This past winter, I interviewed my father on five different occasions, with each interview taking place at St. Pete Beach, Florida. My intention was to learn more about the moments he felt were significant to him in his work in education. I also wanted to share his work with others, and of course learn more about my father — or “pape” as my sister (view and purchase her captivating photography here) and I call him.
I want to thank my father for being so open with me, and for allowing me to share his story here. It is a sweet privilege.
And here is where the timeline begins.
Me: Why did you enter the field of education, and when was that?
Guy: I started teaching a swimming course when I was 16 years old. That was really my first experience in education. And then when I finished college* I had an offer to work in a bank, but it didn’t pay my student loans, so at the last minute (August 15 and the university semester started in September), I decided to get my Bachelor of Education at Acadia.
*This iswhat we would consider as the final year in high school now. During his teenage years, my father studied at what is now known as Universite St. Anne. Although the community was francophone Acadian, this was the only school in the area where the content and instructions were in French.
Then I taught for two years at the Clare District High School. The formal classroom was never my style. I had always wanted to teach Physical Education (PE). My parents discouraged me because I had a bad back — two slipped discs at 16 or 17 years old. The discs came back into place, but I had a weak back. And so if I took a major in PE, I wouldn’t be able to teach in a regular classroom.
Then after two years at the high school, I decided to go to Acadia to take a Bachelor of Recreation.
Me: Let’s back up here. So you you had been in a regular class, and you taught…?
Guy: …Social Studies, History (what they called back then, History and Geography). We taught Health with a book from 1948, and I was teaching in the 70s. Not one of the profs felt it was right, but because we were in a school that was predominantly Catholic, there were certain things about sexuality you couldn’t talk about with students. There was little about health like we know about it today — like how to eat; how to exercise; how to strengthen yourself and be in better health.
Me: Was that one of the reasons you didn’t want to keep going in the classroom?
Guy: That was one of the reasons. When I was a student in school, I didn’t really like going to school, so teaching in the classroom didn’t interest me greatly. But I loved working with people: with young people. I had always worked with kids in my swimming courses and in clubs for kids.
Me: So you wanted to work in PE because it was more in line with your beliefs; it was more active and more of what you had already done in your life. Then you went to Acadia to take your Bachelor of Recreation…
Guy: …and Physical Education at that time. It was a new program that started. At that time it was strange because they were talking about a “4 day work week”. Everyone was going to have a lot of free time for recreation so it was going to be a growing field. 35 years later, it’s not a 4 day work week but more of a 7 day week.
They wanted to focus on activities for the community, while now it’s about health and staying fit: to keep the mind fit and the body fit. Recreation is an integral part of almost every community. I was the first recreation director in Clare. It was a newly created position, but I only stayed a year (My father describes a controversial moment that occurs that leads to him being let go. The community was upset with this decision because they wanted the position to remain in the community and wanted my father to keep the position. Terms weren’t met and so…)
… I returned to teaching. There was position that opened up to teach PE from grade 3 to grade 7 (8 to 12 years old). I taught PE for 5 to 6 years in elementary school.
Me: I remember because I was really hoping that you would be my teacher. (I was a huge PE fanatic as a kid, and the idea of my dad being my PE teacher was big dream. When I got to grade 3, however, he began his career as an elected member of the Nova Scotia legislature.)
What was one of your most memorable moments teaching PE?
Guy: One of my greatest accomplishments was convincing the school board to teach swimming to all elementary students for 10 weeks instead of the regular PE classes. There were many drownings at that time. Every summer there was a young person who drowned. The predominant industry in Clare was fishing. Everyone spent time around wharves and boats, so for me it was important for kids to learn how to swim. So I was able to convince the school board on the basis that if the kids could take the basics, they would be safer citizens.
Me: What were the basics?
Guy: Some kids could swim, but some kids had never seen a pool and would never see one because their parents couldn’t afford to bring them to the pool at Universite St. Anne. Like this, transportation was provided for the students and the “foyer ecole” (home and school association) raised money to pay for the buses and the school board approved. This way everyone learned artificial respiration and other basic life saving skills, basic swimming skills…if they fell in the water, they learned how to put on a life jacket and save themselves.
Looking back, that was probably one my best achievements at the elementary level.
During the three years that I’ve taught in this teacher training program, I’ve managed to find a comfortable balance between the two roles I play: teaching Korean English teachers how to improve their writing skills, and also teaching them how to teach writing. Although this division may seem clearly defined, the teacher-trainees have different needs compared to their students, so making space for these two contexts has always been something I’ve been conscious about.
However, my level of consciousness seems to have shifted this semester. Due to my position in the pecking order, I’ve become the lead trainer/teacher (the previous lead trainer moved back to England), which means I have new responsibilities and courses to teach.
Today I realized how much this has put me off balance.
In the hallway between classes:
“Josette, I feel like a mess and I’m depressed. I’m really not comfortable with this essay assignment due next week. I’ve never really seen an essay until this week and now I have to write my own by next Thursday. When you asked us to write a paragraph last session, you taught us step by step so I felt like I could do it, even though I still thought it was challenging. But now I don’t really understand the different elements in an essay and I need to write one so fast. My ideas don’t feel organized. “
In my head:
“Wow, ___ ‘s right. Could she/he have said that more clearly? That’s amazing feedback. I usually take them through each part (introduction, body, conclusion) much sooner than this. I usually spend a whole class on just one of these parts! I also usually ask them to read a few essays so they can get comfortable with the format. This time I just showed them one essay. Then in the second class I introduced all the parts of an essay and said “write.” Barely any support.* What was I thinking! This is so not cool. And I’m supposed to be a model for their own teaching? Man.
Maybe I did this because during next session (starting in one week) I won’t be teaching my usual writing methods class, so I tried to compensate for that loss of hours by combining that syllabus to this session. This took away some of my usual essay intro/teaching time.
Maybe I read their abilities wrong.
I haven’t asked for my usual feedback so I really don’t know how they feel about my course so far.
Maybe I took into account the feedback I got from last semester’s participants when some said the course was “too slow”.
Maybe I just thought that was enough exposure for them to be able to write an essay.
Maybe this person is the only one who feels this way.
Maybe I’m super tired and have been spending too much time staying in the office writing observation feedback and feedback on other writing assignments. I’m not giving myself space to plan and reflect as usual.
More possibilities? I’m sure.
This participant and I have sent texts back and forth. We are going to work through this together. They will send me an email this weekend with what they’ve come up with and we’ll go from there.
I’ve written this post. I really needed the space to think about this interaction. Typing this description and interpretation has given the relief and distance I need to look forward.
I still need some time to think about how I approached all this and how I want to change things in the future.
All I know is that I am grateful for this moment in the hallway. Lately I’ve felt like I’ve been so focused on tasks and projects beyond the classroom. I’ve also sensed that I was becoming complacent about my roles in class. I felt these things, but haven’t been doing anything about it. This little hallway feedback was just what I needed to start.