• The Prologue: Thanks Dad*

    Many years ago, when I was still a young university student with more free time than I knew what to do with, I decided to write out the story of how M and I met, dated and got married within eight short months.

    I’m so glad I made a record of it then, because my old brain has since forgotten many of the little details of how our story unfolded. I’ll always keep those entries, but I felt like it was time to go back through and “polish” them a little–my writing style has evolved just a touch since I was twenty two.

    And so, without any further ado, I give you Our Story: The New Edition.

    ____________________

    To understand how I was even able to meet M, I need to preface things a little. I ended up at the university I did because I was mad at my parents… and it ended up being one of the best years of my life.

    But let’s go back to the beginning, shall we?

    I started university a year late.

    Even now, years later a high school teacher, I often think it’s a bit asinine that we expect kids to know what they want to do with the rest of their lives at 17.

    When I was 17 the only decision I felt confident making was whether to order a panzarotti or pizza fingers from our school cafeteria at lunch.

    When university application time rolled around during my final year of high school, I knew I wasn’t ready. My family had just moved seven hours away from the tiny town where I had spent my youth, and it all just felt like too much change. I was already at a new school in a new city, pining for the boy I had left behind. I told my friends it was because I was missing credits, but what I was really missing was my home in the north… and I just wasn’t ready to move again.

    I spent half a year taking high school courses I didn’t need, and the other half working part-time at Payless Shoes while I lived at home. I worked just enough hours to not be broke, and bought just enough shoes to save absolutely nothing.

    With a fabulous shoe collection nearing 100 pairs and no rent to pay, I was living the dream.

    I applied to three universities half-heartedly at my parents request, but I still had no desire to go. The applications went out, and the acceptances came in, but they sat untouched on my kitchen counter for weeks as the deadline loomed.

    Finally, my Dad pulled me aside for a chat that my siblings have lovingly mocked me for ever since. My family nickname is “Beef”, and my brothers and sisters have condensed what my Dad talked to me about that night into three little words: “Git, Beef! Git!”

    A few days before the acceptance deadline, my father sat me down, and firmly told me (with love) that it was time to stop coasting through life. He offered me three choices:

    1. Continue to live at home rent free, but find a real full-time job.
    2. Continue to live at home rent free, but take SOME kind of post secondary educational program.
    3. Accept one of the university program offers I had left sitting on my counter for weeks.

    Continuing to live at home while working part-time on my full-time shoe obsession was not an option.

    I remember feeling SO angry. I wasn’t old enough to understand that what I was really feeling was fear, so I rage-cried on my bedroom floor while I considered my options.

    For two days I did nothing. Then, on the evening before the university acceptance deadline was due, I lay on my bedroom floor looking at the letters before me. I knew which school my mom and dad hoped I’d choose: the small school in a safe little community.

    Still feeling bitter, I chose the other. I chose the school in the big city, which couldn’t be any more opposite from the tiny Northern Ontario community I had grown up in. At midnight, long after my parents had gone to bed, I signed the acceptance letter and sealed the envelope. I left it on the kitchen counter for my parents to find and went to bed.

    I didn’t fully appreciate what happened the next day until many years later. That morning, the day that the acceptance letter was due, my Dad quietly got into his car and drove the two hours each way to hand deliver my university acceptance letter to the OUAC center in Guelph. He and my mom didn’t want me to miss out on the chance of going to school, so he spent half his day in traffic driving it there for me.

    So what does all this have to do with me meeting M?

    …if my Dad hadn’t (lovingly) told me it was time to make some decisions about my life, and then made the sacrifice to drive that letter to Guelph for me, then I wouldn’t have moved to the city and met M.

    If he had known that driving that letter down for me would also mean I would be engaged to someone he had only met a handful of times less than a year later, he might have made a different decision. 😉

    A few months later, I made peace with the fact that I was moving out and decided to make the best of it. I still didn’t know if I was ready, but my parents helped me pack up our vanimal, and my shoes and I moved to the city.

    I was 19, and I knew absolutely no one at the school I had chosen.

    It only took me a week to fall in love with my new school and the people there. After months of worry and not feeling ready, I took a deep breath and stepped into my new life: a single girl in the city ready to learn all the things (and date all the boys).

    That second part lasted a whole four months.

    And the rest, as they say, is history. ❤️

  • This job is hard, but it’s worth it.

