Paula Thompson said it best.
“I’m in awe of primary teachers. They’re amazing, amazing people. They just know what to do.”
Thompson oughtta know. She’s a former teacher and a former principal. Now she helps teach teachers.
So she’s well-placed to recognize the importance of kindergarten and primary teachers in setting the tone for what’s now referred to, somewhat ostentatiously, as the “lifelong learning” experience.
For many children, especially those who haven’t attended daycare, the kindergarten teacher is probably the first adult outside the home to play such a huge role in their lives.
It’s the kindergarten teacher who knows how to diffuse the inevitable spat that can erupt between kids, who knows how to deal with the odd nervous lapse in toilet training, who knows the ideal way to comfort (or distract) a homesick tot.
And it’s teachers in those first few grades who seem to have an uncanny ability to make the process of acquiring knowledge fun; something you want to do forever.
Sure, we may remember some of our educational custodians of later life—fondly, or not so.
Certainly, I remember my brilliant Grade 9 English teacher, Mr. Bull, who lost an eye, an ear and a major part of his face on D-Day, but could bring every character Shakespeare ever created into startling focus.
And I can’t forget my dour Grade 10 science teacher, “Beaker” Ferguson, or some of the height-challenged tyrants fresh from the officer ranks of World War Two who seemed to relish humiliating anyone who dared ask a question.
I remember, with fondness, a fairly ineffectual French teacher named Mr. Cannon, whose stock rose in our eyes when he admitted spilling the better part of a bottle of red wine over our examination papers.
But, more than 60 years later, my memory has a special piece of real estate for a kindergarten teacher from Verdun, Quebec.
Her name was Miss Sweet… and she was. My mind’s eye sees her as a round, elderly, grey-haired angel with rimless glasses.
Of course, that’s only brain memory. For all I know in fact, she may have been a tall, skinny 29-year-old with 20-20 vision.
Sense memory, on the other hand, can’t be fooled. Miss Sweet was the perfect mother surrogate, a huge force in the lives of her tiny charges.
I thought of her on a September morning almost 40 years ago, when I accompanied my eldest daughter to school for the very first time.
The school, in Cornwall, P.E.I. looked so huge, and Sarah looked so tiny. But I knew she would be safe, that she would be loved, that her educational “career” would get off on a sure footing.
I thought of Miss Sweet again a couple of years ago, on the mornings I would take my grandson to primary school in Courtenay, B.C. He was so small, the school was so large, yet I knew he was in good hands.
These memories resurfaced e so small, the school so large
when I first saw the photo of Aurelia that’s on the cover of this week’s paper.
I’ve known Aurelia since she was a few weeks old. Like both her parents, she has a bright, inquiring mind.
But she’s a little thing, and Whitehorse Elementary School seems so huge in the background.
Still, without knowing any of the players who are about to take on such a big role in her life, I know she’ll be safe and she’ll be loved, and that she has a wonderful educational experience before her.
And I honestly believe that all the other kids who will be entering the Yukon school system for the first time a few weeks from now have the same world of wonders in store for them.
Why am I so confident?
Well, as Paula Thompson said, primary teachers are amazing, amazing people who just know what to do.
Without question, the first day of a new school year can have a touch of bittersweet about it, for both kids and parents.
As one life chapter closes, another one begins. Change. Life’s only real constant.
It can be especially stressful (and exciting) when it involves a significant transition—from home to school for the first time, from a familiar community or school to an unfamiliar one, from elementary to secondary school, even from high school to college or university.
It takes courage, and a bit of faith, to step into a new stream, to negotiate new relationships, sometimes to let old ones go.
From a parent’s standpoint, it also takes courage, and a bit of faith, to watch their children move on to new challenges, knowing (in the words of a particularly treacly song) that they will inevitably skin their hearts and skin their knees along the way.
But would any of us have it any other way?
They say it takes a village to raise a child.
From where I sit, I’d say Yukon is a damned fine village for that purpose, whether our kids are home-schooled or school-schooled.
Let’s make 2012-13 one of the best years of all their lives.