Way Back When

I was cleaning out unnecessary files on my computer and found my retirement speech. I thought some of you, especially the teachers, might be interested in how things have changed over the years.


I haven’t had the opportunity to get to know everyone at N. V., what with busy lives, two different break schedules, and only working mornings this year, so I thought I’d take a bit of time to tell a little bit about my career. I guess this is my first foray into retirement role, long personal stories. So, if you want me to call the waitress over for drink orders before I start, please raise your hand.

I started teaching in 1976, at Whitefish Valley – had to buy a car and a map to get there. Deep Purple had just split up (temporarily) and so had Ike and Tina Turner (permanently).

Each classroom averaged three reading groups, all using phonics workbooks (which were later banned and used underground by a hardcore group of us believers in importance phonics), the Mr. Mugs Reading series and the Readalong TVO broadcasts. B. remembers learning to read with Mr. Mugs. I had the robins, the canaries, and the bluebirds, their seatwork run off on pink, yellow, and blue paper. I went in every weekend to prepare the next week’s reading seatwork. I hand drew, printed, or typed copies on a manual Underwood typewriter and ran them off on the Gastetner, hand cranked the first year and then (wow) electric. They came off hot and smelled like rubbing alcohol. Now we can type on the computer and send them direct to the photocopier, however, they only come out in one colour but then we could do red, blue, black, and green print.

As a grade one teacher, I had half an hour a week planning time while the kids went to library. The grade eight teachers had shops, home economics, and music periods to use for planning. I bet your sorry you missed that, Mr. F.

There were no computer graphics, so I copied pictures from colouring books and drew and cut out bulletin board letters by hand. I coloured handmade board games with permanent markers in a tiny a planning room, suffering headaches and the wobbles afterward. I laminated my handmade games with transparent mac-tac bought at Zellers.

I obtained my own math manipulatives by getting donations of straws from the burger joints and milk bottle caps from the dairies.

A field trip permission slip was five lines long and kids often rode in parent volunteers’ cars. I used a trampoline in the gym with students as spotters. We took off our socks and shoes and waded in the creek beside the school to catch water creatures. I had a live Christmas tree in the classroom decorated with big hot strings of bulbs and child made paper ornaments. The students held lit candles during the Christmas concert. We spent every Friday afternoon doing art, which I hung from the ceilings and taped to all the windows. I never lost a child, had a serious injury, or set anything major on fire, but I guess I should wait until after our field trip to tomorrow before saying that.

Report cards were hand written and took three hours the night before. They had an achievement mark and an effort mark, including handwriting or printing. Marks were expected to fit the bell curve. Report cards were written in everyday language. We wrote “Little Johnny is sometimes rude and doesn’t finish his work.” Not “Little Johnny is working on socially productive interpersonal exchanges and has completed a few assignments successfully within the allotted time with adult support.”

I thought rubrics were Russian puzzles. I called my anchor charts “posters” and the Care Bears were used to teach “Values.”

When I taught at S., Pet computers arrived. They were the size of ovens and a single programme had to be loaded with a cassette tape twenty minutes before use and then sometimes it didn’t work. No one knew why. You just rewound, and tried again.

We did not have to cover four math strands per term. Kids were cross-grade grouped by level and ability. We worked on a single math concept until our group grasped it, worked comfortably with it, and were able to apply it to different situations, and THEN moved on to the next concept.

The only acronym we used was SNAFU and yes, there were a lot of those then as well.

I learned to untie knots soaked in dirty water and partially frozen in place without resorting to scissors or curses and which children should not sit on the carpet without a barrier in place. I learned that no matter how disruptive a child has been, it is entirely possible to forget him in the hall. I learned hundreds of distracting toys to build from an eraser, paper clip, broken pen, and elastic. I learned It is possible to break the laws of physics and stuff a desk beyond its capacity. I learned that if a student is wearing skin tight clothing with inappropriate sayings and too much makeup, it’s quite likely Mommy will show up wearing skin tight clothing with even more inappropriate words and too much makeup. Or possibly Daddy.

I learned that children will call you on everything you say. I once told a rather active, but oh so charming, group of grade sixes at G. M. that they did not have a “License to Wander” and therefore needed to stay in their seats. After recess, several boys were moving aimlessly about the room and giggling.

I asked, “What’s going on?”

D. responded, “You said we didn’t have licenses to wander.”

“That’s right,” I said.

“But we do,” he announced gleefully flashing a slip of paper.

One of the boys had drawn elaborate official looking documents with bright red letters pronouncing “License to w-O-n-d-e-r”.

I took note of the misspelling, smiled, and replied. “Unfortunately, these documents are invalid. They only give you the right to imagine. So please sit down and wonder about how you spell wander.”

Well, now I have non-expiring license to wander. And wonder. And nap. And stay up late. And do whatever strikes my fancy. It only took 33 years to get it.

With this special license: I will read non-professional books for pure pleasure without jotting notes on post-its throughout. My most read magazine will change from Voice to Leisure Times. I will actually get to the clothes in my repair basket before they become “vintage”. I will never have to tell another soul to “Please raise your hand before speaking.” “Chairs are for sitting.”, “Rules and routines are for everyone.” “Remember to use your inside voice.” Or “Make a line, not a mob.” Unless my husband starts acting up.

On Mondays, at 7:30 a.m. I will not leap out of bed in terror that my alarm didn’t ring but smile contentedly and go back to sleep. I will take my first trip to warmer climates during off season while my former colleagues are shovelling themselves out in order to face yet another day of indoor recesses. I’ll be thinking of you.
N. V. is the tenth and last school I have taught in. I’ve been an SK to 6 classroom teacher, library/resource for JK to grade 8, home instructor, supply teacher, teacher-librarian, and English to French Immersion teacher, twice with L. W. whose early passing taught me that it’s not a good idea to wait too long to do the things you want to do. I’ve been half-time, three-quarters time between two schools, full time, on strike, and no time, taking four and a half years off to be with my children. I’ve taught in new schools, old schools, open area schools, and schools that were closing. Every school has a different climate of parents, administration, and staff. I haven’t had the chance to get to know everyone at N.V., but I have truly enjoyed working with those I have. I want to thank everyone for coming tonight, and for listening to my ramblings. A special thanks to K. for organizing it. It’s time to pass on the torch. So Dalhousie, and all you other young people, I wish you unending stamina and patience, wisdom and wit, you’ll need it.

**Dalhousie was a first year teacher whose name I kept forgetting the first month of school. All I was sure of was that it was the name of a Canadian university.

Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages