Posts Tagged ‘teachers’

We got the class lists for the kids today. They send them out to us ahead of time so we can all freak out before school starts, instead of after. Asher was the only one I was really concerned about, given his ‘issues,’ and he didn’t get the teacher I wanted, but got one who has been away and who Maya and her friend declared was wonderful, so I’m hopeful. I still emailed with a request to meet all his teachers soon.

Boo could survive pretty much anything so I wasn’t worried, but I was still happy to see she got the teacher Maya had for grade one, whom I loved and not the one Asher had, who told us the reason he was having trouble in school was that we didn’t read to him enough and he was just going to be the kind of kid who always had to work extra hard (code for kinda dumb) and that we shouldn’t have him tested, and who was completely wrong.

Maya’s friends are all in the other class. She is very sad. I am very stressed out. And so it begins.

In honour of this, here’s my latest column:


I’m handing in this column a day late. That’s because the topic I chose is ‘going back to school.’ By the time you read this, the topic will be on everyone’s mind as September fast approaches, but as I am writing this, summer is barely half-way finished.

I decided on the topic some time ago, but every time I sat down to write it and contemplated my chosen topic, that muscle in my back that is right next to my left shoulder blade would start to tighten – it has already made itself into a nice little ball – and I’d decide to go weed my garden instead.

Of course, it didn’t occur to me to come up with a different topic. I just sailed down the river of denial until I suddenly realized that my deadline had come and gone, so now I’m writing on that topic, with the muscle in my back growing ever tighter.

I love summer. I love my garden, and the warmth (relative as it has been this summer), and s’mores, and no homework, school lunches, notes to teachers or homework. And did I mention the homework?

I hate the reminding, nagging and helping that goes along with homework. I hate when something goes wrong and my kid wails about how the teacher is going to yell at him or her. I hate my homework – sending in field trip money or toilet paper tubes or family photographs. And I hate realizing half way through the day that I’ve forgotten it again and hoping my son isn’t the only one whose mom forgot (this only happens to my son because my daughter is organized and reminds me of all these things, but my son is a disorganized disaster like his mom and between the two of us, it is hopeless).

I love the relaxation of the rules that comes with summer. Bedtimes are more casual, piano practicing is optional and reading is for fun.

Perhaps instead of calling the topic ‘back to school,’ I should call it ‘ode to summer.’ There, that’s better.

Every summer, we start out by going up to my in-laws’ cottage, which we refer to as going ‘up north.’ For the past two years, we’ve brought two of my nephews up as well. Good friends have the cottage across the road, so this summer we had a gang of six children between the ages of nine and 12, and three six-year-olds on top of that.

The children play at the beach, climb in the tree house, organize large games of poker, stay up late and fill in mad-libs games with swear words, laughing hysterically over their wit.

I love this time because this is when their childhoods most closely resemble how I remember mine (with the exception of the poker games) – relatively free of parental oversight.

Being relatively free of parental oversight then quickly moves into almost total anarchy for the next phase of summer: sleep-away camp. This was my son’s first year and he arrived back home grungy, tanned and full of happy stories. I was worried that the youngest would drive me crazy without her siblings to amuse her, but she reveled in it, repeating several times a day, “I LOVE being an only child.”

In another week, the eldest will be back and we will enter the final stage of summer, one I like to call “Camp Mom,” where I take the kids to museums and the water parks and then there’s the ever-fun school supply shopping. I like to save this until the end of summer for because after a couple of weeks of solid togetherness, with Dad only riding to the rescue in the evenings, school starts to look more appealing, both for the (“I’m booooorrrred”) children and me.

So I guess I love summer not only because I can let my children forage for their own lunches and stay up late watching old movies with me, but because by the end of it, I’ve managed to develop an appreciation for school again. I’ll never like the homework or making school lunches no one eats. But at least it takes all my kids away every day and gives them something to do while I get some peace and quiet.

Perhaps I should have called this topic ‘ode to my laziness.’ Whatever. At least my back doesn’t hurt so much now.

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My kids went back to school today, despite Maya’s current professed desire to end her schooling at grade 6. It prompted this reminiscence: 

When I went to university, I admit I started off quite confidently. I had graduated high school at the very top of my class, walking away with a handful of awards for the highest mark in various classes. I decided to do a combined English/History degree. 

My first essay was in English, on Great Expectations. I got a B. It was a bit of a shock.

Obviously, I wasn’t the only kid used to acing everything who received a cold wake-up call when starting university, and in fact, there were those whose shock was significantly larger. One of those was my cousin, who was taking some of the same courses I was. Her English essay was utterly dismantled and the professor wrote that at good start for her would be to learn how to write an essay. This was her first inkling that her high school education had failed her on a basic level, and my first inkling that I owed a great debt to someone I thought I hated.

I remember sitting in the hallway in our residence after that essay, teaching my cousin the mechanics of writing an essay. Thesis statement, topic sentences – she hadn’t a clue. I had a clue because of Mrs. MacDonald, who I had for grades nine and eleven English. Mrs. MacDonald didn’t just say, “Here’s a topic, go write an essay.” Oh no, she made us do outlines and come up with a thesis statement and put topic sentences on cue cards and do rough drafts, and hand each stage in to her to be marked. I hated that. I thought she was so very anal retentive and annoying and fussy. Now I think the woman was a saint, dragging all those ungrateful students through the mechanics of writing a proper essay. By the time I realized the debt I owed her, she was gone from the school and I never got to thank her. It’s too bad, because I don’t think she got thanked too often.

I also wish I could go back and thank Mr. Shepard, my fourth grade teacher. He made made stay after school shortly after the year had begun and said he noticed I sucked my thumb when I was concentrating and was being teased, and offered to help me stop. We made a deal. Every time he caught me sucking my thumb, he’d tell me to do ten push-ups or sit-ups, his standard punishment for small transgressions like talking to a neighbour when you should be working. He never embarrassed me by saying why I had to do this and the equation of thumb = physical exercise quickly broke me of the habit.

There was Mr. Penton, who taught me that history wasn’t about boring dead people after all, triggering a life-long obsession with the subject. He was followed by a woman who was not only a favourite teacher, but one of my favourite people, Professor Catherine Brown. When I entered her first year history class, I thought they stuck the decrepit old lady with the first years, so the first lesson she taught me was not to judge someone by her looks, as she was sharp as a tack. I switched to a full History major thanks to her and she guided my university career after that. I loved her.

University was where I met most of the teachers who had a profound effect on me. There was Gary Watson, who treated me like an adult and and equal, and Bronwen Wallace, a brilliant writer, who taught me to appreciate poetry and Lionel Lumb, who made me feel like I was good enough to do anything I wanted to. 

It was good to have all those people build me up before I went and had children to tear me back down again. Oh, kidding. Sometimes they are nice to me. Not as often as the dog is, but still.

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