Category: education

How Fifteen Year Olds Helped My Writing Schedule

This is a real story about something that happened to me last week. Let me preface it with a bit of background.

I am EXPECTING this year to be successful in many areas.  One of those areas is my writing career. I took the time on January 1 to make a very detailed and specific daily schedule for myself in hopes of increasing my productivity.

And then I started watching a TV marathon…

Argh! I’ve threatened more than once to unplug the darn thing (and probably should). Instead of beating myself up too much, I determined to move forward, forgetting the week of wasted evenings.

Except, the struggle to get up at the appointed time is real! Strike two!

As my return to work as a secondary school teacher approaches, a new solution presented itself. Part of the preparation involves what’s called ‘work hardening’ – going in on a voluntary basis for short stints to acclimate myself back into the environment.

I went in for eighty minutes and, well… it was terrible! (See the picture at the top? It wasn’t like that…)

Last year’s Grade 9s hadn’t really matured that much… The crashing of lockers during break. The raging teenage hormones. The overall chaos! I’m experiencing tightness in my chest and shortness of breath just thinking about it!

When I go back in February, I will be returning on a half time basis. I can choose which two of my regular four classes I want to teach.  Originally it made sense to me to go in during the afternoons. The detailed schedule I’d worked out for myself in paragraph two had me up early to get some writing done and then off to school after lunch. But that meant taking on English 9 followed by a mixed group of Drama students.  After that first experience, it occurred to me that Grade 9 might not be the best option when I had the choice of a much more mature group of English 12 students first thing in the morning. The only problem with that scenario is, I really want to take the D block Drama class, but that would leave several hours in between teaching assignments.

Then it hit me. If I went in first thing in the morning to teach English 12, I would have three and a half glorious hours to do my writing before it was time to teach Drama. Not only would I avoid the Grade 9s (the Barenaked Ladies didn’t make a song about it for nothing… just sayin!) I would also be forced to get up early each day instead of frittering my time away. Perfect!

Funny how a possible negative can turn into something positive. Thanks to last year’s Grade 9s for helping me see the light!

Even Old Dogs Can Learn New Tricks

Who knew after seventeen years as a Drama teacher I could still feel stage fright? (Not from being on stage, as I will explain…) In that time I’ve directed and produced somewhere around thirty shows, but my experience in drama goes beyond that to involvement in church productions, practice teaching, and my role as a playwright. Yet it never ceases to amaze me that I still learn new things with each production.

Recently my extra-curricular group, the ‘KodiActs’, performed one of my published plays called ‘Ali and the Magic Lamp’. It’s a twisted parody of the classic tale where Ali is a skateboarding teenager and Genie has attitude to spare. The troupe performed four shows over a two day period and by all accounts it was a smashing success. The audience had no idea the anxiety that took place before the show or the somewhat scary turn of events backstage during the last performance.
Crisis number one: My school does not have a stage so every show we have to rent one and construct everything from the ground up, including a complicated truss system for hanging the lights and every
thing else that goes with it. I have a lot of confidence in my ability to direct and produce a show. Inevitably, despite set backs and various crisis situations, everything seems to come together. However, I have no illusions about my abilities when it comes to construction. I’ve always relied on people who are more mechanically inclined (most notably my husband) to help me with these aspects. This year, however, my husband was away working and I had to rely on my own abilities to get the job done. I had a few sleepless nights just thinking about the logistics of ladders, and power tools…

Of course, I’ve seen it done dozens of times, but this time I was actually the foreman, showing students how to bolt together a thirty-two foot truss and then raise and mount it above the stage. I had to demonstrate how and where to screw all the stage flats together to make the backdrop, making sure the twelve foot centre archway didn’t come crashing down in the process. I had to help string electrical cable and hang heavy (and expensive!) stage lights, although I did find a brave volunteer to climb the ladder who was also stronger than I,  to make sure they were clamped in place and wouldn’t come loose during the show.

In all, it was a fantastic learning experience for me. it showed me that I could do this part of the job. I’d often wondered how I would manage without my right hand man there to help me, and now I know I can do it. It gave me a new sense of accomplishment.

