Return of the Creature

(An item recovered from a memory stick, frosted white while lost in the chalk tray…)

A year ago last September, I wrote a short on-line meditation about the slight disorientation I felt, after many years of trying to make classrooms live, at NOT being chalk-stained and eager at that time of year. Part of it went like this:

 (September 6, 2006) “It’s Labour Day Tuesday and, for the fourth straight year, I am skipping school. It’s about 2:30 p.m., and in the olden days I would have been well into the last teaching period of the day. The Teacher Dreams – can’t find my classroom, can’t find my clothes, don’t know what subject I teach – are over. The performance anxiety – can I still DO this? – evaporated two minutes into period 1, and I would now be feeling the great fun of a new beginning (even though the marking pile already grows thick) and the eagerness to find out who these kids are and what we’ll be able to do together.

“I would be in my element. I might be sitting at my desk watching them write their first journal entry (“All About Me by Me” or “What Am I Doing Here?”) or exercise or assigned reading, but more likely I’d be strolling about, interviewing students, offering random observations, observing the various adolescent species in their (un)natural environment. Or maybe I’d be standing at the front, leaning slightly against the chalk ledge, right ankle crossed over the left, rambling on. (The horizontal streak of chalk dusting my butt didn’t concern me; at least once, though, the grommets on my right hiking boot hooked the laces on my left, so that a particularly animated point I wanted to step up and make vaulted me face-first into the legs of the front-row desks. That was a good one. I bowed deeply, grinned maniacally, and blushed quite redly.)

“By this time, I would already have forgotten to send down the afternoon attendance check, so a (usually) cheery secretary calls to try again to get Mr. H. properly trained. But there are no staff meetings, no reporting deadlines, no rebellious kids (yet), no sense of depletion or the (inevitable) frustration of my most dearly held intentions. Hope springs in an educator’s autumn. This was always a great day to be a teacher…”

And on February 1, 2008, I had another one of those fine, hopeful, we-can-do-anything-together days. It wasn’t quite typical, because at my new school they send their students through their Semester 1 timetable in the morning; I didn’t see my new kiddies until the afternoon, and then only for a shortened period. With that, the in-flux timetables and the game-players who didn’t bother showing up the first day – and no, they actually didn’t miss much, except for me at my most charming and fun-loving! – we didn’t do much that was even vaguely curricular. But I started a relationship with students, got a few of my basic expectations across, and shed a little of my teaching rust.

By Monday, I was teaching my fool head off at Merivale High School, a southwest Ottawa academy that was surrounded by fields ten years ago and which is now boxed in by big box stores and malls and fast-food emporiums. (In other words, it’s a typical student’s dream, and a good spot for shopaholic teachers, too.) We are the Marauders. As a former student of McMaster University, that name and the colour maroon are more than comfortable. In fact, I told several people that I was feeling simultaneously disoriented and right at home.

I didn’t know where the photocopier was or have an office space to work from when I wasn’t teaching. I was teaching a course in Careers that I’d never taught before, and hadn’t yet realized that there IS indeed a textbook for it. I was always surprised by bell times and running head-first into Merivale routines — not to mention colleagues and students — that were new to me.

But at the same time, I was doing what I’ve done for awfully close to ever. Though I was foggy on lots of particulars and incidentals, I knew right where I was and exactly what I was doing. I was, once again, a full-time, ultra-dedicated, in-it-to-win-it educator. Thomas Wolfe famously said you can never go home again, but I’ve found that, if you don’t mind some of the rooms being re-arranged, you sure can. And I like it.