We chose, "Home For A Rest" by Canadian group, Spirit of the West.  We thought that this song choice was the perfect commentary on a wedding that had seen us married on the shores of the Atlantic Ocean in Cape Breton, with a reception to follow, one thousand kilometres away in Ontario, a few weeks later.  Much travelling, drinking and planning took place. "Home For  Rest" seemed to sum up our feelings.  So, please picture the romance of it all as you listen to my wedding song.  Enjoy!!!