Wednesday, June 6, 2007

A Little Bit About Me

It was almost a year ago that I gained my liberation from the world of high school education. After working in the field for thirty years, I had decided that because the job was always getting more challenging, and my own energy levels were not what they had been in my twenties, and especially because I had become profoundly disillusioned with the structure and bureaucracy of education, I decided to call it a day. Because I was so recently an active part of education, and because I maintain friendships with people who are still teaching, I hope my comments will have some currency and relevance for today’s teachers as well as the general public, who may want to know more about what goes on ‘behind the curtain’ from a former ‘insider.’ I do hope that this blog will be an access point for spirited but civilized discourse, and that readers will feel free to offer their comments and register their agreements and disagreements with my views. And that last point is the aspect I most want to emphasize: the views I will express here are entirely my own, the truth as I see it, but as we all know, truth is an often slippery and elusive commodity, which is why I hope people will respond frankly to my posts.

My Career

Although born and raised in Ontario, I began my teaching career in the 1970’s in Manitoba, and spent the last 18 years in education back in Ontario. For almost my entire career I taught high school English, something that on the one hand I felt was a very worthwhile pursuit, since I sincerely believe that important truths about the human condition are to be found in literature, but on the other hand I grew to almost despise due to the heavy marking load, heavier, in my view, than most other subjects.

"I like not the smell of this authority." - John Proctor, protagonist, The Crucible.

I should also tell you that for most of my life, I have had a somewhat jaundiced view of authority. To me, the respect accorded to it has to be earned, not demanded. Let me succinctly say that in my education career, both as a student and a teacher, there was much authority for which I had little respect. Having been educated in the Catholic school system, I was often both witness to and victim of the abuse of power. Our teachers, both lay and clerical, all too often abused us physically at the slightest provocation; indeed, it was the rare instructor who wasn’t a bully. A few examples will suffice to illustrate: once, when we were eating in the cafeteria, one of the students had the temerity to close a window. Retribution was swift: he was immediately pummeled by a priest who shrieked at him, “Who the hell do you think you are?” After all these years the memory is still vivid, so you can well imagine the impact such violence had on us at the time. Another time, in Latin class, a student, perhaps for not knowing the answer, was hauled in front of the class, slapped about and had his shirt ripped. The teacher apologized for ripping the shirt, telling him to ‘send me the bill.’
Never a particularly apt student in the sciences, I was often the victim of both physical and verbal abuse by the physics teacher. He wielded a heavy text, frequently slamming it with great relish and force on my head when I allowed myself to get distracted. Once, when I didn’t know the answer to a question, another student, surreptitiously reading the answer from the text, was told to slow down, because ‘Lorne’s kind of slow.’ Both he and the rest of the class enjoyed his wit, but I frankly failed to see the humour.
I could go on with these tales of woe, but my purpose here has been only to provide some context for forthcoming remarks and observation.

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