We Tried to Bowl

Since retiring from teaching a few years back, I’ve been supply teaching here and there. It used to be in the local school board that retired teachers weren’t allowed to come back as supply teachers, but now there is a shortage of occasional teachers and they’ve opened the door to us. I suspect the shortage has something to do with Teachers College becoming a two-year program (and that’s after getting a four-year university degree), but I also think that teaching is not a profession that has the same appeal to young graduates that it once had. It is a challenging profession and becomes increasingly more so as the years pass.

It’s nothing new that provincial governments have repeatedly led an uninformed public in a campaign to vilify teachers and our education system in general. Whenever the word “cutbacks” comes up in government, Education and Health Care are the first targets. Never mind that our existing prison system is three times more draining on the coffers than either Education or Health Care. Politicians like to promise a “crackdown” on crime to secure votes, never mind that crime rates have never been lower. This is a subject for another time.

It’s not that I don’t agree that money allocated towards education can’t be used more effectively and efficiently. It never seems, though, that the higher-ups can think about working within the existing parameters of the system. They have to get out their axes and start chopping.

Politicians and other people who have no direct association with our education system in Ontario are unable to realize or comprehend the reality of the needs of the many struggling children we have in our schools in the present day. This has been written about time and time again and I won’t go into all of the challenges education workers face in trying to meet the needs of students while working within the limitations of the system. But when Ontario’s Premiere, Doug Ford, complains about the state of education and uses the example of kids no longer knowing their times tables, it makes my heart sink to realize how out of touch this government is.

I was working in an FDK (Full Day Kindergarten) class recently and while I was outside with the children, a plastic bowling set ended up becoming my microcosmic vision of education in Ontario.

I noticed the bowling set in the back of the storage shed where the outdoor learning materials are kept. I brought it out and started setting up the pins and instantly, an enthused crowd of bowlers gathered. (If there’s one thing a kindergarten crowd has mastered by April of the school year, it’s how to line up). I showed the students the painted line we’d be working from and they made a nice line behind it. There they stood, ever so patiently, while I explained the goal (roll the ball towards the pins and try to knock them over). I told them they would get one roll and then they’d have to go to the end of the line for another turn. This way, everyone in the line would get a turn before it was time to tidy up. And maybe, even a lot of turns if everyone cooperated. Everyone nodded and smiled.

As I finished the short bowling lesson and going over the rules, a little boy came trotting excitedly over. A wonderful, clever little boy with severe autism and significant challenges with communication. Those beautiful, multi-coloured pins were delightful to behold and utterly irresistible. He sailed over and leveled every pin with a happy kick.

Okay, no problem. The children waited in the line for me to set the pins up again. Keeping an eye on my happy little pin-kicker, I handed the plastic bowling ball to the first person in the line. She got a few pins down and I applauded her accuracy and sent her to the end of the line. As I was handing a ball to the next student, another little guy ambled over. He walked in front of the pins and apparently became completely overwhelmed with exhaustion. He plunked down on the pavement. “Move, please move!” the line called. He looked at them with a confused face, obviously not understanding a single word they were saying. I went over and said, “Hey, there. You’re in the way of the game. Can you please move?” He gave me a blank look and smiled. And then the happy little pin-kicker came in from behind and got another strike with the tip of his shoe. I took the sitting boy by the hand and led him out of the way. Set up the pins again. A few more of the kids in the line got turns to roll the ball.  Some of them missed. I consoled them with promises of another try later. Along came another boy. This one wanted to help me by setting up the downed pins and throwing the plastic balls back to me. Great! I thought. (At first.) This will make things move a little faster and more kids will get turns.

At first, my little helper thought it was funny to over-throw the balls and make me run after them. I was supplying, so I didn’t know the kids. So I assumed the best. But I started to have suspicions when it kept happening, even after I’d chatted with him about it. My suspicions were completely confirmed when he clutched both the plastic bowling balls to his chest and refused to throw them to me at all.

The children in the line waited patiently while I chatted with the boy about listening to the teacher and appropriate behaviour and playing respectfully and sharing. The game finally resumed. I think everyone got a turn. I hope they did. But it was time to line up for dismissal. The line dispersed and a few kids helped to tidy up the game.

