Friday, August 17, 2012

Becoming a Teacher

It's a great profession...if you have the aptitude for it!
Imparting knowledge to students is not only a responsibility
but also may be the most rewarding of all vocations.

                                          How to Teach...requires Technique.
                                          How to Inspire...requires Insight and Imagination
                                          Being Creative...captures Attention and Control

Throughout High School years (5 years at my time of education) I had in mind
a “dream job” for my future.  To be an airline stewardess was the ultimate! 
Travel across Canada or overseas was “my ideal”...getting paid for visits to
Vancouver, Montreal or White Horse...and maybe in to Rome, London
or Paris.  Inquiry into this vocation killed my “dream”. 
Trans Canada required a stewardess to have nurse-degree qualification; also,
the maximum height allowed for a candidate was 5 feet 6 inches.  Now What? 
Had no idea, except possibly going to MacDonald Institute in Guelph to study
Home Economics...(this was established in1903 which later became the University
of Guelph. Today the university consists of 7 faculties or colleges as now known).

But, I questioned, ”Where would this take me?”  I know how to sew ~ could
follow a pattern to create dresses, skirts, blouses and even hats.  My mother
taught me to knit. I had an inborn sense of  flair and design. These learned
skills had to be worth something!  Unfortunately, no funds were available 
for a  University education.

On Sundays, I taught a Sunday School Class and achieved some satisfaction
in teaching children...yet, I yearned for higher ideals...but What?
I discovered a College in Toronto where I could work part time (Saturdays
and Sundays) to implement monies to cover some of  my expenses.

The  first summer, I worked as a Hostess at a lakefront Muskoka resort.   
The second and third summers I traveled with a friend to British Columbia 
to teach children in rural a day camp...directing games,   
instructing craft-making, teaching music, overseeing available recreation 
and the teaching of Christian principles.  Every two weeks, we moved 
to a new location...staying with families of participating students in our 
programs. We traveled each and from  Toronto and Vancouver 
by train (coach class) which was an amazing experience...crossing the 
Canadian Shield, the prairies and  the magnificent Rocky Mountains.

Teaching…seemed to be my calling! Upon graduation, I applied to Hamilton
Teachers'  College. With an awarded bursary,  I  was able to partially cover
expenses. That summer I worked at Spalding’s sports factory in Brantford.

Salaries for teachers were low with only minimal increments yearly  One doesn't
enter this vocation on a “get rich quick” plan.  The reward is what you achieve
in the classroom from September to June.  This ultimate reward is the best
compensation a teacher has...knowing he has “made a difference" in a child's life!

Hired by the Board of Education for Hamilton-Went worth, I was assigned 
to an elementary school in a  new subdivision on Hamilton Mountain.  Most
pleasantly, I discovered that Marilyn, whom I had met in Grade 13, was to
be my teaching mate for Grades 2 and 3 with classes to be held in the basement
of a church...since the new school had not been constructed yet.  The remaining
classes were held in a nearby High School.  Bill Sled was our principal who
was exceptional in orienting us into the school programs.

This, my first school and first class became “gateway” to the teaching
profession!  What we learned at Teachers' College was the psychology of
teaching called Pedagogy:  the art and science of how something is taught
and have students learn it.  Pedagogy the teaching occurs
...the approach to teaching and learning...the way the content is delivered
...and what the students a result of the process!

This sounds great in the textbook and on a professor's chalkboard.
Becoming a teacher is actually the classroom sink
or swim....Marilyn and I were determined to “swim”!

During this first year  (of what I call experimental teaching), Linden Park
Elementary Public School was built...a great thrill to teach in a new school
...with all the bells and whistles!  Teaching a mixed-grade of 2's and 3's,
I became more accomplished at this task before me.  In the spring,
Principal Sled advised me that he had  recommended my teaching skills
and classroom be used by the Teachers' College for their student teachers. 
Mine was one of  several selected by principals whereby “practice teaching”
weeks were arranged during the Teachers' College course.
Principal Sled explained to me that I would be the Monday demonstration
teacher while two student teachers observed; then I would schedule the lessons
to be taught by them ...each splitting the day for the remaining Tuesday to Friday. 

At the moment...I felt incapable...but accepted the proposal.
What did he see...that I failed to observe within myself?
If he believed in me... then I must do likewise!

