Last week I was fortunate enough to be enjoying lunch with one former student, only to discover that our server was another former student whom I had not seen since she graduated from the school where I taught.
As we reconnected, I discovered that she had just graduated from her teacher training. This was exciting news and I offered to write her a reference letter.
Later, in our email exchanges, I commented that I had a steep learning curve as I transitioned from a career in teaching to a new career as an author/publisher.
Her response gave me pause.
She pointed out that it wasn’t a huge stretch because I told stories in my classroom and now I was telling stories in my books. Hmm… wisdom and insight from one so young!
Throughout my thirty-five year classroom career I taught: History, Civics, Religion, English, and Math. Did I just list Math? What did I know about Math?
Precious little – and that admission reminds me of a story that boggled my mind.
My first school was St. Benedict Junior High in Cambridge, ON, and although I was a History major, I was assigned to teach English, Math, and Religion to grade seven students. I was panicked and sought out the Chair of the Math Department.
After admitting my lack of ability in the subject area, she took the time to teach me every lesson before I taught my two classes. In my second year I was flying solo in the Math Department!
At the end of that year I was reassigned to teach Social Science (History and Geography) to the higher grades. I was ecstatic! My Math Chair, Mrs. B was not!
I was surprised, thinking that she’d be happy I was leaving her department. She was angry and told me in no uncertain terms that I was one of her best grade 7 math teachers!
Well… you could have knocked me over with a feather. She figured that I was successful teaching Math because I instinctively knew where the students would have difficulty and taught accordingly.
And I thought I was the worst Math teacher EVER!
When I taught English, I felt more comfortable since I almost chose English as my major in university. I often had opportunities to bring my knowledge of History to bear in an English lesson. One day, we were studying the components of the personal letter – email was still a couple of decades away.
We looked at optional ways to close a letter and that brought us to the word sincere. After making sure everyone understood the meaning, I asked if they knew the origins of the word. I got nothing but blank looks. “Story time!” I announced gleefully. I told them that in Ancient Rome, the rich had many of the rooms in their homes built with marble walls.
The marble was quarried elsewhere and had to be transported to Rome. Sometimes the marble blocks had blemishes or small cracks that marred the finish. So some contractors melted wax (cere) in Latin, and smoothed the liquid wax into the blemishes. When it dried, the wax was difficult to see, so the surface looked perfect… until the sun or another heat source melted the wax and it ran down the wall revealing the blemish. Once this practice became known, people would add the words sine cere to the bottom of the contract… without wax. Hence, the anglicized version became sincere and it means integrity and honesty.
When I taught History, I loved to tell stories about our prime ministers, past election strategies and outcomes, as well as stories about our Canadian troops in The Great War – or World War I as we know it today. My favourite was about the Battle of Vimy Ridge, in April of 1917.
Vimy Ridge was a terribly important piece of high ground in France that the Germans had held since 1914. Every attempt by the British and French armies to wrestle it away ended in costly failure. In 1917, the Allied high command decided to hand the job over to the Canadians.
Hey, wait a minute! Canada was still a colony in the British Empire, and among the Allied forces in Europe, we had one of the smallest armies. Why did the Allied generals turn to the Canadians?
Good question. Some Canadian historians believe there were a number of factors that contributed to the fact that by 1916, Canadian forces in France were considered the premier Allied troops – they called the boys Shock Troops. This meant that by 1916, the Canadians were the advance troops that spearheaded every major Allied offensive for the balance of the war. One factor was that they were mostly farm boys – young, strong, and with great stamina.
The European armies were generally made up of men drawn from the great urban centres and didn’t perform the backbreaking work on the farm every day. Another factor was that they were highly motivated because they were all volunteers, while most of the European soldiers had been drafted. Finally, when they disembarked from the ships in England, they found themselves under the command of British officers – all from the upper class.
The Canadian boys were mere colonists (you can’t go much lower on the social scale than that) – and worse, they were untrained and had no social graces. So by the time these officers were finished training the Canadians, our boys were infuriated beyond words. Mutiny against their own officers would mean summary execution… so the boys turned their venom on an unsuspecting enemy – the Germans.
Diaries of German officers found during and after the war spoke of the absolutely ferocious Canadians who had no fear. By 1917 our army had Canadian officers – who proved they could devise battle plans far better than their Allied counterparts.
Vimy Ridge was an all-Canadian battle – planned and carried out by men from all four Canadian divisions. They won… and the Germans knew full well what hit them!
All my life I’ve been fascinated by stories of the past, and I’ve watched – often in horror – as new stories unfold in the present. As a writer of fiction, I now get to create my own stories about humans and aliens on a faraway planet called Genesis!