It’s not the challenges of bowling with the students that I am thinking about with a bit of sadness and frustration. It’s the thought of all those kids in the line, doing exactly what they were supposed to be doing, waiting patiently. Settling for a couple rolls of the ball, when they were lucky enough to get them. Happy to get what they could get.

That’s what happens, a lot. The system is flooded with special needs and challenges—and I’m all for integration. But those kids aren’t given enough support in the mainstream. The bowling game is just a minor example of what’s wrong with the system. Bigger examples would include everyone in the class evacuating the room because a student is trashing the classroom. An Educational Assistant having to leave students unsupported because she’s been punched in the face and has to get checked at the ER. A Learning Support teacher abandoning his visit to support students in a classroom because there’s a six-year-old who’s stripped off all his clothes and is screaming naked on a table in the Conference Room. These are all things that I have seen. If your kid in this system is fortunate enough not to have intellectual or behavioural challenges, he or she is going to have the challenge of losing instructional time when things like this happen. Because one teacher can only do so much. And Educational Assistants are spread incredibly thin between several students who need support.

So think about bowling when the government starts decrying the state of a system where kids don’t know their times tables any more and what are these overpaid teachers doing with your tax dollars? I can’t even begin to imagine what this shredded cloth is going to look like when they start hacking at it again.

Image result for toy bowling set

If you would like to read more by me, I hope you will check out my book Corners now available to order in print and as an eBook!

Advertisements

The Joys and Pitfalls of Wasted Time

Image may contain: people sitting and outdoor

After I retired, I had some preconceived notions about the shifts that would be taking place in my life. After more than three decades of raising children and working, I looked forward to a fresh way of living life, a new path that opened up a whole realm of unending time. The prospect of long, beautiful days filled with writing, painting, playing piano and no end of other potential artistic pursuits filled my spirit with anticipation and joy.

Somehow, those days did not materialize in the way I had envisioned.

I’m in my fourth year of retirement, and I cannot deny that there have been sporadic allotments of writing afternoons, oil painting classes, and choir practices. However, even though the days of showing up for a job are over, those supposedly now-free hours seem to get sucked up in some weird vacuum. You know how retired people often say they can’t comprehend how they ever had time to work? It’s true. One hundred per cent.

First of all, I wasn’t counting on being tired. Being retired means being older. I simply do not have the energy that I had when I was younger. The creative time I have planned in the afternoons following morning chores and errands often ends up filled instead with a “quick nap.”

Another explanation for lost time is the luxury of not having an alarm drag me flailing from my bed at the crack of dawn (or before). I sleep longer, especially when visited by bouts of insomnia at night (which are growing in frequency). And when I wake up, I often lounge around in bed, reading stuff on my phone or toying with the idea of going back to sleep…I think I fantasized about morning lounging pre-retirement more than anything else. And after more than three years, the novelty hasn’t worn off.

Although time doesn’t slow down, the pace sure does. When I was working, I was making tea in my thermos and finding stolen moments at work to take a few sips out of it. Now, I can sit on the couch and nurse my mug for as long as I want to. Before I know it, I’ve been awake for two hours and I don’t have much to show for it.

Another sad reality—getting older didn’t simply readjust my pace. It also readjusted my metabolism. I wish it had left me just a little bit of it rather than taking it away altogether. Because of that, and in the absence of running around after kids at school, it has become imperative that I fit exercise into my daily routine.

I guess this sounds like a whole lot of excuses for why I seem to be losing (or wasting) so much time. But where I saw myself as a full-time artist post-retirement, what I have actually become is a full-time housewife and committed lounger. And it’s absolutely ridiculous!

Although it is quite pleasant to be free of the restrictions of schedules, time tables and to-do lists, I think it is time to concede that productivity in retirement absolutely requires some type of time management. And yet, I don’t want to be overly regimented either, because wasting time here and there is not only delightful, but strangely necessary at this stage of life.

I am also starting to realize that a writer/wannabe artist also needs some designated studio space to make a mess in—and to leave in a mess, if she wants.

Some things to consider for the New Year.

 

If you would like to read more by me, I hope you will check out my book Corners now available to order in print and as an eBook!

