dal niente

Canada vs. America

(Just because Canadian teachers at my school outnumber the American ones 23-4)

Sitting together on a train , traveling through the Canadian Rockies, were an American guy , a Canadian guy, a little old Greek lady, and a young blonde girl with large breasts.

The train goes into a dark tunnel and a few seconds later there

is the sound of a loud slap.

When the train emerges from the tunnel, the American has a bright red hand print on his cheek . No one speaks .

The little old Greek lady thinks: The American guy must have groped the blonde in the dark and she slapped his cheek .

The blonde girl thinks : That American guy must
have tried to grope me in the dark , but missed and fondled the old
lady and she slapped his cheek .

The American thinks: The Canadian guy must have groped the

blonde in the dark. She tried to slap him but missed and got me instead.

The Canadian thinks: I can’t wait for another tunnel, just so I can smack the American again .

Lost in Translation

Oftentimes when I talk to folks back home I hear a lot of “sounds like you’re having a ball over in SK.”


And it’s true– for the most part, it is great.  But I think perhaps that this is because I’m being a bit biased about what I present.  I like to tell good stories of things that are going well– I think I spent a lot of my college and university years being very, very cynical.  This is probably the kickback from all that rearing.

But I think now I’m getting that balance between idealism and reality.  Things make sense, and it really is, in a summary word, bittersweet.



On Wednesday a girl who constantly misbehaves in my class and doesn’t pay attention got a zero on her test.  There is a test every class– I hand out 13 tests per week, multiply that by the 40 or so students that I have and that’s a lot of marks that go on paper.

The fact that she got zero really upset me, because my first reaction was “this is what you got, this is what you deserve because you’re not listening.  You’re wasting my time, and all you do in class is disturb others.”  I was about a moment or two from sending her to the counter.  In our school, sending a kid to the counter is the equivalent of sending someone to the principal’s office– the student then gets hotseated by the academic counsellors who threaten to call their parents if their grades, behavior, or both don’t improove.

I was about to do that right after I finished taking down a few more scores when I found that she had her head burried in her arms on her desk, and kids crowding around her; she was crying.  I asked her to step outside of the class with me to find out what was going on, but she didn’t want to budge.  I had to kneel in front of her desk and whisper at her to ask her what had happened, but being just a 11 year old kid learning a second language, she didn’t have the ability to express what was going on.  She spoke to her neighbor with some hesitation, who summarized, missing many details,  that one of the other boys in class had made fun of her score and called her stupid.  There might have been more to it, but I can’t know.

The thought of sending her to the counter at this point regarding her poor marks seemed like it would be overkill in all the wrong ways.  I felt my heart sink.

Somehow, paying attention in class was one issue– being called stupid struck a nerve though, and I wonder if it’s an independant and deeply rooted thing all on it’s own.

And so this is one of those darker moments. 

There have been times when I’ve really made a terrible student into something great– however, this is one of those cases where a girl just got progressively worse.  Is it my teaching method?  Am I doing something wrong?  What can I do better?  What should I do next?

… I’m still thinking about it now because, Friday afternoon, I will be teaching this same class.  And what will I do different that can take this in the right direction?

Is there even a right direction for all people?

It’s never quite so simple to try and accomplish something, is it?  And sometimes, you kind of see people slipping right between your fingers, no matter how hard you try.  Maybe people always call her stupid?  Maybe that’s why she gets the attention that she, like all 11 year olds, craves: by being the disruptor instead.  Maybe this is her way.

I am not giving up– but I am saying that sometimes, the harder I try the more it hurts.

…. I have a very strange relationship with the education system in that all those years of college and university, I spent resenting a lot of my teachers.  It wasn’t that I didn’t respect their knowledge– but I didn’t respect their methods, or the way they treated students.  There were exceptions of course– a handful of teachers who changed my lives, and really, these are the ones who I aspire to be more like.  But the vast majority of them were content to serve agenda of the institution– teaching you things they either don’t beleive in, or teaching you things that they know you don’t beleive in either.  There was a connection missing between the lives of those involved and the material involved.

I’ve had all ranges– the teachers who, in their pompousness, alienate their students completely.  ANd then there’s the sort that seemed to take some sadistic pleasure out of the authority granted upon them, which they used to isolate and insult students.

It really, REALLY was like that.  Have you ever read Great Teacher Onizudka?  I related to those stories because there were teachers who did call my classmates (and in some cases, me) worthless.  Perhaps they didn’t think about it at the time– but that’s no excuse.  Teachers have such a huge responsability.  They have to watch their every step, because they are the first line.

Now that I am a teacher though, I see the problem:  I sometimes don’t know what to do.

I sometimes get so frustrated.  And who is there to take it out on?

The kids are right there.

There’s a whole class of them.  Just singling out one or two for the greater good might be good for my sanity, right?

I can make an example out of ’em.

……. I think that’s what my previous teachers thought.  To sacrifice the few for the many.  To give up on some students.  To help those who have the best chances of making something for themselves.

… I might have been quick to call such teachers cowards in the past.  The simple reasoning is that ANYONE can help people who want to learn– the challenge lies in educating those who don’t want to or who can’t be helped.  The challenge is to make possible the impossible— or at least to truly examine just what is possible before just writing something off as impossible.

… yet here I am, and I don’t know what to do with some kids who are just falling away, a bit by bit.