I mentioned Mrs. Gorsack, my Grade 8 Math teacher at Langley Secondary School, in my previous blog and that twigged a former LSS classmate to ask if I also remembered a teacher named Nancy Rowe.

My first thought was: “Hmmm, no, not really.”

My second thought was: “Teachers have first names? Since when?”

I’m a December baby, which means I wasn’t even officially a teenager when I entered Grade 8. Except for one other fellow in my class who also shared a December birthday, everyone in the school was older than me.

It was the final year LSS offered Grade 13, which means some of my fellow students were six or seven years older than I was. The boys had facial hair. Girls had boobs. They all looked to be eight feet tall.

In my mind’s eye, not a single teacher was younger than 60. The women wore matronly dresses. The men donned jackets, dress slacks and ties. They looked like they were going to a funeral after school was out for the day. Probably mine, if I didn’t improve my grades. Or cut my hair.

These people were deadly serious, despite the smudges of chalk dust on their sleeves. We addressed them as Mr. Surname or Mrs. Last Name. Yes, sir. No, ma’am. They weren’t there to mollycoddle us. They did not want to be our friends or share a joke or speculate on the rumours that Vancouver might be in line for an NHL expansion team.

They were teachers. They taught. They also looked like they smoked a lot and enjoyed a good glass of the hard stuff of an evening. Their complexions were wrinkled and yellow and they would soon perish of diseases we could not pronounce.

My early years of high school were filled with long days of pure terror. Being short and fat painted a large enough target on my back as it was. But sometime during the transitional summer between Belmont Elementary and Langley Secondary, I also made the fatal mistake of deciding a briefcase would be ideal for the transportation of assorted text books and notepads.

In principle, it was a good idea. I had the contents of my locker at my fingertips at all times.

The reality, as you might have guessed, sucked.

During one class, my briefcase went for a walkabout. While I concentrated on transcribing the teacher’s notes from the blackboard to my exercise book, my faux-leather friend was spirited away by fellow classmates more interested in mischief than Mayans. It ended up on a second-storey window ledge and had to be rescued. The fact that the person who volunteered to clamber over the sill was a girl only added to my embarrassment.

Of course, there is always an upside to every disaster. Which means my briefcase actually saved me from grievous bodily harm one day.

I was holding it in front of me, both hands clasped firmly on the handle, as I scurried down the hallway, not daring to be one second late to my next class. Some hero stuck out his foot to trip me up. I fell hard.

But my bulky friend acted like an airbag to cushion me from the impact with the linoleum. I bounced right back up, praying the incident had happened too fast for anyone to have noticed, and continued on with my sprinting.

The good news is I smartened up and ditched the briefcase before I started Grade 9. The bad news is my High School Hell lasted for another year before I grew into my bulk, and the older bullies flunked out or quit to father children so they could beat on someone else not their own size.

But I’ll save those stories for another blog. In the meantime, I’m going to do some research and see if I can’t figure out which subject Mrs., er, Nancy Rowe taught.

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Howe too lurn reel gud.

December 23, 2008

Call to extend the school day

–Headline on Page 1 of New Zealand newspaper The Dominion Post, dated December 23, 2008

I second that call but would like to add a new one: extend the number of school days as well.

It’s summer holidays here in New Zealand and, with Christmas looming, it’s no surprise the streets are filled with lost boys and girls. Wandering listlessly in the way teens have since God invented the filthy beasts, bemoaning their lives like they had a bloody mortgages to pay. Hate to break it to you, my fine young cannibals, but it only gets worse.

But I’ve seen these same kids wandering these same streets during what I assumed were school days. Although it’s difficult to tell in New Zealand, where term breaks seem to occur every other week.

When we managed a B&B in Gisborne six years ago, the deal included a car and the owners’ son. I swear Young Sam spent more time surfing than sitting in a classroom. And it wasn’t because he was flagging school or anything. But it seemed he would just be finished with holidays and along would come some kind of Professional Day for the teachers to shorten the week.

These days, Young Sam is apprenticing to be a tradesman, when he isn’t working as a snowboard instructor, so all that readin’, writin’ and ‘rithmatic (known as maths in NZ) was probably a waste of his surfing time anyway.

(Sam was a good kid but he did try us on one day by walking around the house wearing a beanie — what we Canadians call a toque — and trying to look all gangsta. Viking Woman didn’t blink — after all, we’re both Children of the Sixties, an era during which they invented both rock’n’roll and sex, and so have seen it all, sometimes twice — and simply asked Sam if he was cold. We never saw the beanie again.)

In my day — and you can stop rolling your eyes right now — we had to walk to school uphill both ways. In the snow. No, wait, that’s my Dad’s story.

We went to school every single day, from dawn to dusk, 365 days a year. No term breaks, no extended holidays, no field trips. OK, maybe it just felt like that way at the time, but my point is the education system didn’t dick around. Between the ages of six and 18 you had one mission in your miserable life and that was to learn. We had to wait until after graduation to have fun. (The fact that I’m still waiting is probably my own damn fault.)

No teachers’ Professional Days. Or Development Days, or whatever the hell they call something that is basically Teachers Sitting Around Drinking Coffee Days  (known to parents as Now What the Hell Do I Do With These Little Shits? Days).

Normally, I could care less about teenagers. They’ve got spotty faces and their music blows. Plus, I know what awaits them in adulthood and it’s going to wipe away those smug little smirks awful darn fast.

But I hate their ignorance. And by that I mean their lack of spelling skills. Now, I admit I’ve made some doozy mistakes all on my own — forgetting the “l” in public being only the most embarrassing gaffe I can recall at this moment — but those were due to sloppy editing and fat typing fingers and not because I was clueless to begin with.

I know the difference between too, to and two. Between it’s and its. Between your and you’re. Between grisly and grizzly. (That last one causes me to scream every single time).

From what I’m seeing out there (and even in here with my fellow WordPress bloggers), a lot of people have no idea.

I long ago came to the conclusion that the entire world needs an editor, and that thought is only reinforced when I see “lightning” spelled “lightening.” As if those jagged streaks were somehow caused by Mother Nature lessening her load.

Typos? Lack of a spell check program? I believe it’s more a lack of basic English skills. And I do mean basic.

And that scares the hell out of me, especially when I see newspaper editors hiring kids off the street simply because it means they can avoid paying the top union-mandated wage for a veteran journalist like myself. “You get what you pay for” has never been more true.

So, yeah, have the little shits stay in school longer. Maybe an extra hour surrounded by books will elevate their education, if only by osmosis.

It’s either that or we make them walk uphill both ways. That’ll learn ’em.