11/17/2012 08:48 EST | Updated 01/17/2013 05:12 EST

Dispatches From Down East: What I Know About Teachers


While driving down a street in Summerside, P.E.I. recently, I realized yet again that the way you drive says a lot about who you are and what you do. To give the example, I was idling behind a vehicle driven by a woman who I could just tell was an elementary school teacher. I can spot a fellow teacher just about anywhere.

At the time, my car was behind her's in a line-up at a crosswalk, and on the left-hand side of the road there was a little girl waiting to cross the road with her bike. And this little biker-lady was not budging. She was in no hurry to go from Point A to Point B.

While the child stood there holding up traffic, precious seconds and minutes ticking by on the clock, I began to imagine what all those drivers waiting for her to make a move secretly were wondering. Were they, like me, wondering what was taking her so long to just 'cross the road, already'? It almost became a game. Would she stay? Would she go? Would she bolt into oncoming traffic?

So the 'teacher' in front of me did what any proper teacher would do. She laid on the horn. Essentially saying this, "Listen Susie, I haven't got all day, and if you're not going to move... why then I'm going to give you a little motivational pep talk in the form of my blaring horn." To me, this woman is a true teacher. And I know so because she used a manipulative in the form of her horn to teach little Susie the outcome of what happens when children wait too long to cross the street: they get to hear what is (hopefully not) their swan song.

People don't really understand teachers. I think the public vacillates between thinking teachers have the patience of Job and the evil heart of the Grinch. A little truth in both of those inferences. Teachers, at the end of the day, are essentially just people. When you catch us on a good day, which I hope is by far the norm, I think one would find that teachers do have in their educator toolbox an extraordinary measure of patience. Even the horn-blowing gal whom I referred to above. I truly think she was just experiencing the Friday fun-day jitters. That is, the nervy feeling teachers get just before 'end of day routines' and bus arrivals on Friday afternoons.

You have to teach at least one full week to know what I'm talking about.

But teachers have to exhibit patience -- it is part of the job requirements. One fellow teacher told me recently during a workshop we both were attending that he asked for a transfer out of Grade two after having put 28 snowsuits on little bodies all one winter. He was winded just bringing back the memory of those days spent in the early elementary setting, eyes glazing over with thoughts of all that jumble of winter attire.

And I just love hearing what kids think about our after-school activities. One of my students happened to meet up at the grocery store with an Educational Assistant who works in my classroom. As she realized that Ms. So-and-So was shopping for groceries, the look of utter surprise that come over her face was enough to peel an onion back. "You shop here?" she cried in surprise. No, darlin'. She sleeps inside my top drawer, waking only when I drop by on the weekends to see if she needs any more granola bars.

I love how kids will tell you anything. A.N.Y.T.H.I.N.G So, you have all been duly warned. One mother told me that she once wrote a note to her child's Grade One teacher and premised it with this thought, "Please note: the thoughts and ideas that this child will discuss with you, may or may not be representative of what truly goes on at home."

Point well taken. One of my students once told me that her father was unable to read, causing me to feel a great deal of empathy for both her and her family. Along with a great deal of admiration for the father for admitting this fact to his five-year-old daughter. Come to find out, she had actually gotten this fact quite wrong. About three weeks later, out of the blue she says to me, "Oh yeah, Mrs. Gard. My Dad actually DOES know how to read."

Teaching is a demanding profession, requiring an unusual bladder capacity in most potential candidates seeing as we have to hold it for rather long periods of time. Particularly on duty days. But I wouldn't trade teaching for another career. Educating children and motivating them to learn and discover the world around them is a true joy. And I am privileged to be one of the lucky ones.

Now if you will excuse me, I have to run to the bathroom.