The dreaded first day of school

Today is the first day for school for most kids I know. Children everywhere are missing summer, feeling sick to their stomach and fearing the unknown.

Me too.

When I was in grade 3 I had moved 13 times. This was to be the final home I was going to grow up in. My parents carefully picked my school so I could walk every day and not have to take the bus like they did. My mom made my lunch everyday with fresh, good for me ingredients when all I wanted was peanut butter sandwich and an apple, everyday until I died. Never happened. She insisted on variety. She was concerned about what the other moms would think. News flash moms, other moms don’t come to school to judge lunches.

I had a milk card and could order milk or juice every day for 25 cents.

Hot dog day was the last Friday of every month.

I was sent to school with a new wardrobe and new shoes. My note books were fresh and tidy, I vowed to keep them that way. That vow lasted less than a week. I remember being nervous about not making friends. That was always hard for me. My brother had a knack for meeting kids and being instant best friends. That lasted until he became an adult and didn’t care if people liked him or not. I, on the other hand, worried endlessly over who would like me and who wouldn’t. I blamed my hair. To be fair, it was clown hair.

We all assembled into the music room. I knew not a soul. The teachers up front called out the names of children. I heard “Robyn” but didn’t budge. I looked around the room to see if the hundreds of other Robyn’s stood up to join the teacher. No one did. She looked to the other Teachers and said, “The new girl? Anyone seen her?” That is when I knew it was me. Here I was the new girl…again. Grade 3 and already been to 5 different schools, 2 of those 5 my dad was a teacher in. I typically bonded with the adults and not the children. Weird, still a problem for me. Most of my friends are much older than I. I am sure a psychiatrist will have fun with that one.

We were led down the hall and shown to our class. Ours was the one without windows. Part of a 1970’s fad about fluorescent lights being good for focus. Thank heavens the pilot project on “Open Classrooms” was done. 6 classrooms with no walls. I think the concept was for the students to mingle in non traditional settings but typical administration, you can’t possibly change the way things have been done for a 100 years. I emerged from grade 2 with chronic headaches and glasses. Still, a class of 30, no windows and a teacher who didn’t like her job and thought smiling might kill her was my destiny. I dreaded recess. I dreaded recess every day until Grade 9 when we didn’t have it any more because we were part of the high school.

School is a lot different now and yet exactly the same. Moms take care of details so kids don’t need to. Food is pre-packaged and not as nutritious so kids don’t have the capacity to stay focused. The teachers who now teach, are there because their school experience sucked and they want to make a difference. They become disillusioned with the growing class sizes, inclusion that doesn’t work and parents who are in your face with problems that aren’t really problems.

The culture of school in middle class communities is very different from when I was a kid. Good grades are expected. Children compete with their peers and parents are emailed if assignments are missed. It certainly is a different world. I remembering not caring about marks, some how as if by magic, good ones appeared on my report card.

The parts that will be the same are the kids the will walk into school with a parent, holding their hand and hiding slightly behind their mom’s arm. They will look on a board to discover what class they are in and see if their friends are with them. They will carry their heavy bags to their room and look for a desk with their name on it. Most teachers take away the scary bits by deciding that for you. They will talk about class rules, and decide which ones are important and help make up new ones. This creates a culture agreement they can live with. The younger grades will be paired up with buddies so recess won’t be scary.

Then it is time to go home. I remember walking home from school in grade 3 on my very first day. I lived 3 doors down from the school. I came home and my Grandma was there to ask me about my day, she made me a snack. Then my dad came home and asked me about my day and if I made any new friends yet. I said yes. Her name was Cheryl. We would be best friends for about 5 months until Carrie with the beautiful hair stole her away from me. I realize now, my shyness was the barrier between me and friends. By the time I reached high school, that shyness was almost all gone. I never showed it on the outside. Now, it is non existent. I had to learn the difference between shy and bold and walk the path in the middle. Not everyone figures that out.

Today is the big day for teachers and children alike. 10 months from now, we won’t even remember what the first day felt like because we are so comfortable in our classroom with the culture the classmates built with the guidance of the teacher.

Now if only I had a Muppet Lunch kit like my daughter has, it would be easier.

She Wore Red Cowboy Boots

While I am away, I am reposting some of my olders blogs from 2011. It is interesting to see where I have come from. This is from /2011/01/08.

I was out last night and ran into my Grade 9 Drama and Religion Teacher. I think I had a tiny crush on her in grade 9 – not the “OMG You play for THAT team?” No, the kind of crush girls get on other girls when they are and do so many fabulous things. She was always dressed so stylishly, had a killer figure, was smart, funny and made me think. Reading over this I don’t think you believe me. It does sound like I had the OTHER kind of crush. Not true. She was a significant role model and mentor for me. The year was 1981.