 

Beach Day

Image may contain: ocean, sky, cloud, beach, outdoor, nature and water

I had such a busy goal and chore-oriented summer. I realized once September hit that the only beach time I’d had was during two days of “Sistah” time at the cottage. Since I’m  feeling weird and antsy about not being a teacher any more, I decided that the first day of school would be an ideal time for the beach. I got up early (in solidarity with my teacher friends), got the house chores done, went for a sunrise bike ride and then headed down to Port Stanley.

I’ve been to Port a few times over the summer with the goal of getting steps on my FitBit and the beach was as crowded with people and umbrellas as a Caribbean resort. Today, the only living creatures I saw were two turkey vultures perched on the top of a life guard chair and a bunch of seagulls yelling “Ha!” to one another over the water. The beach was utterly deserted. An overcast sky crowded with clouds met the grey water with its slurping waves, the two buttoned together by boats slipping along the horizon. I took a quiet walk along the pier and around the harbour, Lake Erie’s familiar aroma of lake water and fish carried on the breezes. The late summer sounds of cicadas and crickets followed me all the way out to the end of the pier.

Image may contain: plant, sky, tree, outdoor, nature and water

Image may contain: outdoor, nature and water

After my walk, I drove to Erie Rest and set up my red canvas chair, snuggling in with my e-reader. The sand flies were biting something fierce, so I found a nice stick in the sand and used it to chase them off while I read. It was going to take more than some sand flies to deprive me of my reading time on the beach. My present read is “The English Teacher” by Lily King–a rare find for me because it has seemed almost impossible to find a book worth my time lately. This one is. It whispers to me all day to come read.

Following my happy hour of absorbed reading and sand fly stick-brushing, I took off along the beach for another walk. The sky looked as though it was seriously considering tossing down some rain, but the sun came out and changed its plans. The waves and the distant cliffs caught some light and the morning began to glisten. I picked up interesting rocks and thought about nothing at all. It was like being five years old. Long periods of thinking about nothing are the best part of childhood. Adults call it meditation.

Image may contain: one or more people

When I left, the sun was out in full force, enticing me to consider that the second day of school might involve a return trip to the beach to see the sunrise over the water.

Image may contain: plant, tree, shoes, outdoor and nature

 

If you would like to read more by me, I hope you will check out my book Corners now available to order in print and as an eBook!

First Day of School Eve

No automatic alt text available.

This is the fourth September since I retired, as crazy as that is to consider. Time seems to accelerate with age (visualize a rock rolling down a hill, gathering speed). As in the pattern of the past three Septembers, even though I’m not going back to a classroom, something in my brain is sending out first day of school anxiety signals. Does that ever go away? I thought it was waves of relief that I was supposed to be experiencing now. I’m feeling quite ripped off.

Labour Days line up in my memory,  ghosts of Septembers past. The house clean and organized after a summer off. Meals planned and prepped, cookies and muffins baked in big batches. Four backpacks filled with school supplies. Wrestling kids into bed on time after a summer of sleeping in and getting up long after the sun. Six lunches packed and crammed into the fridge. Getting into bed and beginning the marathon of tossing and turning that always ensues the night before the first day back to school. One year, after setting up a new classroom for a change in grade assignment, I spent Labour Day at the beach with my then six-year-old son and we watched the sun go down on the summer. I thought about all that would be happening when the sun came up again and had a moment of true dread. Change is hard.

As the kids grew up and went off to university, Labour Day weekends became challenging in new ways. I will never forget the one Labour Day weekend where we moved one girl into her apartment on Saturday, the next one into hers on Sunday and the last on Monday. I had an hour or two Monday night to pack lunches for the rest of us still at home and have a quick shower before getting myself to work the next day.

As lovely as it is to have summers off, the transitions away and then back again are challenging. One teacher friend of mine had a migraine for most of this Labour Day weekend. I recall similar complaints I experienced over the long weekend before school started again–stomach aches, muscle cramps, acid reflux attacks…once, I woke up on the second day back to school with abdominal pain so crippling; I couldn’t even get out of bed. I was mortified to be calling in sick on the second day of school. The shift to summer and then back to school again is kind of like being on a speeding train, suddenly stopping, and then jerking forward again. It’s a special kind of whiplash.

Of course, once back in the halls of the school, a sense of familiarity and routine come flooding back. In fact, you’re barely back in the building and it seems like the summer never happened at all, as if you were only there the day before. And you’re as tired as you were in June, just to prove it.