Time for a Self-Analysis!
I am well organized.
My lessons are well prepared and delivered
in an interesting manner “lifting them out of the ordinary”.
Discipline and control, I've learned how to handle.
I don't tolerate ”nonsense”  or bullying or rudeness.
Deadlines on assignments are deadlines!
(late arrivals receive a penalty per day in marks)

At the beginning of each school year, my chat with the students
encourages each one to “do his best”
Not all will achieve 95%.  For some, their best is 70 or 60
and that is what I urge them to achieve.
Each student then, is a “winner” in his range of ability.
This reminder occurs again in January.

For 15 years, I taught classes full time...spending about 5 years with Grades 2 & 3
...about 5 years with Grades 5 & 6...and 5 years with Grade 8's.  This latter was a
“Home Room”...teaching Mathematics, History, Geography, English Literature
and English Composition.  I was fortunate to have “student teachers” every year
in each of these grades.

During the nine months per year of about 35 students per class, there are
numerous incidents about which I could write...enough to fill a book or two.
There are stories about Jerry and Teddy and every class,
there is distinct personality! 

A Few Highlights of My Teaching Career

The Gum Problem

As mentioned above, there are many memorable humourous moments of 
 “behavior”, of antics, of comments.  Here is one:  While teaching a lesson,
 I noticed a student chewing gum; while concentrating upon my presentation,
quickly I stated, “Lucy, put your bum in the gasket!”  The class was hilariously
amused!  This broke the tension of the lesson…quickly their attention was regained.
Another incident occurred when a student, to avoid a detention time, hid in his
locker, then was unable to get out. Missing from the classroom, we located him!

Advice From a Principal

Gordon, a tall good looking boy in Grade 8, sat at the back desk of the middle row
...slouching his way through classes.  He was often a disturbance!  It was early
October...and he was already distressing me.  I was  not making any progress
with him. Contacting the principal, Norman Leek asked if I could concentrate
on just one good point about this student...before speaking with him.”That might
be difficult to find,” I commented.  “Try!  It may affect how you speak to him,”
stated Mr .Leek.  Returning to the classroom, I studied Gordon with “new eyes”
~ his eyes were sky-blue!  This worked for me!  It toned my voice amazingly!

South America

My husband was Chilean and longed for me to visit his home country, taking our
young son who had just turned 4 years of age in November.  I scheduled January
and February to be away from my classroom (summer months in Chile). With my
Pentax camera and film, I flew from Toronto to New York then to Quayaquil in
Ecuador to meet my sister-in-law, her husband  and baby girl.  Mike, an
agronomist (specialist in agriculture and chemistry) was training native people
to make better utilize their lands at the foothills of the Andes Mountains.
On the weekend, we flew to Quito, Ecuador's capital city elevation of
9200 feet...with air very thin...and difficult to breathe.  Scenery was Superb!

During 5 weeks in Chile, we visited family...with always the snow-capped Andes
Mountains in view.  The rugged Pacific Ocean was spectacular.  It was wonderful
to share and partake in their cultural activities.  Flying over the Andes en route to
Buenos Aires (Argentina) we saw the mighty Mount Popocatapetl...
(an active volcano) at nearly 18000  feet near Mexico City. 
We spent several days with Hamilton friends who were on missionary assignment
in BA for a couple years. The city is rich in history as are the Pampas stretching
from the city outskirts to the Andes Mountains. Spectacular it was to see
Iguazu Falls from (located on the border between Argentina and Brazil) from
the airplane...these falls are both higher and wider than Niagara Falls.
Our last stop was Rio de visit  related cousins. So awesome
to view this city's "young" rugged mountains, the necklace-shaped-blue-water
bay (gorgeous at night), Copacabana and Ipanema sandy beaches, etc.
This  Mardi-Gras city is a wonder to behold!
Our last view of Rio was the midnight flood-lit Statue of the Christ as we flew en route
return to New York City and Toronto.

So easy it  would be to write a book about this journey through South America
and our vast experiences of culture, scenery, rural lands, seacoast, mighty Andes
and the opportunity to experience and sense the Latin flavous in Quayaquil,
in Santiago, in Buenos Aires and Rio de Janeiro!