But that’s not the whole story…  Enter ‘Crisis number two’: During our final performance, one of the actors had a seizure on stage. (She is being tested for epilepsy and had a similar incident last year backstage. But this time it happened on stage during a scene!)

I was so proud of how my other young actors handled things. They’ve been trained by the old motto, “The show must go on,” so her scene partner ad-libbed his way through the initial awkwardness and I immediately called for lights and music. When I got backstage, she was out cold. With the help of another teacher and a couple of other actors we managed to get her off the stage and out into the foyer. Her parents were called immediately, (we have a contingency plan in place since the incident last year) and the rest of the play went forward with her understudy completing the play.

Although there was a longer than normal scene break at one point, some of the audience didn’t even know what happened. I mentioned it at the end of the show and the student in question got a nice round of applause. Meanwhile, she had been ‘out’ for almost five minutes in total. Her parents took her to emergency and she was disoriented when she came to, but she was otherwise alright.

This was another first for me. I’ve had actors sick and throwing up backstage; panic attacks, last minute substitutions, and as I said, one similar incident with a seizure (but at least it was off stage!) It just goes to show that even when you think you’ve seen it all, something new is bound to happen. Like I said, even this old dog can learn a few new tricks.


Read Widely

I am a teacher by profession and one year we tried a literacy initiative at our secondary school that divided part of the student population into small reading groups based on reading level, comprehension, and fluency. Each small groushutterstock_307383305p was assigned a different staff member (even those that aren’t in the English department) and for thirty minutes three times a week, the groups got together to read and discuss books. That’s it. No tests. No questions. Nothing but the enjoyment of good literature.

At first, skeptics wondered at the practicality of such a project. It was obviously taking time away from other subjects. As well, how would the students respond? They were being put into multi-age, multi-grade groups. Wouldn’t those at the lower end of the reading scale feel embarrassed to be reading with students up to two grades younger than they were?

As it turns out, the project was a huge success. Test scores done at the end of the year showed a dramatic increase in all areas of reading competency. The vast majority of students loved the experience, saying it helped them gain confidence as readers. Many even reported that they were doing more reading at home and spending less time playing video games. Now if that isn’t success, I don’t know what is!

It just goes to show that reading is a worthy activity for so many reasons. So keep on reading, folks!



Thank You Mr. Meginbir

Sometimes i am asked when I knew I wanted to be a writer. There are probably several instances, but here is one that I remember quite vividly.

The typewriter I used back then

The typewriter I used back then

I was writing a short story in my Grade Twelve English class about a man who lost everything in the 1929 economic crash known as ‘Black Monday’. I have no clue what inspired me to write that story – perhaps we were learning about it in Social Studies, but I do recall how frustrated I felt during the writing process.

I recognized the need for more research but didn’t have the time (or the inclination…) to dig into the history beyond what I already knew. I was also frustrated with the chore of editing and moving various parts around to better say what I wanted to say. In those days there were no computers, so it was a matter of scratching and scribbling with pen until the pages were riddled with arrows and big bold instructions to INSERT HERE. Typing the final draft wasn’t much better, since whiteout could only go so far before one was forced to start over.

The story was good, but the real version in my mind was so much better. Despite my lack of personal satisfaction, my teacher, Mr. Meginbir, praised the story and asked my permission to read it aloud. I grudgingly agreed, feeling embarrassed to have my thoughts on display. Later that year he gave me a brochure for a writing camp. He thought my writing had potential and suggested I check it out. I remember looking at that brochure and wishing… 

I did not go, but the pull was strong. The voice inside my head that said, “You’re not good enough,” was probably the thing that kept me home. 

However, I think Mr. Meginbir’s encouragement was the first inkling that writing was actually a possibility for me. I went on to university that next fall and majored in visual arts, which remained my primary creative outlet for several years. Still, the writing seed had been planted. When I finally gave in and started clacking away, the soil was already ready. It was many more years before I felt brave enough to share my writing with anyone and even more before I saw my words in print. But I see that time in Grade Twelve English as a turning point in how I viewed myself. 

