In the midst of the second draft of my teaching autobiography, Fuck Pedagogy, I am having to kill scenes that don’t support the theme of engaging students or knowing subject content. And so I axed this sordid tale from my student teaching days:
I became so relaxed in my teaching practicum that I went out late one school night to see a band, Snowpony at The Starfish Room in Vancouver. Not only did I stay to the end but was brazen enough to wander backstage after the show, sit down with the band and explain how they had to try to the oysters in Portland, the next stop on their tour, drunken advice I am sure they could have done without.
I woke early the next morning and looked out the window to see that my van was not there. Given that I was responsible for driving three other student teachers out to Maple Ridge for our practicums, this was a problem. I called everyone to say that my van had been stolen and that we would have to rent a car. I lay back down and only a moment later remembered that it hadn’t been stolen. I had left it at my friend’s house. In other words, I had done the right thing and forgotten that I had.
I picked everyone up and raced out to Maple Ridge, getting there just in time for my 8:30 class and announced the Free Write prompt (“I remember…”) before going down the hall for a long drink of water from the fountain. As bad as I felt, I had the revelation, as I returned to the class, that I could teach hungover.
15 years later, it came as a great surprise when I went back as a teacher. My relationship with my fellow teachers was much improved, and my students too. It was the administrators who I despised this time. They made me think of getting the hell out again.
I was removed from my teaching position three times by my administrators – told to resign, fired and laid off. I have mixed feeling about all of this. Having never really wanted to teach nor ever having worked with a competent administration and yet having enjoyed working with my students – and some colleagues – it is a bittersweet thing.
As I said, teaching was a fallback position. I am writer. And it’s time I wrote about this teaching thing. Fuck Pedagogy. That’s what the book is called. And that’s what it’s about.
I was never the best student; I abhorred being told what to do. And what made matters worse was going to a boys school where I was condemned to wearing a blazer and tie. Most teachers said that I had an attitude, and I suppose I did. And so when I finally graduated, it was like being released from prison. I was free at last.
The one thing I really liked about school was writing. I wrote my first story in Grade 4. I liked the idea of telling a story. And I liked getting it right. My writing was problematic, to say the least, when I was a teenager, but I finally began to get a sense of the narrative in university and then when I started to travel and see the world. My first real moment of literary certitude happened about halfway through writing my first novel – in Paris no less – when Chantal, a character I thought I had expunged from the story, insisted on coming back. She insisted on it, not me. That’s when I knew I might be on to something. After that, I wrote all the time and to pay the bills, took on various jobs – closed caption editor and newspaper columnist. This went on for years. I completed five novels and two screenplays and an assortment of short stories and articles, but nothing was getting published. I thought about getting a real job and decided to try to teach. I liked the idea of working with teenagers. They saw life with wide open eyes. They made me laugh. I wasn’t sure of the profession at first. As much as I enjoyed working with students and leading class discussions, I never felt comfortable in the role of task-master. As well, I didn’t have much of a hankering for the marking – never saw the point in it – and always struggled with the politics of the industry. However the students were the thing. No matter how I felt each morning – whether inspired or completely dull-witted – the first student of the day, that first person to walk into the room, would manage to engage me and the day would just go from there. It was always fun. With teenagers, the cachinnation and merriment were never-ending.
I am still writing. My prose is always improving. I expect to have a novel published soon. But I teach now too, and I like it. I’m starting to think that I should write a book about that.