Now, on this First Day of School Eve as a retired teacher, things are entirely opposite to what they used to be except for the fact that I am feeling that all-too-familiar antsy-ness. Maybe, it’s just some psychic wave I am picking up from my teacher friends, all laying in their beds and staring at the ceiling.

 

If you would like to read more by me, I hope you will check out my book Corners now available to order in print and as an eBook!

 

 

Back to Work

No automatic alt text available.

It’s been a while since I’ve seen this old purple lunch bag. Yesterday, I dusted it off  and headed back to work at my old and beloved stomping grounds, a great school where I spent seventeen years of my working life.

When I retired from teaching in 2015, people asked me if I would come back as a supply teacher. Aside from the fact that retirees were ineligible to work as supply teachers three years ago, my answer was an adamant “NO!” I was done. On to the next chapter.

I’ve loved this new chapter as much as I expected to. I’ve had time to volunteer, to exercise, to travel, to paint a bit, to nap. Last month,, I was able to launch my first published novel–which has been a lifelong dream of mine. I am never bored. In fact, a day isn’t long enough to squeeze in everything I want to do. And yet, even after three years away, I still feel connected to my past as a teacher. I’m still reasonably young. I have all this experience and all these qualifications I spent years working in my off time to get. I started to wonder if maybe, there was still a bit of juice left to squeeze out of the lemon.

And I also thought about the extra income. Pensions don’t fund trips very well. And there are so many places I still want to see and experiences I want to have. A part-time job has a lot of benefits.

I got a text a few months ago from a former colleague that the Board was now accepting retired teachers onto the supply list. There is a serious shortage of supply teachers at the moment, and many jobs “fail to fill,” leaving schools scrambling for coverage for classes without teachers. As much to my surprise as well as everyone else’s, I applied.

The process wasn’t easy. I had to start right at Square One–resume, references, an online test that included high school math, a rather grueling interview process (something I hadn’t experienced since 1989), topped off by orientation–because 31 years of experience and a string of satisfactory performance appraisals wasn’t orientation enough. I jumped through all the hoops (well, maybe in some scenarios, “crawled” would be a better word) and my first day as a supply teacher was yesterday.

There was always this feeling I got when I was working full-time upon returning to school after a summer. One day in and I felt like the summer never happened. Like I had never left. Three years later, it was exactly the same feeling. A few new faces and a couple of new fridges in the staff room, but other than that, it was home.

My first day back was a busy one. I was covering for a Kindergarten Prep teacher, so I was bouncing from classroom to classroom, and in and out off the playground. There were so many kids–kids with no name tags, all these nameless little people swarming around. So hard to make a connection with a child in this circumstance. But it did happen a few times. One tiny child asked me if I would come and see his rocks. He led me out to the coatroom to his cubby. He wormed his little hands in past his backpack until he got to his coat pocket, carefully zipped to ensure the protection of its contents. His unzipped it and reached his little hand in. When he opened his palm, it was full of tiny rocks he’d carefully gathered during his outdoor time. Mixed in with the stones was a wee plastic stegosaurus. Something about that little hand filled with treasures (and the fact that he wanted to share them with me) caught at my heart.

In another classroom of older students, I was reading one of my favourite books, a story by Chris Van Allsburg (of “Polar Express” and “Jumanji” fame) called “”The Widow’s Broom.” We talked a bit about the meaning of the word “widow” before I began the read-aloud.  Half-way through the story, I felt a hand on my knee. A little guy had left his spot on the floor and came up to me. Normally, I would have asked him to go and sit back down, but something in his eyes stopped me. He whispered to me, “My mommy is a widow.” I was rendered speechless with this unexpected revelation (most teachers can pretty much count on the unexpected from children during the process of any normal day) when he smiled and added, “I have a stepdad now, and he’s my new daddy.”

After one day back at school, I have a renewed vision for what is inspiring me (aside from a pay check) to take a step back towards teaching. It’s not a big step. I can have fifty days a year without it impacting my pension, so I figure, a day a week. Kids are incredible little humans. I love retirement, but I have missed these mini humans and their unique and often complicated perceptions of living life on Earth. I’m excited to have a measure of this blessing back in my life and I look forward to the little doses of learning the kids will inevitably offer to me. My days are full, but the heart always has room for more!