South America was on my Geography course for this year.  With an eye to
scenic vistas, lush and desertous landscapes, culture of the  people, the
personalities of their individual cities, the starry sky seen from the Southern
Hemisphere, the wonders of camera lens captured so much information!
Not only as a memory for my son and me...but for a fabulous presentation I would
make for our school's Grade 8 students.  This program was so well received by
staff, that two or three other Senior School Grade 8's came to attend this unique
personal  education travelogue of my two months' visit to South America.

Citizenship Award

Each September, to a new class of students, I announced my Citizenship Award
which at the end of the school year would be presented to a boy or girl in my class
at the final June assembly.  My class discussed qualities in a person that would
constitute good citizenship.  The list sometimes was lengthy.  In January, we
again discussed  this award....mentioning that this was not based on academic
marks.  (I  firmly believe that this incentive had positive results within my class).
Roger Snowling, a Grade 5 student, was the recipient one year of this award
which I had framed and presented at the final year's assembly. The parents of
this blond-haired, blue-eyed boy were thrilled to be in attendance!

Many years passed by.  I'm an avid bridge player, playing frequently in local
clubs.  One night in Hamilton, I noted plaques on the wall representing
winners of club plaque was won by a Roger Snowling
a few years in succession.  Inquiring from the Club Director, she told  me
that he was a teacher at a local downtown High School...she thought perhaps
a Math teacher.  She described him to me...sounded familiar as far as stature
and colouring goes.  One Monday evening, at her Club, she informed me
 that Roger was playing.  Yes...that was him...still a stocky build, blue eyes
 blondish/rusty hair and round face.  Following the game, I chatted with him
and informed him who I was. Surprised, amazed and delighted we both were!

The following week, after the game, he showed me something of which he
was extremely proud....The Citizenship Award ...still framed with the red ribbon
bow-tied around presented!  I was melted to tears!

Since that night, I have met other memorable who became a church
minister (amazing), another who became one of the Hamilton Spectator's leading
photographers, one who became a policeman, someone who became a nurse, etc.

. . . . . . . . . . .

Recently, I read a most interesting book....Try To Keep Up With Me
written by Bill Sherk, from Leamington, Ontario who became a secondary
school teacher in North Toronto.  He writes of his Day One experiences
 through to his Retirement Day...including  lessons he learned from teaching
and humorous incidents that occurred in and out of his classrooms.

I concur with him about many of his statements...About Being a Teacher.
With his permission, I share a few with you.

The most important  people in the entire  education system were not the directors
or administrators or even the teachers.  The most important  were the students.
(Even the Vice Principal of the Northern Secondary School taught a class every day.)

Show your students that you are generally interested in helping them to achieve
success. (in a speech by Father McGrath...a RC priest to 2000 Teachers for
Professional Development Day ~ Massey Hall)

                           The best way to guarantee a well balanced class
                            is to have a well organized lesson.

Eyeball to eyeball contact was very important in maintaining an attentive class.

Start each class by deliberately saying or doing something to grab their attention.
This is excellent advice  and also a great challenge if you try something different
every day for the 198 days of the school year.

There are just 3 Ways to Remember Things!
                 running into a glass door
                 learning the order of the alphabet
                          Association...IRA...Irish Republican Army
   e.g. near the Don River?...and  Erica...Miss America
(The foregoing was Bill’s method of quickly learning his students’ names.)

Impress these values upon your students...important not only as
students, but also future citizens in their society.

Re Bill's Retirement from teaching, Gord Hazlett quoted,
“Life is like a roll of toilet paper...the closer we get to the end,
the faster it goes.”

Bill Sherk is one of Canada's leading authorities on old cars.  He has written
three books on the subject.  He is a recipient of an award from the Antique
Automobile Club of America for his work as a Canadian automotive historian.
In the Wheels section of the Hamilton Spectator on Thursdays, he submits an
article weekly.  To contact

Dear was through the Wheels section, that I met Bill who submitted
an article and picture of my 1964 early February this year.

Merle Baird-Kerr . . . written June 4, 2012
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  1. Merle,

    This is a delightful reading for a Sunday.
    I will pass this on to my children who are all teachers.... very impressive for parents as well !


  2. Yes, I agree excellent for parents and teachers.
    Interesting that some individuals walk an easier
    path to their choice of vocation...mine took
    a little longer. Thank You, Sherrie