June Up, June Down

It’s an exciting time of year – but also a sigh-inducing, did-I-do-all-that-I-could’ve, what-the-heck-happened-to-Sally period of angst-y reflection – for the teachers.

After six weeks at a suburban Ottawa high school, I’m within hours of my release from room 222. It feels good, mostly. It always did, and why not? While it has been odd to be teaching my head off without really knowing all my students very well (let alone my fellow staff members, or the community within which this school operates), the late-night marking sessions are over. The texts are in. The deadlines for reporting and commentary have been met. My room is clean and the car is packed. I can look forward to the plans for summer, and in particular to making friends with my keyboard again. My writing output has suffered during this return to full-time teaching, so I’ll relaunch my writing / With gnashing and biting / And blasts from a thousand kazoos… That’s the end of my favourite limerick.

But here’s a line from another poem, a fairly whiny bit of long-ago existential self-importance: The loneliness birds are croaking / There’s that pressure behind my brow… Yes. It’s an odd little tang of nostalgia to leave this school, where I have no history and no expectation of ongoing connection. I’ll observe graduation ceremonies tomorrow for senior students for whom I know not a single name. But that’s just life and my peculiar ability to get sentimental about nearly anything.

Worse, there’s a sour ball of disappointment in my gut over the grade nine kids who didn’t get their credit in my courses. That’s the angst. That’s the wondering. Of course, in my situation, the kids who flunked were well on their way by the time I came on the scene in May. (I was covering a maternity leave.) I don’t know if it’s like this for every teacher, but I can’t help feeling my own failure when a kid goes down. Mind you, it chagrins me over and over again to realize, as is too often the case, that I seem to take it harder than the kids do. Even after all these years in classrooms, I don’t find it a bit easier to handle an adolescent nose-dive, though I’ve only known these folks for six weeks. And in virtually every case, the student either dithers or outright decides to not bother doing Essay X or Reading Y (why?), and they are far from surprised at their outcome.

Parents, though, are sometimes blindsided. “He never told me there was a problem!” I can hear the same little guilty tune playing behind their questions, their bewilderment and even the anger and blaming. It becomes a control issue, of course. I still have to remind myself, after 20 years of doing this job, that there are limits to what I can do. I can’t rock every student’s world. I can’t make them love language or care about ideas or be hopeful about the future. It’s up to them. Sigh. I hate that.

“You have the right to fail,” I have sometimes said, “but why would you want to do that?” It’s one of my many attempts to shift a student’s perspective. As teachers, we might wish that we could force a student to do what seems to us so clearly to be the best for him or her. I sure do. But like us, young people have an irritating tendency to want to make their own decisions. And so on we go. Life is for learning. Et cetera.

And in other news…

It’s also an exciting time of year to celebrate all that is best about Canada. Living in Ottawa for these past five July Firsts, it has been quite wonderful to celebrate in the capital, to see the dazzling fireworks that have so terrified our little Sam each year as they explode over Parliament Hill. He’s seven now, and is given to marching through the house singing “O Canada” in French at the top of his lungs. (He has a delightful Outaouais accent. He didn’t get it from me.) I think this will be the year that these astounding displays will be delightfully awesome fun for him instead of an incitement to run away screaming or hide under his Mummy’s arm. Mars Attacks. I thinks that’s what the experience has been for him.

I miss down-home festivities in my little riverside hometown, though. It hasn’t been so long since I lived there. I’ll miss the parade with almost as many people in it as there are watching, the crowds of people milling about in the park afterwards, the more modest but still terrific fireworks down by the dam. We love being around the Big Show here in Ottawa on our national day, but it’s like the culture shock I had about big city grocery stores: I won’t see many people that I actually know as we share our patriotic joys. For that, I’d have to be hanging around the Grand River in Caledonia on Sunday. I’ll miss all those familiar faces, and I’ll remember on Sunday that there are all kinds of communities. One of those is my own little neighbourhood, where Sam and his Mum and I, before we head downtown, will eat hot dogs and wave flags with Djiboutian and Somali-born parents whose kids think Canada Day is the coolest.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *