Curriculum, Engagement, Teaching

A Dead Seagull

After reading, “High School’s Dark Corners” in the Winter 2011 edition of Education Canada, I thought I would share this story… 

My high school days are particularly memorable for all of the wrong reasons. On the night of my graduation, my girlfriend chose to break up with me and my parents didn’t attend. But then, neither did I.  

Recently, I attended a professional development (PD) activity (Tribes Training) designed to help teachers get away from the traditional teacher-centered activities by incorporating more group and sub-group activities. The facilitator of our session directed us to recall and recount a high school memory. I already gave you one of mine, but not everyone was so pathetic. A colleague, for example, fell in love with the high school quarterback and married him, and even more memorable they are still married. One teacher recalled playing senior football for four years. You do the math. He now teaches Religion, likely due to a conversion experience on the way to the coliseum. 

I recall our high school putting on the play “Annie Get Your Gun.” I played a pivotal role in a climatic scene in which Annie raises her rifle, takes a bead, and shoots a bird right out of the sky. The audience watches in amazement as a bird falls from stage left, where I was in the wings strategically situated in such a way to launch the trajectory of the bird prop synchronized with Annie’s shooting. What can I say: it was a huge coup and theatrical success at a formative stage in my life. 

As we went around the sharing circle in our PD group, other teachers recounted similar, yet more meaningful and insightful stories than my own. Stories about their high school past, spoken with passion and animated faces – about winning awards, trophies and other honours, about being on various teams, about socializing with friends, and frequently about skipping classes. Some gloried to hear their names announced in a track meet, setting a track record, going on a school trip, dancing slowly and intimately to “Stairway to Heaven” with the dry ice in high gear. But –­ and this is the point here – not one teacher mentioned a single magical pedagogical moment, a learning nirvana, an inner Zen epiphany. No stories were about learning or being at one with the curriculum.

After the requisite reflection, I had to conclude that if we remain so fixated on curriculum and testing, are we really missing the big picture and the truly holistic view of our students? Schools should be so much more than curriculum-based learning factories.

When I look yet again on my own high school days, I do remember with satisfaction my Geography teacher who made meteorology come alive for me. I had the unique opportunity to meet with my mentor about five years ago. Although securely ensconced in his retirement, he did seem to remember me. Like his own son, I too became a high school geography teacher. I became fascinated with Geography because I made a real connection with my teacher. I have come to realize that school is more than a sheltered haven for linguistic and mathematical skills. For me teaching is about making the connection with students, and only then is there any hope of giving the content relevance and greater meaning.

We are the sum total of our experiences. I want to be a teacher who – yes, of course – covers most of the curriculum, but also provides meaningful memories and opportunities for my students. After all, everyone deserves the empowerment of a positive school experience whether they are an ace student or not. I firmly believe that every kid should have the opportunity to throw a dead bird on stage at least once – but I think you get my point.

Meet the Expert(s)

Marty Rempel

Marty Rempel is a Special Education Coordinator, Athabasca Delta Community School, Fort Chipewyan, Alberta.

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