Last week, I presented two days’ of workshops at an Edmonton elementary school to a group of very excited staff and students. At the beginning of my final workshop, with a large group of grade fours, I told the students a little bit about my novels, as I am accustomed to do, before moving into my writing presentation. At that time, I placed my books on a trolley at the front of the classroom out of the way. Part way through the presentation, the students left for recess and I retired to the staff room to refill my water bottle. At the end of the day, as I was packing up, I noticed that my books were missing. The teachers and students checked the classroom thoroughly, especially the area around the trolley, but it was difficult to fathom how five books, a significant stack, had just disappeared. We retraced my steps to the staff room, consulted other teachers and came away mystified. The books had simply vanished. It really wasn’t such a big deal as books are easily replaced, the only real inconvenience being that they were my reading copies and, as a result, had been marked up accordingly. I was certain that they would show up at a later time, but the principal and assistant principal remained troubled, and there was always that nagging, although doubtful thought, that a student had lifted the books during the recess break. As I packed up, I noticed that the grade four classroom teacher had disappeared. A number of teachers were assembled near the front doors when suddenly one of them called to me. My books had been discovered. I was terribly curious. Where? How? And then the story surfaced. Apparently, the custodian had entered the classroom at recess and emptied the recycling box into which the books had fallen from the trolley. A relatively happy ending, I thought, only to discover that the recycling bag and garbage bag had been mixed up and the custodian had just emerged from the large dumpster with my books in hand. To the best of my knowledge, nobody has ever called my novels "garbage", but in this case, they certainly could have.
Calgary schools were closed yesterday and will remain closed today for the Calgary Teachers’ Convention. Although there are those people who believe that this constitutes a two-day vacation for teachers, in reality it is a wonderful opportunity for professional development, idea exchanges and inspiration for educators. Having just presented at the nctca convention in Edmonton last week, I can tell you that conventions are coveted opportunities for most teachers. Where else can you find dozens and dozens of presenters speaking on topics relevant to your classroom and life in one building? I haven’t seen the convention booklet for the Calgary convention, but I assume it resembles the nctca one, which was most impressive. I did manage to attend a few sessions outside of my own, and spoke to many teachers there, and I left inspired – inspired to share my knowledge so that teachers can do a better job of educating our children. After all, that’s what conventions are all about – sharing knowledge and ideas, discussing strategies and trends, and walking away inspired and motivated.
When I first began teaching, I naively contacted our Language Arts Coordinator and requested that he send me all ideas and lessons he had compiled so that I might use them in the classroom. I was stunned to discover that no such "ideas bank" existed. And so I set about inventing my own lessons, and formulating my own strategies, as does every new teacher. And I drew on colleagues for ideas and attended conventions. There are thousands of teachers in the same boat, with precious little time to fine tune all they invent. That is the reason I love to present at these conferences. Why should teachers reinvent the wheel when it comes to teaching writing? For the past twenty years as a teacher. writer and writing consultant, I’ve had the opportunity to fine tune writing strategies and make them work in a classroom setting. If I can share those with teachers, who can then share them with students, why not? I would have loved it if someone had done the same for me so long ago. Judging from the feedback I received and the evaluations teachers left behind, they truly appreciated my shared knowledge and, according to the dozens of e-mails I’ve received since, telling me how much their students enjoyed the ideas teachers implemented after my session, they truly benefited from that knowledge. If that isn’t worthwhile, what is?
On Friday, I will address a group of teachers at a teachers’ conference in Edmonton. While I was busy honing my presentation, I was, at the same time, reading Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin. This wonderful book is the story of climber, Greg Mortenson, who after becoming lost descending from K2, was befriended by the villagers of Korphe in northern Pakistan, an area without schools. Seeing the great need for education, Mortenson promised to return to Pakistan and build the Muslim children of Korphe a school. That promised launched him into a lifetime of combatting igorance by providing schools for children in remote areas of Pakistan and Afghanistan. What fascinated me as I read was how eager the poorest and most uneducated were to have their children educated, and how willing even seemingly unethical characters were to invest in Mortenson’s vision. Yet, it has always been so. Ignorance is the enemy and education the path for success and peace almost everywhere in the world.
As a teacher, I’m not sure I ever appreciated my worth as a teacher. So often we see our jobs in a mundane sort of way, plotting the day to day activities, and forgetting that they will culminate in an "education". It is hard not to lose sight of this and even harder to remember what this means to each and every student. Reading Three Cups of Tea made me appreciate what the consequences of no education were on a global scale, and while it might be easier to think about the positive ramifications of having an education, it is the negative ones that stand out in a ferociously graphic way. If you haven’t read this book, it is a wonderful story, an inspiring tale and a well-written book that every teacher should read, because it will reaffirm what we all do and the reasons why we must continue to do what we do well.
Thank you to everyone who checked out my new website and provided me with feedback, which was overwhelmingly positive. There are still a few glitches for those of you using Safari and my website designer is working hard to rectify these. In the meantime, a temporary solution appears to be to click on refresh if the site does not behave itself, and it usually becomes more cooperative. If anyone experiences other difficulties, I would really appreciate hearing exactly what’s happening and what browser and version you are using to access this site as this appears to be critical information for my designer.
Constructing a website has been an interesting process, especially because I needed one site to do so many things. I wanted it to be fun and informative, appeal to children and adults, and be useful to students and teachers. I knew also that I really wanted the site to reflect me and all my roles, which again are varied. But I like variety, in fact I thrive on variety, which is one of the reasons I write. In my writing, I have permission to explore and write about any topic I choose or even one that chooses me. Students often ask me where my ideas come from, but unlike some writers, ideas are rarely a stumbling block for me. I have a book full of ideas that have yet to be fleshed out into stories. Some may never be, but that probably isn’t a bad thing either, because some of the ideas don’t deserve to be. Ideas and stories that I return to again and again, the ones that haunt me, are the ones that eventually get written. Putting them down in point form and then waiting to see which ones preoccupy me is one of the best ways for me to informally evaluate them. If they don’t grab me, I’m pretty sure they won’t grab an editor or reader. So, it really is a good thing my life is so busy outside my writing life because the restrictions on my time function as a natural editor, and that’s a handy thing to have!
Welcome to my website and my first blog article. For the past few months, my amazing website designer has been pestering me with details I’ve never thought of in order to create this wonderful website. I hope you’ll find it informative and interesting and fun because those were the goals. We’ve tried to give you a taste of what I write, some of the fascinating background information behind the stories I write, and a glimpse of me wearing the two professional hats I wear most often: teacher and author. So go ahead, jump in and explore. I know the site will be changing and growing over time, so stay tuned for news as well. Enjoy!