You teach your children some fashion sense
And they fashion some of their own
- Gordon Downie

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Why I Do What I Do

I was looking back though my posts and the themes are fairly consistent. I write about the things that are most important to me because they are easy things to write about. Some of my earliest posts like Lessons in Film and Take Time talk exclusively about what I do for a living. My life as a teacher and school administrator is evident in most of my posts, but I have yet to explore why I am so content with the career path I have chosen.

My name is Ted and I am a teacher. I wear lots of hats and occupy many different roles in my life. When I think very carefully about all of these roles, there is no doubt that teaching is at the heart of most of them. As parents, my wife and I are my children's primary and most important teachers. As a coach, I believe it is my job to teach my players the skills and tactics necessary to make them a better member of the team. As a school admininstrator, I get to teach adults how to make our school the best place it can be. As a university instructor, I got the chance to teach pre-service teachers. The absolute best part of any day at school is my time in the classroom. Here is why...

One of my favourite things is that teaching is a creative process. I am always trying to think of a better way to help kids learn and that takes careful thought. For the last four months of this school year, I got the opportunity to teach grade three for the first time. I had to really think about how to approach my new class and it was absolutely refreshing to me. I also had the chance to teach math for the first time in my career, so I was forced out of my comfort zone. I had to work hard, not so much to understand the concepts, but to understand how to best present them to the kids in my class.

I love what I do because I get to play around all day long. My teaching style is not conventional. On the first day with a new class, I always tell them that I hope my class is the best one they have ever been in.  I get to tell jokes and make terrible puns. I come up with nicknames for my students, stand on desks, lay on the floor, and use different accents depending on my mood, the day and the subject matter. I have fun and I try really hard to ensure the students have fun, too. I know that no single teacher is perfect for every student in a class and I respect that some kids think I am genuinely weird. Overall, I'm OK with that. The teachers I remember best were definitely the ones who marched to a different beat. I have a poster of purple sheep in my classroom that says "I was normal once. I didn't like it." That poster has hung in every home room I have taught in because it says a lot about how I approach my job.

Though this seems like stating the obvious, I love to teach because I love to teach. By teach, I mean that get to directly influence how other people do things. I'm not big on quotes, but Henry Adams once said, "A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops." When you think about it, this is a massive responsibility. Any teacher who does not realize what a significant influence they have needs to give their head a shake. I love the "lightbulb" moments of teaching, the moments when a child's eyes widen and smile creeps across their face because they have just made a connection that did not exist a moment earlier. I love it when 20 hands simultaneously shoot skyward to answer a question because every one of them know the answer to my question. More than anything, I love it when grown men and women come up to me in public and take the time to tell me much they enjoyed having me for a teacher. The ultimate compliment came from a young lady who now teaches in our school district because, in her words, she wanted to be just like me.

Another thing that keeps me coming back year after year is that every day brings something different. You never know who is going to walk through your door or what is going to happen next. The unpredictable nature of teaching does make it difficult at times, but I can recall very few days in my career where I was bored to death and waiting for the day to end. Time flies in a school and before you know it, the school year has ended and you get to start all over again. 

Teaching may not have huge financial rewards, but it has profound human rewards. I hope that I am making my world a better place. It gives me great pride to see my students succeed. I have been in my community long enough that I am now teaching the children of former students. There are very few places in Red Deer where I do not run into someone I know due to the work I do. To be honest, I would not have it any other way.

At the end of the school year, I usually get gifts and cards from students, and this year was no different. Two of them stand out to me. One was a chocolate bar from a little girl whose family was not happy with our school and will be moving to another school next year. She attached a small note using a piece of scrap paper, thanking me for being her teacher. I'm quite certain she either bought it with her own money or snuck it out of the house, but I was touched that she took the time to acknowledge me. My favorite, though, was a card from a boy who must have been listening carefully on the first day of classes.

That, folks, is the essence of why I do what I do.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Great Canadian Gordons

There was a time in this fair land when the railroad did not run
When the wild majestic mountains stood alone against the sun
Long before the white man and long before the wheel
When the green dark forest was too silent to be real

I am fervently proud to be Canadian. I have one tattoo, a maple leaf, and I can't think of anything else I want to permanently etch on my body. By the time I have finished writing this post, I may be ready to get GORDON as my second tattoo. It is interesting that three great Canadians and many great Canadian things are linked to the name Gordon. In no particular order, here they are...

Gordon Downie
Gord Downie is best known as the lead singer of The Tragically Hip, my favorite Canadian band. Their music is laced with references to Canadian culture. Hockey themes abound, most notably "Fireworks" celebration of the 1972 Summit Series, the disappearance of Toronto Maple Leafs defenceman Bill Barilko in "Fifty Mission Cap" and a dirge about being a goaltender in "The Lonely End of the Rink". Their lyrics celebrate notable Canadians like Bobby Orr, Pierre Trudeau and David Milgaard. Distinctly Canadian terms like toonie, CBC, prime minister and the "crown" pepper their lyrics. Even Donald S. Cherry makes an appearance as a chicken delivery man in the video for "The Darkest One".

The Hip's songs tend to mention Canadian places. Niagara Falls, Bobcaygeon, Toronton, Kingston, Cape Spear, Clayoquot Sound, Sault Ste Marie, Northumberland Strait, Churchill, Thompson, Lake Memphragog, Isle Aux Morts. I'm not completely sure, but I have a feeling that "The Paris of the Prairies" mentioned in "Wheat Kings" may be Saskatoon. I am certain that many essays and perhaps Master's theses have been written about the Hip's connection to Canada through music. Beyond the stage, Downie and the band have had cameos in uniquely Canadian television shows like Corner Gas and Trailer Park Boys.

For me, though, the quintessential Gordon Downie moment is the role he plays in Michael McGowan's film, One Week. The film is profoundly Canadian as it follows its protagonist, who has terminal cancer, on a motorcycle pilgrimage from Toronto to Tofino. Downie has a brief role as a man who meets the doomed Tyler and shares his experience of battling cancer. When I think of Canadian icons, people who have helped develop my generation's Canadian identity, I think of people like Terry Fox and Rick Hansen. When it comes to people who reaffirmed my love of all things Canadian, I cannot think of a more iconic figure than Gordon Downie.

Gordon Lightfoot
When I was a young boy, very few of my parent's record albums interested me. Albums like John Denver's Greatest Hits and Creedence Clearwater Revival's Green River that contained songs I liked to play. It was Gordon Lightfoot's Sundown, however, that fascinated me more than anything. I'm not sure if it was the cover photo of a very healthy looking, curly haired and bearded Lightfoot sitting cross legged. It was one of the few albums my parents owned that included lyrics and I loved to read them over and over again. Most likely, I was drawn in to the stories the album told. I played the title track repeatedly and sang loudly when my parents were in a different room, "Sundown, you better take care/If I find you've been creeping round my back stairs".

I include Gordon Lightfoot on this list because he is one of the most successful Canadian singer/songwriters, ever. Sundown was number one on the Billboard charts and his music has a following across the world. To me, his most impressive songs are the ones that chronicle Canadian stories. "Canadian Railway Trilogy" is Canada's definitive epic poem because it tells the tale of a watershed event in our culture. Like the epic poems of the Greeks, Lightfoots's song celebrates the heroic contributions of the men who gave their lives to fulfills Sir John A Macdonald's dream. Any song that is commissioned by the CBC to commemorate Canada's centennial has to be special!

Perhaps my favorite Gordon Lightfoot song is "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald." It tells a true story of a ship that sinks on Lake Superior, the big lake the Chippewa once called Gitche Gumee. Many people, including Gordon Lightfoot himself, feel that this is his best-written song ever. It is a haunting tale and a tribute to the courage of people who sail the Great Lakes for a living.

Gordon Howe
I have a signed poster of Gordie Howe and Wayne Gretzky in my basement. It is one of my favorite pieces of hockey memorabilia because it is actually signed by Mr. Hockey and #99 themselves. The photo was taken at the WHA All Star Game in 1978. I love this photo because it captures the end and beginning of two distinct eras in hockey. It was taken in the twilight of the upstart WHA. In 1979, both Howe and Gretzky moved on the NHL. Gordie's amazing career ended with a final year in the NHL and Gretzky's Oilers began a hockey dynasty that would change the game forever.

Gordie Howe is the consummate Canadian. He was born in a small town, grew up in the Paris of the Prairies and learned the value of a hard day's work from his father. He left home at 16 to pursue his career. He played in the NHL during five different decades, won four Stanley Cups, and played in more professional hockey games than anyone ever will play. He set a personal best for points when he was 40 years old. He got the chance to play on a line with two of his sons (a dream I hope to fulfill when my boys get older).

Gordie Howe was tough, skilled, and humble beyond belief. The first professional hockey games I got to watch were WHA games in Edmonton. At first, I wanted to cheer against him because I was an Oilers fan. As the game wore on, though, I was amazed at how good the old guy with the grey hair was. I had no idea that he was actually playing in his 31st consecutive season of professional hockey. When I think about it now, I am absolutely amazed. Gordie Howe's story is a real life storybook for many Canadian kids. Throughout his career, he was an incredible ambassador for our country and an impeccable role model.

There are some honorable mentions to this list. Gordon Pinsent, Gordon's Canadian Gin, Gord Bamford, Gordon from Sesame Street and the Barenaked Ladies first album, Gordon all deserve mention (and perhaps further exploration).

Canada is a vast country full of inspirational people. For me, these three men represent so much of what is great about Canada. Do yourself a favor this Canada Day. Listen to a little Lightfoot, rock out to a lot of Hip and try your own version of a Gordie Howe Hat Trick - score a goal, help out and play hard. When you are done playing, drink some beer to celebrate your country and your accomplishments.

You'll be happy you did!