    At the end of each course I teach, I have my students complete a small reflection assignment. (Sorry, this is a long one.)

    It’s evolved over the years, the most recent addition to it being a short clip from a TED talk by a former pro wrestler. I feel like it ties in the message I try to thread through everything we do in my class: have confidence in your abilities– you can do anything you put your mind to.

    I have my students watch the video, then answer a series of questions about their growth and progress through the course. I ask them to think about a piece of work they are proud of and WHY they are proud of it. Something they learned. Something they struggled with. Something they love about themselves that they can work on “turning up” in the future. (It’s from the video. Once you see it, you’ll get it.)

    At the end, I often leave a space for them to write any final thoughts. Some students choose not to write anything, others sometimes write about an experience they had in class that meant something to them. Sometimes they vent about something they weren’t happy about. Sometimes I have a student who expresses gratitude for something that happened in the course.

    And sometimes, I have a student who catches me off guard and leaves me a note that will stay with me forever. I’ve had a few over the years–messages and comments from students that serve as reminders for why we do this job, even when we can’t remember ourselves.

    This year, I had a grade 12 student who came into my class with (I think) a bit of a chip on his shoulder. Early on in the course I heard him vent about some of his previous teachers, and some not-so-great experiences he had had in the classroom.

    I could tell he was someone who came into my class already having decided what kind of experience this would be, based on his experiences in English in the past. He came in with an attitude of “I’m not good at English”, and didn’t seem all that willing to challenge that perception.

    Well, that doesn’t work for me.

    Over the course of the semester, I watched this kid let go of what thought he couldn’t do, and instead begin to believe in what he could. I watched him learn the value of hard work as he learned that asking questions is sometimes a sign of strength, not weakness. I watched his confidence grow as a writer and critical thinker. I watched him step out of his comfort zone and really engage in our class discussions, sharing thoughts and insights that sometimes even blew *me* away.

    I watched this kid begin to believe in himself, and believe ME, it was magic.

    This student, who told me he had had trouble breaking 80% in all of his previous English courses, is going to finish my class with a 95%.

    I think I might secretly be prouder than he is.

    On Friday, he handed in his course reflection, and I made the mistake of reading it before class. I was BAWLING. I can’t share the whole thing because it’s long, but he shared with me that for the first time in his young life, he felt “awake”. He felt motivated to go after the things he wanted in life, and for the first time, he actually felt like they were possible. My students all groaned when they saw the size of the novel we were going to read, but this student told me how reading it had changed his life… how “digging in” (what I call discussing and analyzing) helped him find the joy in reading again.

    He told me that he now felt like his thoughts and opinions on things had value, even if they weren’t the same as someone else’s.

    He told me he felt proud of himself… it was the first time in a long that he had felt that.

    At the end of the assignment, he wrote me a letter. As much as this student struggled with confidence, so did I. I’ve spent the last few months wondering if I’m really cut out for this… if all the sacrifices that come with this job are worth it.

    As I’ve drowned in marking and planning and emails and meetings, I’ve wondered If I’m any good at it at all.

    …and then, every once in a while, I am given a reminder for why I became a teacher in the first place, and it’s not for the pension or summers off.

    I became a teacher because I saw the magic that happens when you see a kid really learn something. When you see a student come into their own. When you see a kid really begin to believe in themselves.

    When you see that you’re making a difference in someone’s life, and that what you’re doing, matters. Even if it’s just to one person.

    At the end of his reflection, I found the reminder I so desperately needed:

    “You really did open my eyes, Mrs. ______, and helped me grow as a person, even if you did so from behind a screen. My goal is to become a teacher in the future, and I remember you once telling us about an English teacher you had in Grade 12 that changed your perspective on English. Well, you’ve done that for me 10 fold. You are the teacher I aspire to be, if not the person I aspire to be. I really can’t thank you enough. Thank you for one of my most favourite high school semesters and memories ever. I’ll never forget you.”

    I’m still exhausted and overwhelmed, and the marking is still oppressive. I have a mountain to climb before I’m done tomorrow, and I am just so… tired.

    But…

    I did it. Even if I only helped one kid see his own potential, then that is a win in my books.

    This student may not ever really know how much his words mean to me. It was the lift I needed to get through this last weekend. At least now I know I’ve done something good. If nothing else, I made a difference in this kid’s life.

    Somehow, that makes all the hard bits worth it. ❤

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