Flash forward to 2011. She has GOT to be pushing the other side of 60. She was wearing knee-high red cowboy boots, a really cute cut above the knee denim skirt, a great rust red short jacket and she had a blonde bouncy pony tail. Clearly she has grayed but dyes it blonde. Same fabulous smile, and same great relationship with her students. I’m crushing again.

As mentors go, I never once saw her sad, angry or depressed. I knew plenty of teachers who were. I loved it when I could please her or make her laugh and it killed me the day I disappointed her. It was wonderful to see her still reaching out to her students and making them WANT to do better. I bet she has touch a 1000 lives and has no idea how she truly affected them in the long run.

Alex Anderson, a man who also had a profound influence on my life so far, explained to me about the ripple effect. A tiny pebble drops into the water and creates a ripple, many ripples grow from there. Each one affecting the before and after. The pebble is you or me. Think about how many lives you have touched. Good, bad or indifferent.

After seeing my Grade 9 Teacher, I thought about how she made me think, and how she may have been disappointed with path my life took after High School. I really hadn’t thought about her until yesterday when I saw her again. Now she is all I can think about. I am thinking about the choices I made and how the ripple effect touched the people around me.

2011 is laid out before me. I have some big choices to make. I hope I make the right kind of ripple.

Maybe I should buy a pair of red cowboy boots.

Have you hugged a Teacher today?

Summer Solstice Sunset
Summer Solstice Sunset (Photo credit: erik9000)

Today is Summer Solstice, 17 hours of sunshine in my home town of Edmonton. I may complain about the cold winter on a daily basis for 8 months a year, but once a year it all becomes worth it. Today is the day of endless sunshine, the promise of summer vacation and everyone sings Alice cooper’s ode to all things summer. Sing it with me “Schooooooooools out for summa!” Okay, so it is not quite out for summer. While I am laying in bed, trying to sleep with the sun blaring into my eyes, I will be counting down until I say good-bye to my little lovelies for this year, and begin the process of fearing the next round. That’s right, FEARING. September always means starting from scratch. The life of a teacher is, well, exhausting mentally.

Yesterday I wrote a blog with the intent of supporting my friend Joe who is running 12 marathons in a year. He is actually running 14, because 2 are for other charities he supports and is in final race is called The Dopey. Aptly named for those who run a 5k Friday, a half marathon on Saturday and a Full Marathon on Sunday at Walt Disney World in January. That is a whole lot of running. Now here I thought I was being supportive but actually I was being controversial. Look at me I am controversial! Well done Tourist! Making a name for yourself!!

I wrote about a colleague who I ADORE, we just talk smack at the photocopier and at Starbucks when I run into him there. We all have that friend. The one who is a fake enemy but is really your best pal through thick and thin. He worships the Maple Leafs, and I think that is a mistake. He was misinformed as to the distance of a marathon and mistook it for a fun run. We cleared that up. By no means are we enemies. He is too hilarious for me dis and dislike. On top of that he is one of the finest teachers I have ever worked with and a compassionate human being.

There was an unfortunate event with a reader, who happens to be my uncle. He commented on the intelligent level of this teacher and generalized it into many teachers. I could launch into a rant here, but I received no less than 60 emails and blog comments from friends and  strangers who are, know or love a teacher. My blogger friend SD, came to my rescue like the superhero he is and eloquently defended teachers. There are a few sad facts that surround this controversy.

1. I come from a long and prestigious line of Teachers (my Dad and my beloved Great Grandma) who, in my humble opinion are the finest teachers to ever grace a classroom. (I will explain later what makes a great teacher)

2. Betrayal by a family member is hurtful and shocking. Although I do not feel slighted personally, I truly felt I needed to defend the honor of my colleagues, Father, Gram and every other teacher who made a difference to someone.

3. Intelligence is not the measure of how much information you can store in your head (because I would win that in a kickass Trivial Pursuit game). Intelligence is the ability to acquire and apply knowledge. Having knowledge doesn’t do anyone any good if you are not a critical thinker. Knowing fire is hot is useful on a science quiz. Using fire as an element in your plan for world domination is intelligence.

I heard a voice echo in my head during my swim today. It was the voice of the finest teacher I know, my dad. Take the High Road Robyn. So I am.

Let’s talk about Job qualifications both spoken and unspoken in a job interview for the position of Elementary School Teacher. This applies to most of the people I work with except me and my team. We are Early Education, that falls under a different category. See…we have learned something new already!

To be a Teacher in Alberta (I cannot speak to other provinces, states or countries – I am a prairie girl) You must posses a valid teaching certificate issued by Alberta Education – this is the government of Alberta. They are bossy and have rules. One of those rules are to receive this accreditation – yes ACCREDITATION – you must have a minimum 4 year bachelor of education degree or B.Ed. from an accredited University, not college, not technical institute, not an on-line diploma from Sally Struthers. To receive this degree you must have done reasonably well in high school, apply to the university and give them all your money.

