After years of building stuff, being an entrepreneur, going to rehab, going bankrupt, going to Outhouse College, I landed my first teaching gig in 1995. I retired last year. Not bad timing when you look at what’s going on now!
In the course of those twenty-five years at the front of the classroom, or more often the middle or the back, I must have had a few thousand students. Many of them I find unforgettable.
Overall, I’d give the education system in our province a D- for how they’ve managed over the last quarter century. For about the last ten years of my career, I was mostly teaching grade-school arithmetic, as in grades two to five, to kids in grades nine through twelve. That’s because if you gave these kids actual high school curriculum, they’d all fail. Every one of them.
That would cause consternation at the Board level, where they like to keep their graduation stats nice and sparkly. As a result, a high school diploma means you can sort of do grade four math. The employers in our community noticed that long ago.
I could go on for almost forever about everything the educrats have fucked up, but let me fast-forward to the one thing I saw go right in the course of my career.
I cannot speak for the system in general, but in the environment I worked in, in the classroom, and in the building as a whole, there was real progress made in creating a more tolerant and inclusive environment. I spent a few years as one of the teacher reps for the Gay Straight Alliance. Twenty-five years ago, kids like my nephew or my step-son risked getting beat up for being who they were. The first year of the GSA, they used to post a VP outside the door, just in case.
Things have changed!
I remember a few years ago when the first wave of Syrian refugees were arriving, and we saw “Mohamed Mohamed” on our timetables for the following September. Anxious glances were exchanged in the staff room.
Mohamed Mohamed? We’d seen nothing like it… how will this go in our rural community?
Six months later, “Mo-Mo” is one of the coolest kids in the school!
That’s good stuff, but, looking back, what I love the most is how things changed for the First Nations students over the course of my twenty-five years. I’ll say off the top that this change had way more to do with a cultural shift on the Indian side than anything the education system did.
In the early years of my career, you didn’t see a lot of Indian kids in high school, and the ones you saw were most likely to be female. We’ve got a couple of First Nations in our catchment area, and historically we’ve done a poor job of making our system work for them. The male students especially had a difficult time coming to school. I spent time at the local Friendship Centre quizzing the people there on the reasons for that, and at the time, formal education was very much identified as being part of the “apple syndrome,” you know; red on the outside and white on the inside.
Shift to the last few years of my career, and I’m standing in the hall chatting with colleagues between classes, and it’s all “how is so-and-so doing in your class,” and we come to the realization that a male Native student is at the very top of our respective classes!
Not only are they coming to school, they’re blowing our minds. I had a steady stream of Ritchies and Johnsons over the last few years, right down to the last Ritchie who was practising his German-speaking skills with me on the very day my exploding retina ended my teaching career.
Who can even imagine such a thing? Not only is this young First Nations man scorching through high school at the top of his class, in addition to learning his traditional languages, he’s also studying German and Russian!
That’s what I feel best about when I look back at those twenty-five years.
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