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Ross Murray's Border Report
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Ross Murray
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is a freelance writer living in Stanstead, Quebec. You can reach him at ross_murray@sympatico.ca
Posted 03. 12.11
Stanstead, Quebec

ROSS MURRAY

Teaching your children well

I'm a month behind in acknowledging Teacher Appreciation Week. In teacher terms, that makes me tardy. Five points off automatically. Two points back on for using "tardy" properly in a sentence.

Yes, I'm tardy, but in my defense, the dog ate my calendar, I have mono, I just broke up with my dog, my self-esteem is down a quart, and I have special needs. I believe I get an extension.

So -- hooray for teachers.

I work with high school teachers every day but I don't teach. This is good for me, for your children, and for society in general.

That's not simply a self-deprecating bid for pity and a cheap laugh. Besides, if I really wanted pity, I'd get my junior-high gym teacher to write a guest column.

I know for a fact that I'm a terrible teacher because a few years ago I pinch-hit for an advanced senior English class while the regular, properly trained teacher was on sick leave. It was three months of glazed eyes, zero concentration, and not a single cohesive thought. And you should have seen the students!

Since then, my appreciation for teachers has grown considerably. Day after day, teachers have to deal with obstinacy, disrespect, foolishness, and chronic lack of forethought. And that's just at the Ministry level. Throw students into the mix, especially high school students, whose bodies are 62 percent water, 30 percent hormones, and 15 percent poor math skills, and you have a job that should be filled only by people who enjoy regular toenail-ectomies.

Yet the teachers I work with seem to genuinely love their jobs. Then again, while I work with teachers and appreciate their environment, their workload and their occasional crying jags, I rarely see them in action.

That's changed over the past couple of weeks. I'm preparing a feature story on teaching for our school magazine, and I've been lurking in the classrooms photographing teachers caught in the act of pedagogy. It's lurk work. For jerks. But it has its perks.

Among them is not just watching teachers teach but watching students learn. And by learn, I mean not screaming, wrestling, falling asleep, or making out, which is how you'd expect teenagers to behave under normal circumstances. Instead, they actually absorb information that, quite frankly, is highly unlikely to have direct relevance in their future lives, especially if they plan to become professional lurkers like me.

For example, I loitered in an Advanced Calculus class as the teacher jotted down formulas from memory on the board and spoke of the cosine of the variable intangible that determines the derivative binomial of the paranormal quixotic kumquat, which, as we all know, equals X.

Remarkably, none of the students stood up and shouted, "This foreign language makes no sense. Plus I have no friends!" I was full of awe. I was awful. Much like my teaching skills.

I skulked in a Chemistry lab with its inherent potential for explosions, which, as far as I'm concerned, has always been the sole appeal of chemistry. And yet the teacher somehow managed to convey that the fizzing rocks, bubbles, and minor incendiaries were a mere prelude to an understanding of the molecular reactions at work.

As the students worked out the chemical formulas in their lab reports, none demanded louder, bigger explosions accompanied by death-metal music at full volume. They seemed to actually care about the science. I can't even remember the last time I cared about the bonding properties of carbon. (Oh, carbon, how did we let the spark die?)

Why were these children learning and not out throwing rocks at passing cars like their instincts would normally lead them to do? Why is this happening in schools everywhere? Because children who are lucky enough to have enthusiastic, supportive and knowledgeable teachers will always be engaged in their learning. And if that keeps my car protected, I'm all for it.

We've all heard the belittling expression, "Those who can, do; those who can't, teach." Baloney. Those who can teach, do amazing things. Take it from someone who can't,

Ross Murray's collection, You're Not Going to Eat That, Are You?, is available in Quebec in area book stores and through www.townships.ca. He can be reached at ross_murray@sympatico.ca.

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