Morden Collieries has been a favourite discussion subject for Paterson through the years. (submitted)

Morden Collieries has been a favourite discussion subject for Paterson through the years. (submitted)

My teaching career has been brief but rewarding

By now the red-haired boy in the front row was almost electrified, so eager was he to speak.

It was deja vu, of sorts, when I was invited by Cedar Secondary School to lead a class around Morden Colliery Historic Park, late in February. There was still snow on the ground and it was chilly but that didn’t seem to dampen their enthusiasm for being out of the classroom. And it certainly didn’t dampen my eagerness to give them a crash course in South Wellington’s fascinating ‘black’ past.

And it certainly didn’t dampen my eagerness to give them a crash course in South Wellington’s fascinating ‘black’ past.

It wasn’t always this way. Years ago, I was asked by a Lake Cowichan teacher to speak to her class on a subject from general British Columbia history. She advised me that some of her students were in her class specifically because they were regarded as being ‘difficult’. I didn’t find this reassuring but I reluctantly agreed.

They were in their early teens and, as proved to my immense relief, quite docile. By which I mean that they listened to me politely and to all appearances attentively. All said and done, it was a gentle introduction to my speaking in a classroom.

But that didn’t mean I wanted to make a habit of it. My own school years were difficult, even painful. I hated school; I hated the regimentation and, often, I hated the teachers. Simply put, the idea of standing before a room of students, particularly younger students, rekindled memories of my own school days, my own brushes with authority, my own disciplinary lapses, and aroused my concern that I’d be setting myself up for payback.

After some of my own rebellious antics in class, what could I say if these kids gave me a hard time?

So, after Lake Cowichan, I hung up my teaching certificate, so to speak.

Then came another invitation, this one from a Grade 4 teacher in Cobble Hill.

These kids were younger than those in Lake Cowichan and I wasn’t interested. I’d gotten away with it once, I was content to rest on my laurels.

But this lady was persistent. She hounded me with emails and phone calls. I tactfully explained my reluctance. She was unsympathetic. She wanted me to address her class. Period.

The only way to shut her down was to agree and, one sunny spring morning, as per agreement, I showed up in the school lobby. She’d allowed me two caveats: that I chose my subject and that I could do a show-and-tell, the latter being something that has served me well in other venues. Almost everyone likes show-and-tell, particularly when the items being displayed have a story behind them.

And so it proved. From the moment I entered the room, a box of artifacts under my arm, I had their fixed attention. My subject: B.C. gold rushes. Everyone of all ages likes stories about gold! In fact, the younger you are, the greater your interest because it fires your imagination.

Almost everyone likes show-and-tell, particularly when the items being displayed have a story behind them.

And so it proved. From the moment I entered the room, a box of artifacts under my arm, I had their fixed attention. My subject: B.C. gold rushes. Everyone of all ages likes stories about gold! In fact, the younger you are, the greater your interest because it fires your imagination.

By now he was almost electrified, so eager was he to speak. The teacher later told me two things about this young man. First, that he was in the front row so she could keep her eye on him because he was her most challenging student. Second, that she’d never seen him so vibrant, literally pulsing with excitement during what was really a learning exercise.

I’m not taking credit for any of this. I chose a fool-proof subject and I had some great display items, from miners’ lamps to chunks of fool’s gold. And I had some great stories to tell, all of them true, all of them pulled from my repertoire of provincial history. It was a slam-dunk.

But the red-haired boy has stuck with me. To think that, if only momentarily, I lit a fire under someone who, for whatever reason, found school (as I had) to be challenging or frustrating or unfulfilling, was nothing less than inspiring. It made me envy those teachers who can attain this holy grail of the education process. What a joy it must give them, to know that, even if it’s only every so often, they plant seeds, not just of knowledge, but of enthusiasm!

As a columnist I don’t write just to entertain; I’m also part-teacher and part-preacher. Part-teacher, in particular, as my real object is to inform if I can’t inspire. To all those teachers out there who have the magic of kindling real enthusiasm in their classrooms, I salute you!

If I had my life to do over again …

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