Category Archives: Teachers

Only child at high school reunion – memoir fodder

Only Child in grade 9 at Notre Dame back in the grey ages.

One of the two high schools I attended had its 70th reunion on Saturday. My old school friend, Nancy, whom I reconnected with nine years ago at our other high school reunion, picked me up and we were off – first to St.  John’s Church for a Mass and then Notre Dame High School across the schoolyard for the meat of the reunion – mixing, mingling and re-connecting.

Gee, I got it wrong. More mixing and mingling happened inside the church  before the Mass started. As Nancy and I walked into the church, I stared at people’s faces. One lady from my tine had a name tag on but I thought it read the name of a deceased classmate. She soon set that record straight, coming up to me and telling me I walked right passed her. I didn’t want to mention the death part. I had merely forgotten her married name and the “J” of her first name looked like an “H.”

More former classmates from my year (’66 for those who are curious) popped up and we did some reminiscing and reconnecting over the pews after we sat down. The Mass itself had readers from former principals, teachers and students – including one family doing one reading session. That was interesting but I didn’t quite catch the significance of the priest’s sermon focusing on incidents from his grade school days. Notre Dame High is an all girls’ school. His sermon was much too long as was the whole Mass. I was itching to get over to the school and do some more reconnecting.

We almost didn’t make it thanks to the extreme wind, blowing umbrellas inside out and threatening to have some of us do an impromptu Mary Poppins imitation (minus the singing). However, once inside and signed in, I added a name tag to my two “back then” school photos pinned to my sweater so people could recognize me.

I shouldn’t have bothered. Nancy and I reconnected with one student from our time, who also went to our grade school and we saw a few of those we’d already talked to in the church.  I actually reconnected with one gal I met at an alumni gathering two years ago. Carmel is a 1975 grad, so after my time, but I introduced her to Nancy and the three of us had fun reminiscing.

What was also interesting was checking out the classrooms and seeing their contents now. I can’t remember which rooms were my actual homerooms, but some of these classrooms had the trimmings of classes we never had – drama, music, a chapel, and four rooms with computers. Mind you, most of the computers had the old “fat” monitors. The auditorium still doubles as the gym, although the changing room has moved from the equipment supply room off the auditorium, to a a small classroom across the hall.

As one of the volunteers phoning old classmates, I expected a better turnout of 60s students, but the 50s and 70s had us beat by a long shot.  Mary, one of my other classmates doing some of the phoning said, “I had trouble persuading most of them to come.” Even the one who said, “yes,” didn’t show up.  No wonder I kept staring at faces and name tags and kept wondering why many of the faces weren’t familiar. Many of the ones I knew just weren’t present.

So what is the purpose of all this reminiscing? The reconnection with old classmates (emphasis on the “old”) helps me connect the past with the present. Not only do I solve my journalistic curiosity (oh heck, let’s be honest – nosiness), I can get some answers, maybe some peace about anything that happened back then that might be bothering me. Looking into the classrooms and talking with my old classmates, I realized that these were special times – not perfect, but times to be cherished.

However, I wouldn’t want to go through them all again. Maybe seeing more old classmates would be a good idea.

I hear Notre Dame is having a 75th anniversary reunion. In the meantime, this reunion (and any school reunion) you or I attend, does present fodder for writing your memoir.

More on this aspect next week.

Meantime, I ‘d like to hear about your school reunion – if you’ve ever gone to one.

Cheers.

Sharon Crawford

Only Child Writes

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Filed under Back to School, classmates, Memoir writing, Notre Dame High School, Only child, Only child memoir, School days, School reunions, Sharon Crawford, Teachers

Only Child views September’s new beginnings

Only Child age 8 Holy Cross grade school photo

September is too fast approaching and kids, teens  and others will be returning to school or college. I remember the mixture of anticipation and dread of that first day back after two months of freedom. Back in the grey ages I could smell the pencils, paper and print from the books – it’s a miracle I didn’t get high. I wondered who would be my teacher(s) and who would be in my class(es). Not all was smooth sailing for someone who was shy and quiet (then, not now. Try shutting me up today). As I write in my memoir, I had some difficulties with one particular nun in grade 2.

In grade 2 we applied our Grade 1 reading skills in exercises.

“Turn to page 12, exercise A,” Mother St. Helen says. She stands behind her desk. She holds the exercise book, alternating between glancing down at it and over at us. “When you are finished it and exercise B, you may quietly bring them up here for me to look at.” She sits down.

For the next 15 to 20 minutes the only sounds are the flipping of pages and the scratching of pencils. I read through each question and write down my answer or draw the picture required. Some of the students finish quickly and line up at Mother’s desk, so now I hear her occasional, “That’s wrong. How do you expect to pass Grade 2,” and “Good.”

I have now completed the work, so pick up the exercise book, which is the size of a thick colouring book and climb out from behind the desk, walk up to the front and line up. Nora and Michael stand in front of me and as Mother looks at Nora’s work and says, “Good,” I think I also have done all right.

“How do you expect to pass grade 2?” Mother asks Michael.

I hope I have done all right.

It is now my turn. I say nothing as I place the open exercise book before Mother. She presses her lips together as she follows along on the page with her pencil. When she reaches the bottom, she jerks the book at me.

“What’s this?” she asks.

I look down and read out loud. “Draw an X.”

“The word isn’t ‘X;’ it’s an ‘axe.’ ”

I have drawn an “X.”

“Stupid,” she says. “You should know better than that.” She whacks the pencil against my nose.

Tears well up in my eyes. My face must be turning red because Mother is looking a little strange for Mother.

“I’m sorry. Did I hurt you?”

(Excerpted from You Can Go Home: Deconstructing the Demons, copyright 2011 Sharon Crawford)

But that was back then. Now, with this September lurking near, it might be a good idea to focus on renewing ourselves, what we do, and what we really don’t have to do. Some of us are in a too relaxed mode and September can thrust us in overwhelm and overload. Here are a few ideas to help get us through the next month or so (Do as I write, not necessarily as I will do).

1. Make a list of what you do, what you think you have to do in both work and personal.

2. Use the three D’s – delay, delegate, delete as you scrutinize all the items in your “to-do” list. Ask yourself: What can you get someone else to do? What can you put off doing until another time? What can you delete or never do?

3. Tell yourself that the biggest word in your dictionary is NO. Repeat it to yourself, out loud. And keep it in mind when someone asks you to do something you really don’t have time to do. All it takes is a “No, sorry, but I have a full schedule and really don’t have the time to do…” And courage to say it. If I had more courage here I might have said, “no,” back in July to phoning member of my graduation high school class for the reunion coming up in October. But I had to get the list of classmates with their possible current contact info. I’m not a journalist with a nosy mind for nothing.

4. Find some relax time – go and sit in your garden, a park, go for a walk, meditate, listen to soothing music, read a book, heck even watch some of  the new TV shows.

5. And don’t beat yourself up mentally (or otherwise) if you fall off the balance wagon. Nobody is perfect. (I will repeat that one to myself like a mantra, along with the “No.”)

I think my friend, Fran, had the best way of summing this up – consider what is best for you right now, not what someone else thinks you should be doing. I tend to agree with her. What about you? I’d like comments on how you plan to deal with the September rush and its back-to-business mode.

Cheers.

Sharon Crawford

Only Child Writes

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Filed under Anxiety, Back to School, Balance, Delete, Life demands, Memoir writing, No, Only child, Only child memoir, Overwhelm, Prioritizing, Reading escapism, School, School days, September, Stress, Teachers, Time management, to do list

Only Child learns from teaching memoir writing

Sharon reading and teaching

Only Child teaching workshop

The past couple of weeks I was immersed in teaching memoir writing workshops at several Toronto public library branches. One workshop was a straightforward memoir writing gig; the other was called Blogging Your Memories and involved a PowerPoint presentation. Both have roots in my childhood, particularly with one thing about my mother – she showed me how to teach and that I could teach.

In my February 12, 2010  post, https://onlychildwrites.wordpress.com/2010/02/12/only-child-teaches-mom-to-play-piano/ I talked about teaching my Mom to play the piano when I was 13. But that same year I had a grade 8 history class project and Mom was instrumental in  helping me make it a success.

As I write in my memoir, You Can Go Home – Deconstructing the Demons:

I decided my lesson would tell the story about how each province entered Confederation and I was going to make it more interesting than a history book. I wanted maps, drawings and background history of the history. As she usually did with my school projects, Mom dug in and accumulated some of the research materials, a habit she’d picked up when I needed information about other countries for school projects. In those Internetless days, Mom visited consulates in downtown Toronto as well as travel agencies. In grade six, she had ordered the whole collection of the World Book Encyclopedia, from a door-to-door salesman. But World Book was no scam – it had detailed coloured maps and detailed text. I used it as part of the background for my Confederation lesson.

After I put the whole lesson together, Mom and I do several dry runs.

I prop up my maps on the dining room table. Mom stands at the other end in the living room and I start my spiel. We also do the dry run in the kitchen, where I go through the whole lesson, using my illustrated props and pointing with her long dressmaking ruler. She doesn’t tell me to talk slower or speak up; she listens, nods and smiles. When I am finished, she doesn’t need to say anything. I know I’ve done a good job and pleased her.

(Excerpted from You Can Go Home – Deconstructing the Demons, Copyright 2010 Sharon Crawford)

Thanks to Mom’s patience and encouragement, the lesson went over very well in class. I think that’s where I got my love of teaching, although like my Mom I didn’t go into the teaching profession per se. I got into it via my writing and editing. I continue to learn lessons as I teach.

Each of my Memoir Writing Workshops had either a father and daughter duo or a mother and daughter duo.  Each daughter was helping her parent write his or her memoir and came to the workshop for some direction on how to do this. My approach here was to focus but also to remain open enough to be creative – a fine balancing act which I’ve had to learn in writing my memoir. The child/parent duos reminded me that without our parents there might be no family memoir and also showed me (and also reminded me) the beauty of parent and child working together on a project.

