Return of the Chalk Monster

Sorry to have been so long since the last post. (Hmm. The Last Post. What a mournfully gorgeous thing that is when played on a trumpet. November 11. Remembering the cause of peace, honouring the sacrifice, praying for the dead and the eternally changed. That is a thousand leagues from my recent inability to publish my tiny cerebral explosions.) As for my Web site silence, I can only say that education is to blame.

I am now, and again, a fully-fledged High School Creature. After months of substitute gigs in several Ottawa schools, I have taken over a position at a suburban educational emporium. (Cairine Wilson Secondary. Know who she is?) I’m not sure who has been more challenged and distressed by the change, me or the ninth and tenth graders I teach. (Okay, it’s the students. Who am I kidding?) Administratively, organizationally and interpersonally, it’s been a fair upheaval. For one thing, this place begins its classes at 8:10 a.m., so that my bride has had to adjust her morning routine in order to get Junior to his bus, which had been my job. And yes, I got a little lost on the way here the first day, and there were computer problems, key problems, and behavioural problems (not all mine!). Curriculum, planning, materials, mindset – all of this has needed considerable massaging and headscratching.

But for all that, and though many of the students have been reluctant to accept graciously the new Ogre in room 222, I feel at home here already. I still don’t know where a lot of things are in this funky, ‘70s-designed school layout, but I’m getting there. But being in the language classroom again – two French classes, one English – feels fine. Last Friday, after perhaps the most frustrating day of trying to get my new kids on the same page as me, was a turning. There were more smiles. There were glances that said, Hey, maybe this clown won’t be so bad after all. I could lower my shield and sword, bring some energy and animation to what was being taught, and not worry about losing the kids to side conversations and general distraction. Cool!

My writing schedule is completely thrown off, though. Not only have I not been posting to my Web site for the last two weeks, but the less visible writing projects that I’ve been trying to nourish lie in a dusty, chaotic heap in my home office and in foul-smelling corners at the back of my mind. Forgotten, but not gone, I hope.

The most urgent reason for returning to education was a financial one. I had a steady and adequate salary when I was writing for and with the former Governor General, Adrienne Clarkson. As an independent flogger of my own ideas, though, my income has been, well, less than stellar. (If I was a more confident/arrogant writer and weighed a little less, I might have called myself a “starving artist”.) After a year and a bit of literary exploration, I have had to bow to economic realities. (Can’t stand economics OR realism!)

Less urgent, but more important – at least to me – was that even during the best periods of my exclusive writing life, something was missing. It was my Teaching Jones. I love that whole relationship: Educators and Those Who Need Them. I love being at the centre of a community of learners, of which I am one. Sometimes high schoolers don’t recognize their own hunger to know, blunted as it can be by distraction and the habits of enforced ignorance. (And, I’ll say it, by poor teaching.) But when those coloured lights start to sparkle and glow, there’s nothing like it. I often felt, even when I was writing speeches for the visit of Heads of State or for national honours to the greatest of Canadians, that I was likely doing less for the world than I had done as a chalk-stained wretch or whistle-toting basketball guru.

And so I’m back in class. I surely hope to balance this return to Shakespeare and the passé composé with my ongoing quests as a writer. But if my next school needs a basketball coach, I don’t know how I’m going to keep all those ducks in a row. So many darned ducks!

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