I’ve Been Schooled

School is about to begin and I can’t help thinking about the many years I’ve been part of this ‘world’…

 Public School Teacher: I’ve done my time in the public arena, let me tell you. I started out back in 1984 when I finished my teaching degree, and knew I’d found the perfect profession! Perhaps I was idealistic, but I seriously loved my job as an intern in a Saskatoon High School as a senior Art teacher. Several moves, pregnancies and choices to ‘stay at home’ to raise my own kids interrupted the ‘bliss’, but throughout those years, I maintained my certification in five provinces/territories and did lots of substitute teaching to help supplement the family income. I did one year as a Kindergarten teacher back in the eighties – an experience that definitely reaffirmed my calling as a HIGH SCHOOL teacher.

I reentered the teaching force on a full time basis back in 2001, and for the most part, I still love my job. Of course, I teach all the things I’m passionate about – Art, Drama and English – so what could be better? (Being able to write full time, perhaps?) In any case, I can’t imagine having to get up each day and go to a job I hated. For that, I am very grateful.

Homeschool Mom: During my ‘stay at home’ years, I decided to homeschool my four children. I had been fascinated by the movement even back in my University days when one of my professors told us he and his wife ‘Unschooled’ their children. I did lots of reading and research, and finally took the plunge when my eldest daughter was going into Grade Four. What fun!  I love the creative approach, so we spent many happy years (nine to be specific) doing projects, reading good books, and just enjoying each others company and the discovery of learning that went with it. I used all kinds of different resources, but I always liked to put my own creative spin on things. Charlotte Mason soon became my hero and I still try to incorporate much of her philosophy into my classroom. She believed in reading lots of good books, learning English through ‘real’ writing and reading, Science through observation, Socials through History – basically, a classical education with lots of hands on. (Of course, her recommendation that children should be introduced to Shakespeare as early as Grade Two brought a resounding ‘YES!” from this Bard Buff!) All in all, I think my children appreciated and benefited from those years we spend discovering together. I know I wouldn’t trade them for anything.

Fourth Generation: Interestingly, I am a fourth generation teacher. In fact, most of the females on my mother’s side were/are teachers or involved in the education industry in one way or another. I had wonderfully creative mentors within my own family to look to or to swap ideas with in both my professional career and my homeschool days. My own mother was a huge inspiration to me in so many ways. She taught me (literally – she taught me Grade Six) what a good teacher is supposed to look like, and I am honored to follow in her footsteps.

Still a Student: Okay, I admit it. I’m a nerd cause I love going to school. Honestly, I thrive on learning new things. Even though I am not formally taking any classes at the moment, I think it behooves each of us to remain life long learners – people who are curious about things and just want to learn more. I know I have been on a steep learning curve when it comes to marketing, promotions, and everything related to using technology. I also recognize my ongoing status as ‘student’ when it comes to the writing process itself. Finally, as a Christian, I know I will be a purpetual pupil as I sit at the Master’s feet.

My dear friend Jacqueline Millen – one of the most vibrant people I’ve ever had the pleasure to know – said it well when she stated that ‘to stop learning and growing is to die’. She did die several years ago at age 87, but let me tell you, she put her words into practice. Jacqueline was a petite little adventurer with a French Canadian accent who was young at heart to the end. She was so much fun to be around – one of those people you actually WANTED to be near. Even in those latter years, she was trying new things, going places, and learning, learning, learning. She was fascinated by all kinds of topics, did lots of reading, tried new things (like line dancing and even climbed a mountain!) and always kept up with the latest fashions. (No frumpy ‘granny’ duds for her!) Most of all, though, she loved Jesus, and had a voracious appetite for spiritual food. She was the embodiment of a ‘life long learner’.

So, whether you are on the teaching or the student end of the spectrum; whether you homeschool or you are part of the public system; or whether you have been around for a long time or not so much – this is a great time to reflect on your own learning journey. Just when we think we’ve arrived there is something new around the corner. But then maybe the process is what is really important in this traverse after all.

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