If you would like to read more by me, I hope you will check out my book Corners now available to order in print and as an eBook!

Words Matter

No automatic alt text available.

 

My brother-in-law decided to change his name to “Diamond” one Saturday night several years past while he and his dad were watching “America’s Most Wanted.” I don’t think he and his father ever missed a single episode of “America’s Most Wanted” in the twenty-four years that it aired. My brother-in-law shared his dad’s outrage as they watched John Walsh inform viewers of the heinous activities of criminals who had thus far evaded capture and incarceration. One Saturday night, my brother-in-law was tuned in when he heard John Walsh say his name. To my brother-in-law’s horror, he and one of the fugitives Walsh was trying to bring to justice shared the same name.

“People might think that guy is me. I’m changing my name to Diamond!” he proclaimed.

I first met “Diamond” around 1979 when I started dating his brother. He and I quickly became “frenemies” out at the basketball hoop in the driveway. We would play “Twenty-One” or “Horse,” teasing one another about bad shots and gloating over our victories. Initially, I thought of these interactions as “joking around,” but over the years, I began to understand that “Diamond” tended to take these things more seriously than I did. Years later, I was taken aback to overhear him say to one of my daughters, “Me and your mother, we never really got along.” When I visited the house, I began to notice that a framed photograph of me seemed to be permanently toppled over on the end table where it was kept. I thought it was a defective support on the picture frame, but I realized eventually that “Diamond” was the culprit. Every time he walked past it, his mother told me, he would lay the picture face-down. It became a silent war. I would walk in and upright the photograph. The next time I came over, it would be face-down again. I began to notice the other family pictures in the house. If I happened to be in them, the picture would be glass-side down.

Would I have let him beat me at Horse, if I’d known this animosity was my fate?

Doubt it.

“Diamond” was born tongue-tied. Back in the 1950’s, the hospital staff missed this condition when they performed the usual checks. His mother brought him home and struggled for weeks to feed him. She wondered over the years whether nutritional challenges had been the reason for his issues later in life…but no one ever knew for sure. There has never been a label or diagnosis.

“Diamond” now lives in a supported environment, having tried different living arrangements throughout his close to 60 years on earth. His mother battled and advocated for his independence his entire life. He tried different living arrangements and there were many failures and disappointments until his parents found him a wonderful privately owned group home. It was one of his mom’s last wishes before she passed that “Diamond” stay there indefinitely.

We were all set to make sure that happened–until the place burned down last fall. My husband drove over and brought “Diamond” back to our house, and here he stayed until a new house was found and prepared for the displaced residents. He lived here with us for three months in the interim.

His brother already knew “Diamond” in the context of fixed family member, but the rest of us quickly realized how much more we had to learn and appreciate about him. One of my daughters who often  stays at our house thoroughly enjoyed being in his company and getting his take on things. Visitors to our house looked forward to their chats with him. “Diamond” is funny, wise, perceptive and compassionate–and always has interesting observations and commentary. He navigates public transit easily and has a set routine to his days that includes regular visits to his Day Program, workouts at the Y, visits to local businesses that offer free coffee, and his Tuesday night burger/Taekwondo adventure. His Taekwondo class had an 8:00 p.m. start time, but he’d be on the bus in his white, dragon-emblazoned gi and belt by 4:00.  There was no talking him into waiting until a little later to leave. And there was also no talking him into changing into his gi at the studio. I don’t doubt that he liked the attention he got on the bus–a formidable guy, well versed in the marital arts. I speculate that a few demonstrations were made in the aisle between stops.

I wanted to share a few personal details about “Diamond” as a segue way into something that has been bothering me quite a bit lately. Back in the “good old days,” the words that were acceptable in use when talking about people like “Diamond” were “mentally retarded.” Intellectually slow, limited. That little phrase sometimes got shortened to simply “retarded.” If one was feeling especially lazy, the word “retard” or even “tard” was used. Insensitive or bullying types often used it as an expression of belittlement when attempting to make someone feel badly (“What a retard!”) or to express displeasure with something (“That show is retarded!”) The word retarded and its derivatives have become offensive (and rightly so) in the present time. This is a pretty well-known societal fact in 2018. And so it saddens me that this word has made a resurgence in the era of Trump (and other non-Conservative governments), where anyone who is not conservative is bashed all over the internet and in face-to-face conversations as a “Libtard.” This cruel, inaccurate and derogatory word has found a resurgence. It is sneakily imposing its nasty little face, squishing itself in right behind the “Lib” as though people won’t notice it lurking there.