Now, the University does not care which degree program you apply for, but they do care if you don’t pay. It is pretty much the same cost for a B.Ed as a B.Com. Thus when a teacher graduates, they are called a PROFESSIONAL. I know! Now you learned another new thing! Professionals range from Doctors to Lawyers, to Pharmacists to Compliance Officers. All over the country, these professionals are regarded with respect from peers and clients with the exception of the Lawyers and that is for other reasons, but lawyers work their asses off, as do teachers. Yet the average teacher in Alberta makes $50, 000. Lawyers make way more. Remember, professionals do not get overtime. They are salary.

To get a school board to even LOOK at your resume, you have to have an excellent teacher practicum, done volunteer work and a pile of substitute teaching gigs. Those are NOT PLEASANT people! Then they ask you the scariest possible scenario to see how you would handle it. You pass or you fail – none of this no zeros allowed crap because this is the real world!

Once you are installed in a school, you get you room, your list of children. This is is a minimum of 27. There are bright kids, average kids, special needs kids and the dreaded behaviour kids who ALWAYS end up being my favorites. If you are lucky you get an assistant, but you must have a special circumstances to qualify for that. Then Alberta Curriculum sends you the course requirements for the year. Everything you must cover for these children to pass into the next grade. At no point in time was your intelligence ever in question. These people know you can write papers, answers questions, ask thoughtful questions, problem solve, and follow directions. No one ever gives a Doctor an IQ test before he opens up his private practice. It is ASSUMED he/she knows what he/she is doing.

Then why are teachers expected to know every tiny bit of knowledge available to the human race?

If you expect that from a teacher, you had the worst school experience ever and I am sorry for you.

Teachers come to work as early as 6:00 am (my kindergarten teacher friend does that) and leave long after 5PM. Lots of professionals do this. Do not for one minute think your child’s teacher leaves school when your child does. This does not include the work the Teacher brings home, lots of other professionals do this too. I remember my dad having stacks of essays, tests, papers just sitting by his chair. Every night he would plug away at marking.Not one of these people complain. It is understood that a teacher will put in an extra 40-70 hours a week EXTRA over and above the regular school day.

Teachers stay late to coach, drama, music or any other extra curricular activity your child wants to be in. Then the teacher has MORE work to do, marking, grading, preparing for the next day, planning field trips, planning for YOUR child to go on a holiday (for the record, your child is missing out on instruction time. This cannot be made up from “extra work sheets”. This will affect the final body of knowledge you child gleans from the year. Make the trip a good one and worth your child’s time.)

Now, a teacher rarely stands in front of the classroom yammering about facts. Your child would fail. Teachers need to now teach to all learning types, the doers, the lookers, the listeners, the repeaters and THIS does not include the special programming that is required for special needs, gifted, ESL, other differences that would blow your head off.

A teacher’s role is to take the curriculum, design a program that will be adjusted to the individual needs of their classroom. Encouraging, guiding and supporting your child into finding the information they need, applying it to other situations and retaining this information. Spewing facts has nothing or very little to do with a teachers job, remember google is your friend.

A teacher needs to be a social worker because a child confessed that their dad climbs into bed with them at night.

A teacher needs to be a nurse because your child can’t follow directions and climbed up on the shed roof and fell on their face and split a lip.

A teacher needs to be a police officer because your child took rum from the kitchen in YOUR house and put it in a coke bottle to share with their friends.

A teacher needs to be politically correct and up on every nuance of every culture known to mankind because you might be offended if they touch your elbow.

A teacher needs to be a security guard because lunatics sneak into the school and hide in the girls bathroom.

A teacher needs to be a crossing guard because you can’t make your child’s school safe for them to walk into the school, you create a traffic jam because you are to lazy/busy/hurried to park across the street and walk your child to school.

A teacher needs to run a food bank because you didn’t send lunch or feed your child breakfast. This causes them to not pay attention and your child gets labeled a BEHAVIOR.

A teacher needs to run a clothing shop because you send your child without mitts/hats/socks/shoes/boots/underwear. You have it, but you are in a rush so your child goes without.

A teacher needs to be compassionate because if they do not make a connection with your child, your child cannot learn.

A teacher needs to smile even when their dog dies.

A teacher has to listen to YOU yell at them because your child won’t do their work in school and has to bring it home, now there is homework and you don’t have time to make sure they do it.

A teacher gets labeled mean because they see potential in your child and will demand your child does better.

A teacher will cry every June because your child will make it in the world or not.

