Thursday, 12 June 2008

Memorials Again.

I know I've already written about the philosophy of memorials here, and I'm not sure I ever really resolved the question for myself. However, no matter how I feel about memorials, I have one of my own to write today.

A few days ago, I was saddened, and surprised, to hear that my grade 5/6 teacher had died. Maybe I shouldn't have been surprised, I did know that he had cancer, but last I knew, he was doing well; I hadn't heard that he was ill again. And saddened, even though I haven't seen or spoken to him in seven years. For most people, I suppose, hearing of the death of an elementary school teacher would elicit the immediate, required flicker of, I don't know, not sadness per se, but perhaps sympathy? And maybe a few reminiscences. Not so, here. This particular teacher was one of the most influential people in my life.

He led by example, and taught many of life's most important lessons to the students who passed through his classroom over the years. I don't know of anyone who doesn't remember him fondly, who can't talk about something they learned from him, who isn't sad to know he's gone. He was that kind of person. Some of the most important lessons I learned from him include courage, balance, and creativity.

Courage was a lesson taught in many ways. I was always a shy child, and, let's face it, I still am today, but not in the same way. I used to be shy because I was SCARED. And feeling scared made me think I wasn't as good as other people, who were braver and outspoken. These days, shyness is just a defense, because I don't like to open up to people too quickly; I like to be around people for a while and get to know them without showing too much of myself at first, before I feel ready to open up to them. Maybe it is still a kind of fear, but it's a much different, much better kind. I have the ability to stand up and say "Hey! This is me!", I just normally choose not to. This is a transformation that began during the two years I was in that class. We were always encouraged to do our best, of course, and for me, this sometimes meant stepping out of my shell. I was often unwilling, but occasionally, I would go for it - and when this lead to success, I began to see that my fears were somewhat unfounded. It started with small things, and I've been growing ever since. One day, the class was playing softball, and I caught out the best batter in the class - barehanded. Or there was the day we were playing basketball, and I jumped to block one of the best players from shooting - and succeeded! I remember those two moments as some of my most confident ones until I hit high school.

He also taught us some important things about balance, learning from all parts of life, and freedom to follow our own interests. In addition to the regular learning on the syllabus for a grade 5/6 class, we did oh so many other things. Extra time for sports over and above regular gym classes (basketball in winter, softball in fall and spring) and extra French lessons were just the beginning. During our unit on the life cycles of fish, we raised salmon from eggs, and when they were old enough, we released them into the wild. We took multiple field trips throughout the year to go hiking on the local beach. A three-day class trip to a camp several hours away, where we visited several historical sites and a university. And, for the first time, having freedom to make our own decisions about our education. We did a unit on birds, which had a final project. The project was to produce a written report of some kind on any bird we wanted to. When we did book reports, we were given a list of a bajillion different projects we could do - some dealt with characters, others with plot, some with theme; some were artistic, others were creative writing, and of course others were pur analysis. It included everything from building a diorama of a scene to writing a new ending to doing a character study. Each activity had a different points value, and the only rules were that we had to do enough points to add up to 100 for each book, and we couldn't do the same project twice in a year. I LOVED book reports.

And that last point really leads on to the next one - creativity. The best example I can think of for how to demonstrate this is the "newspaper unit" that we did. The things he came up with to teach with a simple newspaper! There was the basic "read a story and answer these questions." We used them to learn how to write stories, and we learned about means of communication. And we used them to learn about architechture. We were put into groups to build small houses out of the newspapers. And this, in turn, led to lessons in theatre - each group also put on a play with their house and other newspaper-made props. But, most importantly for me, he was the first person to encourage me in the area of writing. Which definitelly has had a huge effect on my life and me as a person.

Although those are the lessons and values which I have gained the most from, there were, of course, many others. Respect, kindness, fairness, equality, patience - the list goes on. In the little bits of himself that he passed on to every student he taught, everyone he helped in his volunteer work in Dominica, and many, many others, he lives on. Despite being gone, he is, truly, still here with us. So Rest In Peace - you deserve it.

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