Teachers don’t have to be perfect

I was half-listening to listening to some old songs the other day and my ears perked up at Delta Dawn, sung by Tanya Tucker, and it took me on a trip down memory lane.

My Grade 4 teacher wasn’t the greatest teacher. His style was worksheets for math. For Language Arts, students wrote paragraphs about whatever we wanted and, if memory serves me correctly, the only instruction he ever gave was a comment or two. I think students took turns reading to the class for reading and art was a mixed bag, which I will get to later.

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Mr. C’s passion was physical education. The boys all loved him and so did the athletic girls. He ran like a gazelle. Touch football was still a thing and it was obvious that every once in a while when he had the ball, he would slow down enough for the rambunctious farmboys to catch him and slowly bring him down. Farm boys those days, especially Mennonite boys, didn’t get many opportunities to play sports, but he still made it fun for them. Mr. C brought his Commodore 64 computer to class and we got to play Pong on it, so we were the envy of the entire school. 

His worst teaching skill was art. Art was supposed to happen twice a week, but I think we often had sports instead (actually, we often had sports instead for other subjects too, now that I think about it.). Some days we would simply draw. No instruction, just a piece of paper, a pencil, possibly some pencil crayons and that would be it. He would sit at his desk and we at ours. I have artistic talent, but I found it dreadfully dreary; I was the precocious student who would gobble up any and every piece of knowledge and resented the lack of teaching.

On other art days, we would sing. Art period was an hour, so for that hour, Mr. C would sit at his desk in the back of the room, after announcing that it was a singing day. So, for the next hour, students would negotiate with each other, goad each other on, straggle to the front of the class and sing. Singing in pairs, alone, or in groups. If someone sang a new song, we would try to learn it and sing it next week, better than they had. 

We rarely had all the right words, since most of the kids had to sneak opportunities to listen to the radio to write down the lyrics, as radio was “forbotten” for the Mennonite kids. We sang wildy inappropriate songs like I Met a Little Girl in Knoxville by Charlie Louvin and songs about adultery like Jolene by Dolly Parton. Puff the Magic Dragon was probably the most innocent song of our repertoire, along with Yellow Submarine. Maybe he had his desk at the back of the classroom to hide his smothered laughter? 

Thirty or forty years later, I still remember so much of that year and that poorly taught class. But maybe I learned more than I thought. We learned to take initiative, to work together, to discover things we didn’t know, to be brave (the one rule for singing days was everyone had to sing,) to innovate, improvise. It’s a good memory. 

I think now of this first week of school closures and I know that there will be lots of trial and error as families, students, teachers and administration try to figure out a workable solution to no in-class instruction. So, parents, take a deep breath and relax. It will be fine. It may be bumpy and frustrating, but your children will be learning, even though it won’t be “normal.” My art class wasn’t normal, but I learned lots. It will be okay. 

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