I also learned that there are many circumstances that evoke memoir – from the funny situation of two friends posing with a big wooden bird to a woman who lived through the Holocaust and had no family pictures except the ones inside her head. When we did the picture exercise, she had to go within  for hers and taught me that not all picture memories are in print or electronic. Many live on in our hearts and souls.

I also learned that there are different approaches to writing a memoir. One participant went in for the more creative way to write her memoir. Many wanted to write their whole life instead of focusing on one area but I hope I at least showed them how to focus on that, rather than change what they write about.

The Blogging Your Memories workshop was a whole other situation. First, I had to relearn Power Point and then how to do a presentation. I followed the old journalist’s rule – ask, ask, ask. Three experts, including my computer techie son, got bombarded with questions but I listened. And I put together my workshop and did a trial run at the library with the librarian’s help. At the actual workshop only one computer glitch occurred. Fast fingers here tried to go back too fast in slides and the program shut down. Fortunately Auto Save came to the rescue and I could proceed.  But my students taught me much with their rich range of topics to blog and all their questions kept me on my toes. One participant gave me a real workout with categories and tags for your blog posts.

Each workshop had around a dozen participants and the librarians were also pleased with the workshops. They want me to come back in the spring and do more.

I will oblige. Besides sharing my knowledge I will also learn more. All thanks to my Mom’s incentive and encouragement.

Sharon

Only Child Writes

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Filed under Life learning, Memoir writing, Only child, Only child memoir, Parenting, Teachers, Teaching

Only child looks at school days

Only child school photo at age 8

The first day back at school can be scary. There are worries about what the teacher will be like, who will be in your class, will you fit in, and the age-old question that has bothered girls of all ages – what the heck will I wear.  Of course, some students miss all that because now they go to school year  round, a concept I find disconcerting. Although these year-rounders get a few weeks off here and there, it is not the same. How can you have a normal school year if you don’t have summer vacation in July and August?

Back in the grey ages when I went to school it was from September to June with two months off for good or bad behaviour. In grade school I actually anticipated that first day. I could smell the lead pencils and text books, feel the exercise books we wrote in (no laptops then), see the blackboards and hear the squeak-scratch of the chalk across that blackboard. But it wasn’t all good times. I felt some dread about fitting in, especially with no brothers or sisters to stand up for me (or tease me). Then there were the teachers and I had some doozies from the old bat who blinked non-stop to the nun who bullied me in grade 2. I write about her in my memoir.

In grade 2 we applied our Grade 1 reading skills in exercises.

“Turn to page 12, exercise A,” Mother St. Helen says. She stands behind her desk. She holds the exercise book, alternating between glancing down at it and over at us. “When you are finished it and exercise B, you may quietly bring them up here for me to look at.” She sits down.

For the next 15 to 20 minutes the only sounds are the flipping of pages and the scratching of pencils. I read through each question and write down my answer or draw the picture required. Some of the students finish quickly and line up at Mother’s desk, so now I hear her occasional, “That’s wrong. How do you expect to pass Grade 2,” and “Good.”

I have now completed the work, so pick up the exercise book, which is the size of a thick colouring book and climb out from behind the desk, walk up to the front and line up. Nora and Michael stand in front of me and as Mother looks at Nora’s work and says, “good,” I think I also have done all right.

“How do you expect to pass grade 2?” Mother asks Michael.

I hope I have done all right.

It is now my turn. I say nothing as I place the open exercise book before Mother. She presses her lips together as she follows along on the page with her pencil. When she reaches the bottom, she jerks the book at me.

“What’s this?” she asks.

I look down and read out loud. “Draw an X.”

“The word isn’t ‘X;’ it’s an ‘axe.’ ”

I have drawn an “X.”

“Stupid,” she says. “You should know better than that.” She whacks the pencil against my nose.

Tears well up in my eyes. My face must be turning red because Mother is looking a little strange for Mother.

“I’m sorry. Did I hurt you?”

I can’t speak because I am too busy pretending tears are not sliding down my face.

“I’m sorry. Come down to the lunchroom after school and I’ll make it up to you.

(Excerpted from You Can Go Home – Part 1 – Deconstruct. Copyright 2010 Sharon Crawford)

Shortly after that, this nun disappeared from my grade school but if I thought I was well rid of her, I was mistaken. She returned in full fury as school principal when I was in grade 8 and made it her business to boss me around.

All this may sound tame to what kids have to put up with in school these days. I’m talking high school when I refer to the violence, the gangs and lockdowns. I live in Toronto and we’ve had murders inside and outside Toronto schools – not a lot and not on a daily basis, but because it happens is enough to raise the fear factor and make me glad I’m out of it and my son is out of it, although there were some rumblings in the high schools when he attended  in the 1990s and that was in Aurora, Ontario.

These are just my thoughts on the first day back to school in 2010. What do others think? Any hair-raising personal stories? Any heartwarming personal stories about that first day back at school?

And I really did not like the sound of that chalk scratching across the blackboard. And chalk is so messy and dusty.

Cheers.

Sharon

Only child writes

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Filed under Only child, Only child memoir, School days, Teachers, Teaching