Thursday, October 26, 2006

Teachers

I know there are a lot of good reasons out there for homeschooling. I often wonder if I should/could homeschool myself, except that my children are in a good school. However, it is not because there are not good teachers out there. I've had a few that really touched me in some way, and I'd like to honour them now. I grew up wanting to teach like them. Maybe someday, that dream will come true?

I received an e-mail from someone who wanted to do a project on a teacher who had influenced native students. He had chosen John Delaney.

Despite the hardships I suffered going to a practically all-native school, often being the only white kid out of 22-24 students, for whom (until they got older and could think of better ones) the worst insult was "white man", I was privileged to know John Delaney. Below are the questions asked about him and my responses:

What did he teach? I know he taught grade 8, but he also taught art, gym and enrichment classes. I never had him as a regular teacher, but I had him as an art teacher and I was in a couple of enrichment classes as well. I also had him as a gym teacher.
When did he teach? I know he taught a long time, early 70's to late 90's or 2000? Not sure exactly.
Where did he teach? Well, he taught me at Main School and Ministik in Moose Factory,Ontario, in the 80's
How did he teach? It's not so much how he taught as how he treated his students. He really loved kids. He was kind and patient. He always had a good word of encouragement. He made you feel good about yourself. He once said something about having struggled with math when he was a kid and that helped him to teach it better, because he knew how to explain it better, since he'd had a hard time too.
What made him stand out as a positive role model? He had a moral code, and he made the rules clear, this is how you treat people, this is how you respect other people's property, other people's feelings. You put others ahead of yourself, you always strive to be your best... Not only that, but somehow he managed to make this "cool". Noone wanted to be the "bad" guy. He made you WANT to be the best you could be, the nicest you could be, the most respectful you could be. It became very positive peer pressure. Because it wasn't just him who would have been disappointed in you, you'd have looked really bad in front of everyone else too.
What did he do in the community besides teaching? He started up a YMCA group. And he did it all for free. It is the only YMCA I know of that is completely free. Through sports, he taught us about discipline, leadership, endurance and again,... respect, becoming the best we can be.
Why did he want to teach? Oh, I don't know, it must have been a calling. Some people just have to teach, they were born to teach, I think he was one of those people.

John Delaney died in April of 2005, of cancer. He was just over 60. What I remember best about him is his love of art, music and sports. Oh, and Jonathon Livingston Seagull.

Fast forward to high school, I had a couple of other teachers, with whom I had a different type of relationship, in that they were younger, and thus, even though they were still the ones with the authority, they were more like friends.

Mike Wong was never my teacher. Which I always remember with some surprise, because I spent a fair amount of time in his presence. He was involved in a lot of the sports and since I was playing most of the intramural sports, that is where I got to know him. He was also a born-again Christian, which meant a lot of our conversation also dealed with faith issues. Mike Wong had (what seemed to be) a perpetual smile on his face. He seemed to always be in a good mood, and that always had an effect on people. I often ended up in his classroom (typing/computers) before and after classes, just to talk.

Sadly, Mike Wong died pre-maturely, of cancer in the sinuses, leaving his wife with four young children. What I remember best about him is that big smile and his energy.

John MacLean was not someone you noticed right away, except for the fact, perhaps, that he was very BIG. WWF big. (Also except for that one time that he played the bagpipes in full highland regalia, which he never did again... I suppose he got teased by kids who'd never seen anything like that before.) Then you got used to that and forgot about him, until you had him for a teacher. He was my grade eleven English teacher. And for the first time, I actually enjoyed English. Oh, I've always been an avid reader, and I've always liked writing, but I'd never enjoyed many of the assignments I had to accomplish in English classes until then.

Turns out John Maclean was a football player at University, which explains the size of him. He also liked other sports, (is that a recurring theme in the best teachers or what?), and eventually started doing intramural sports in his last year teaching at Northern Lights Secondary. But he also loved litterature, and it is his passion for that, that got me turned on to it too. Heck, I even like grammar now. In fact, I went and took a whole grammar course at university, for no reason at all, but to fill in space and because I liked it. I love learning about how language works. I like litterature too of course, but just words all by themselves are so much fun too.

John Maclean was Catholic, and I often ended up in his classroom, even when I didn't have a course with him, before and after classes, to discuss many subjects. He wasn't the most outgoing and sunny person in the world, but I wasn't the only one visiting him in the morning before classes started. Others found something in him too. He was tough, in a good way.

John Maclean moved back to Nova Scotia to teach, and I've never heard of him since. I don't know if he ever had all seven sons he was planning on having for his football team. I don't know if he still has a little ceramic bulldog named Buster in his collection of souvenirs. I just wish I could let him know that I finally found that man he kept telling me I needed, and that I'm doing all right.

What do I remember best about John Maclean? Him kicking a chair hard enough for it to go halfway across the room, down a couple of steps and out the door of the classroom. Why? Because it got in his way. That, and the bagpipes which I thought were sooooo cool, (think teenager in love with anything scottish) and him consistently nagging me about me needing to find myself a man. (Which I always knew I'd never find up there, and I was right.)