Monday, June 29, 2009

A Tribute to a Great Teacher

Every so often a wise old owl flies into your life and roosts there for a while. Such a person was Clara Manifest.* Several years ago I had the privilege of team teaching a class of students with academic, emotional and behavioural challenges with Clara. She had been teaching children with academic and behavioural challenges for thirty years and wisdom was oozing out of her pours. I was thrilled to be able to soak in as much of that wisdom as I could.
Clara knew that you can’t make a square peg fit through a round hole and when you try you only succeed in frustrating yourself and those around you. It is pointless to push your students if they are going through horrible experiences at home or if their medications aren’t working the way that they should,. You are wiser to give them the support and compassion that they need, tolerate the behaviour as best you can and somehow get through the day.
Clara believed that a gentle answer quiets anger. When the tempers flared and the behaviours got interesting Clara lowered her voice and talked very slowly. It usually calmed the situation.
Clara was a confident person who didn’t take peoples’ behaviours personally. When the children yelled, swore or threw things, she realized it was a reflection on them, not a reflection on her teaching.
No matter what a person said or did, Clara did not hold a grudge. When a student lashed out at her, Clara gave the student time to regain control, then she sat with the child and discussed where the child went wrong and then assured him or her of his worth as a person.
She was kind and firm at the same time. I never heard the children accuse Clara of being a mean or frightening teacher but they sensed that she meant business.
Clara knew that giving children responsibilities went a long way toward developing their sense of self-worth. In her class there were always fish to feed, hamster cages to clean, and other chores that had to be done for the good of the group.
Clara was emotionally involved with her students. Sometimes when we talked about the struggles that a child was going through her eyes became teary and her voice cracked. She also appreciated the therapeutic value of laughter. Many days we would get to the end of the day, the children all went home and we sat and had a hearty chuckle about the events of the day. When we saw the humour in a situation we had the strength to come back and start over again the next day.
While I worked with her nothing cleansed my soul more than pouring my heart out to Clara. She was one of the giants of the teaching profession and I will always be grateful for the opportunity I had to sit at her feet and glean from her wisdom.

*Clara’s name has been changed out of respect for her humble spirit.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Modern Day Myths

There are two myths that need to be dissipated. One is that middle age exists and the other is that old age has a way of creeping up on you. These are mere myths that have no evidence to support them. To the contrary, one day you are young, gorgeous and bursting with energy and the next day, poof, old age hits you like a ton of bricks. One day you are bounding out of bed at 5:30 a.m. to dash out for your five km run and the next day it’s all you can do to get your creaking joints to contort, allowing you to pull yourself to the standing position. One day you are reading the ingredients on the side of every can. The next day you’re squinting to read the headlines in the Toronto Star. One day you’re tied down with kids. The next day you are trying to squeeze a holiday in between your medical appointments. One day your marriage is on solid ground. The next day you and hubby are engaged in a bitter dispute about who mumbles and who is deaf. One day you are the queen of trivia. The next day you walk to the fridge and for the life of you, you can’t remember why you are there. One day you peruse the birthday cards in your local drugstore and chuckle all the way home at their humour. The next day you go to the same drugstore and read the same cards and realize that they weren’t meant to be funny at all. They were written by some of the great prophets of our time. One day you gaze in the mirror and think, “Look at me. I’m stunningly beautiful.” The next day you look in the same mirror and you’re shocked. You look just like your mother and what’s worse, everything is sagging, even your eye lids. It’s on that day that you become a liberated woman. You dispense of your bra. “Why bother!” you say. “Nobody’s looking anymore, anyway. It’s a way easier just to tuck those puppies into my depends.” “When does this transformation take place?” you ask. Well, it varies between individuals but on average you should expect to be transformed some time between your fiftieth and your ninetieth birthday. Thanks to me, you’ll be prepared when it happens.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Thank You Thomas

Self-cleaning windows, hybrid cars, robotic cats, YouTube, ipods to name a few. Technology has been advancing at a rapid rate and we in the 21st century are feeling quite smug about our level of sophistication but in this century there hasn’t been anything invented that has benefitted the human race quite like some of the technological marvels of the 19th century. Take the toilet for instance. In the 19th century Thomas Crapper invented the toilet. What has been invented in the 21st century that has contributed to our comfort more than the toilet? It is an unsurpassable luxury. I know! Although I didn’t live in the 19th century, I lived in Woodford, so it might as well have been the 19th century. I remember having to don my coat and boots to make my way to the outhouse on frosty winter evenings when I was just a wee little lass. No horror compares to sitting bare bottomed in a dark, spider-infested cavern with other people’s excrement beneath you and a stench around you that would take your breath away while you have your daily constitutional. No wonder constipation was a common disorder in those days. How our mothers ever toilet trained us is beyond me. Hmm! Wear a diaper and sit in my own excrement or go to the outhouse and sit on everyone else’s. What would you choose?
I shall always remember April 6, 1962. It was a most blessed day indeed. It was the day our first indoor toilet was installed. I awoke early that morning and hopped from one foot to the other in eager anticipation of using the new contraption and when I did it was sheer ecstasy. It was clean. It was warm and wonder of wonders, we no longer wiped our bottoms with toilet paper that was produced by Sears and had pictures of ladies in the latest fashion on it. We were going for the best - white single ply toilet paper that felt oh so soft. Life doesn’t get better than that. When I sit on the throne in the morning contemplating life I like to say a little prayer of thanksgiving for Thomas Crapper, the greatest inventor of all time.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Marital Bliss

Hubby and I have been deliriously happy together for over thirty-five years now. From day one we’ve been living in marital bliss. People ask, “What’s your secret?” Well we don’t know. We’re as baffled by our good fortune as you are. After all, Hubby is not stunningly handsome and he’s not rivetingly exciting. Actually, he’s a bit of a couch potato a lot of the time. And then there’s me. I’m certainly not a domestic goddess (unless peanut butter and jam sandwiches counts). I don’t swoon over the man and besides that I’m rather obnoxious most of the time. “Interests?” you say. “You must have interests in common.” No! Sorry! We’re not interested in the same things either. He plays golf while I roller blade. He watches hockey while I read. He sings. I croak. What is it then? What is the glue that binds you so tightly together? We’ve asked ourselves that same question on numerous occasions and the only plausible explanation that we can come up with is that we are not happy at all. We’re really quite miserable. We’re just too stupid to recognize it.
My advice to all of you young people contemplating marriage is this. If you’re smart, don’t get married. If you are contentedly stupid and your true love is as oblivious as you are, go for it. You, too, may have years of marital bliss ahead of you.