The more things change…

By Megan Walchuk

I had an opportunity to talk newspapering at an area school a few weeks ago. Public speaking is not my strong suit, to put it mildly, but it was fun to see that kids haven’t changed much since I went to school in the 80s. Tween classrooms still vibrate with fidgets and squirms, bathroom trips and antics. Although kids are still kids, today’s teachers show more restraint. In my day, they reminisced openly about the glory days of The Strap, which hadn’t been banned for long. Our Grade 5 teacher vented his frustrations on wooden metre sticks instead. He smash them to pieces on his desk to get our attention. It worked – briefly. And then, there were the kids in the hall. It was a club of sorts – typically the same kids each day. They came to school intent on getting there. I spent some time in The Hall – mostly for refusing to finish my homework. I remember my teacher’s beet red face as I defiantly explained that I didn’t need to do his grammar and punctuation worksheets, because I already knew how to write. I’m sure he wished he still had a strap. Instead, I got The Hall. I would often sneak to the library instead, where I’d hide in the storage room and read. If the librarian was in, she turned a blind eye, and my teacher seemed to forget about me.

So as I stood in front of a modern class, and saw the telltale smirk of a kid pushing all the buttons to be sent to The Hall, I had a little chuckle inside. As I passed him on my way out, laying spread-eagle on the hallway floor, wondering aloud if the teacher had forgotten about him, it brought me right back. Despite all the shiny tech and new ideas, kids will always be kids, and there’s something pretty awesome about that.

It got me thinking about my own teachers, and the impact they had on me – especially the lessons taught outside the curriculum. Mr Ward taught us that life itself would be our greatest teacher, and to find humour in every corner – even the darkest ones. Mr Pettapiece taught us that what looks like a failure now can actually become our biggest success. Mr “Squirrely” Hamilton taught us to not let anything keep us down; to pick ourselves up and keep moving forward (and that there are LOTS of dirty jokes in Shakespeare!)

To the kids in the hall, I’ll give you some life advice from Mrs Kohuch in Grade 6. If you want teachers to look past your mistakes, and clear obstacles from your path, just make an effort. Show them what you’re made of, even if you don’t think it’s good enough to bother. (The same trick works great on parents too, by the way.) Whether your report card shows it or not, you’ve already proven you’re smart and determined enough to reach your goals. Today, the goal is the hallway. So aim higher, because you can.

Mrs Kohuch saved me from the hall, after a tear-filled spat with my teacher. He thought I wouldn’t do his sheets because I couldn’t. She knew better, and brought me into her Challenge class. She had a theory that unchallenged kids get bored, and boredom becomes laziness at best, class disruptions at worst. They’re labelled problems, exiled to the hall, and become so disengaged, that kids who should be top of the class wind up struggling. She created Challenge to prevent that. It’s a classroom model that likely can’t happen in today’s understaffed schools, but her ideas weren’t wrong.

So to the teachers out there, don’t discount those kids in the hall. Do they push buttons? Oh, you bet they do! But they’ve got a spark, and it’s not too late to fan that into something amazing.