In Teacher Jan/Feb 93

There are more things…

by Amber Harvey

It was late afternoon on the first day of February a year ago, I was one of             1700 Victoria and district teachers out on strike. I was also the lone picketer in front of my school on a quiet sloping residential street.

As I walked, I gazed out over the steely- grey hills to the north-west, and thought back to the time when I had Decided to become a teacher and take my professional year in Regina. I had been motivated by the idea of being a teacher in a child’s life who would be remembered forever, I wanted to touch lives in a way that helps students know and express who they really are.  

I thought of how my life bad been touched by certain teachers. I was a shy girl in Grade 5 - who, Through Miss Sloan’s drama instruction, came to realize that I could face an audience. I remembered how proud I felt when Mr. Nelson, my English teacher in Grade 10 and someone who knew how to give a compliment,  threatened to steal one of my stories and try to get it published.    

And I could see Mrs. Young. A school teacher, she was spending a few years at home, teaching music and bringing up her three children.

Along with Mrs. Young’s other music students, I discovered the joys of puppetry, from making puppets at the kitchen table to putting on musical puppet shows. We played the music, sang the songs, and operated the puppets. What fun we had! Mrs. Young’s belief that each of us had something unique to offer, more than anything else, shaped my attitude to teaching. Those thoughts and memories occupied my mind as I walked up and down with my placard in the cold drizzle and gathering darkness that afternoon.

Suddenly I noticed an older woman trudging toward me up the hill, a heavy shopping bag weighing her down on one side.. Will she be friendly I wondered or critical or just not interested? Will she look down as we pass, afraid to make eye contact?

I was relieved by her first words, “Do you have to do this every day?” Glad to have someone to talk to, I explained that this was our second day, that we worked two- to three hour shifts, and that I was alone because my partner was ill. She then said she understood we were striking because of class size, and glad to hear that she knew why we were on strike I went on to tell her more about it.

Time flew as she introduced subjects like integration, discipline, and classroom libraries. I knew I liked her. It wasn’t just that she was a retired teacher, that we shared some beliefs, that she was someone who took a real interest in people and issues or even that we discovered we were both from Saskatchewan. Something about the sound of her voice stirred memories of Saturday afternoon recitals, of puppet making, of dusty rays of sunlight slanting across piano keys. It was a rich, musical voice that I hadn’t heard in over 30 years.           

“Are you Mrs. Young?” I asked, certain now.

Looking as baffled as she felt, she replied, “Yes.”

She didn’t recognize me at first, and then she thought I was my mother! But Soon we were reminiscing about our days as student and teacher.  

When a replacement for my sick colleague arrived, Mrs. Young and i exchanged telephone numbers. She was staying in Victoria for just a few days, with a friend. We agreed to have tea soon.

I continued walking for the next half hour, awed by the incredible thing that had just happened.     

I still ask myself how it could have come about. The chances of such a meeting, in a different city after more than 30 years, at the exact moment that I was considering her influence on my life, doesn’t fit my understanding of reality. All I know is that I now have a new sense of completion.    

When I told her she was a wonderful teacher and model for my life, she said simply. “No one’s ever told me that before.” I’m so happy that I did.

Amber Harvey teaches at George Jay Elementary School, in Victoria.

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