Tomorrow when you go to school or even tonight as you reflect on the teachers of your past or the teachers of your present, think about these things that make a great teacher. I am willing to bet you know a teacher who does at least most of the things on this list. If that is the case, you are lucky and did not receive a human to teach your child, but a bonafied TEACHER.

  1. You notice older students coming back to talk to your child’s teacher. This means these children connected with the teacher and have a special bond that was ripe for optimum learning.
  2. Your child’s teacher knows the names of the parents.
  3. Your child’s teacher will take time out of their day to make sure you are having a good one.
  4. Young kids will want to hug the teacher. Older ones will want to “hang out” and talk.
  5. You are welcome into the classroom at ANY TIME
  6. You see the teacher sitting beside a student helping them figure out a problem.
  7. Your child’s teacher is always available via email and will return a phone call on THEIR lunch break.
  8. Your child’s teacher will call or send a note home because something has changed and they just can’t put a finger on it but something is not right. Their spidy sense is tingling and they are concerned about your child.
  9. Your child’s teacher greet’s your child by name as they walk into the classroom.
  10. Your child’s teacher laughs every day.

Did you notice not one bullet about intelligence? Or marks? Or attendance?

If your child’s teacher makes a lasting connection with your child, the bond will never be broken. They will be set for life for learning and always will want to make their teacher proud. Sadly we don’t reach every child, but that doesn’t stop us from trying.

So for all of you who know a teacher, go thank them. You are the great human you are today because you responded to one teacher in your life and they made a difference for you. If you cannot recall this ever happening in your life, I’m so sorry, but we tried. Trying is a two way street.

I am proud to be called Teacher. I stand proudly with my peers and together we know we make a difference in the life of a person, big or small. I go to sleep every night know I matter in the life of someone. Can you say the same? You can if you had a great teacher in your life.

You are Welcome! But seriously, Thank You.

I have had a very interesting week. Stars are starting to align for me. A friend today said, I’m not superstitious but I think something amazing is about to happen for you. Really? I hope so. I don’t want to jinx anything, but damn it universe, I am DUE!

This may be old news to some of you but new to others. 20 some-odd years ago I was a Pre-school Teacher in an Edmonton Suburb where BMW’s and Audi’s were way more common than Escorts and Civics. I learned many, many things about myself, both good and bad. I had made huge mistakes but also made enormous good choices. I was in my early twenties. I was bright eyed and bushy tailed, I loved my job. I loved my students. I made amazing connections with these young 4 year olds. They taught me plenty. Many times over the recent years I thought about what a different world I work in now, yet still thought about these individuals and wondered how their life turned out.

Studies show by having a positive preschool experience can lead to success later in life. These children are more likely to stay in school, and move on to secondary education.

Over the past little while, former students have been showing up in my life. I am taking a class with a mother of a former student. How did I remember this mom 21 years later? Her child had a profound impact on me. We connected on a level that I cannot explain. I have thought about her many times over the years. I even considered naming ChatterBox after her. I discover she is about to graduate from a university program and about to become the type of professional I work with everyday. How surreal would it be if she ended up in my staff-room? Secretly, I would love that.

Yesterday I went to my Pharmacy. The Student Pharmacist had her name embroidered on her lab coat. I looked at her face, and knew who it was. I hadn’t seen her in 22 years. Her brilliance as a four year old astounded me then. Yet here she was explaining to me about possible side-effects. I said “I think I was your Pre-school Teacher” She looked at me as if I was bonkers. I said, “you were allergic to milk and peanuts. I could only give you rice products for dairy and I wore an epipen everyday – just in case” She became all excited and said “I out grew the milk allergy!!” YAY! I told her to say hi to her mom for me and was  happy she had been successful at school. She replied with, I really loved preschool.

That made me smile.

I have met several other children over the past two weeks that I use to teach, about 7 in all. I love the way their face lights up as they remember me.

Yesterday I registered Genetic Offspring for High School. He had a grade one teacher who made tremendous impact on him. She loved science, taught my son why you should love science, and he never looked back. Talking with the school counsellor yesterday, she convinced him he really needed AP Science, then she would let him take Chem 20 as an option in his second semester. My little boy man-child went to bed incredibly excited to start grade 10. His head swimming with plans to study math so he can succeed beyond expectations in physics. He will do it. He has had some amazing teacher mentors that inspire him.

Thinking about the effect one person can make in your life can be overwhelming. For me personally, there is one. This is person I will be eternally grateful for. They taught me I matter, my feelings are important, and showered me with all the support and comfort I needed during a time when I really didn’t think I mattered all that much. I haven’t spoke with this person in a really long time. I need to send them a note to let them know how grateful I am. I challenge you to do the same.

Meeting past students brightened my days this week. I know I didn’t get them through University, but I like to think I may have helped. Actually, I know I helped one in particular, because she told me so.

Next stop on the Edmonton Tourist Journey…Thank-you-ville