It’s the type of word that a kind society really doesn’t want to return any leeway to, in my opinion. After decades of shifting away from it and all of its cruel implications, why would we leave any room for it to creep back? It’s a shame that we have to resort to any kind of name-calling when we disagree with people who are not like-minded. But if we’re still thinking we have to do that, I wish that people would leave the “tard” out of it. “Diamond” and 200 million other people on the planet living with intellectual challenges have enough to contend with.

 

If you would like to read more by me, I hope you will check out my book Corners now available in bookstores and as an eBook!

Tennis, Anyone?

Image result for tennis

I’m not the athletic type. I never had the opportunity to play competitive sports growing up. I did try out for the basketball team in high school this one time, but after the first try-out, the coach promptly approached me about being a scorer/time-keeper for the team. I never got to chase a basketball around the court in my squeaky running shoes, but I did enjoy complete control of the big lit-up clock– including the deafeningly loud buzzer.

One sport I did get a little interested in was tennis. That started the summer I was fourteen years old while I was camping with my family. There was this boy named George at the campground. George was close to my age. He took to following me around and badgering me to play tennis with him. The fact that I didn’t know how to play did nothing to deter him. He was determined to teach me. Finally, as there was little else for a fourteen-year-old girl to do, I went with George to the tennis courts and he proceeded to patiently teach me the game. To my surprise, I actually enjoyed it, although I had no natural skill for the game. I even knew how to score by the end of the matches.

As a younger person, I played tennis in the summers quite consistently. My game was never great, but I could serve inside the line, get a ball over the net with a backhand from time to time, and keep the ball in play here and there. I was never the player someone would be excited to have as a partner during doubles, but I enjoyed being out on the court and found it to be a fun way to get some exercise, as long as my teammate and the opposition didn’t take the game too seriously.

A few weeks ago, I was out playing tennis with my husband as my partner, the opposition being my brother and his fourteen-year-old son. We all brought our own supplies of green tennis balls. The courts were full. This fall has provided ideal tennis-playing weather and several people were taking advantage of it that evening. Behind the courts are several apartment buildings and there are a lot of kids living there. And since these kids don’t have the benefit of a back yard, they tend to run around the tennis court area.

I was happily engrossed in the game, but I noticed that two little boys, maybe around six or seven years old, were tearing around the interior of the court area where people were playing. I figured they belonged to a couple inside the courts who were playing tennis and had brought their kids along with them. After about an hour of these two charging around, my husband pointed out that they had a basket with them. These two hooligans, obviously not being watched by anyone and probably residents of the apartment buildings behind the courts, were dashing around STEALING ALL THE TENNIS BALLS and putting them in their basket. These were the balls that people were using in their games, the ones that were missed and had bounced over to the side or behind the line. No one was saying anything to these two kids, although aware of the situation. Some of the players were even laughing a bit at the bold audacity of the little miscreants.

Mom of four retired Kindergarten teacher wasn’t laughing. I watched them as they made their way over to our court, their sights fixed on the collection of balls I’d missed near the fence behind me. Closer, closer, closer they came, their gleeful laughter becoming clearer.

I set myself between the fuzzy green balls and the boys, hands jammed on my hips.

“Ohhhh, no. No, no, no,” I said.

The two of them stopped dead in their tracks, uncertain of what to do with this strange word they had obviously never heard before. They both looked at me, as confused and outraged as puppies who had been interrupted at the beginning of a slipper-eating rampage. The people around me grew quiet and I realized there was a possibility that I was being judged as a “mean lady.” And so I adjusted my tone. And I said sweetly to the little thieves, “We need those balls for our game.”

And then, once everyone was back to paying attention to their games, I chased the little stinkers off the court, wielding my racket over my head.

Just kidding about that part.

 

If you would like to read more by me, I hope you will check out my book Corners scheduled for release in March, 2018.