Wednesday, February 11, 2009

The Painter and the Teacher

While living at number 3 wireless, I was able to see teachers from the Manitoba Provincial Normal School where they were training to be teachers. Sometimes they substituted at the school house and, since they were in teacher training, we looked forward when they came by to train or to subsitute. There were some who just stood out and others who were quite normal and taught the same way.

One time there came a teacher who was close to graduating who taught geography and history. She made the people of that time so interesting and had such a flare for getting our attention. She would present to the class the name of the historical figure and then talk about that person as if he or she were alive. She described their mannerisms and choices. Often she would give assignments to the class and I would do my best to complete the assignments and turn them in on time.

She called me after class one day and said: "Digby, you need to do more research. You have a flair for word imagery but your sense of history leaves a great deal to be desired." Saying it another way when I didn't quite get the idea, she said: "Read about the time and place. Find out what made it so important and put yourself in their place and then report."

I liked her a lot and so the subject was the Hudson Bay Company and the fur trade. I can still, to this day, remember how excited I was to do that kind of homeork. Other assignments came and since she was only going to be there on certain days and only for a short while, I needed to make the most of it.

I worked hard and one day she said to me: "Now you have the idea. History is reported and events are part of history but when men or women are called upon to make decisions only the ones with courage can make the right decisions." The idea stuck and I began to think about what she had told me.

I always will remember her. She was not tall but stood out as if she were. She had coal black hair and a smile that made you feel so special. Her ability to bring out the best in us kids was her understanding of human nature. She would compliment, discipline and raise our expectations simply with a guesture or a word. I learned she would be leaving soon as she would graduate that summer. I felt sad and thought, "If only I could do something for her." I thought about it and decided to paint a picture for her.

I had some oil paints and a brush and started to draw a picture of my dog Skip. He was a bull terrior and was black and white with a pug face that was alert and friendly. I worked on that painting for two weeks. Now that I think about it, it was rough and not any prize but it was the best I could do. I waited one day when the teachers were all going to lunch at their cafeteria. She finally showed up and I approached her with the painting. She was with other teachers and they all stopped to listen. I was embarrassed and stumbled over my words but finally got out the fact that I wanted her to have the painting. Some of the other teachers were smiling and sort of nodding and looking at me.

She took me by the shoulder and walked me over to the grass area and said: "What a wonderful gift to give me." She then asked how I thought of it. I said I really loved my dog Skip so I decided to paint something that meant a lot to me. I didn't come out and tell her I thought the same of her. She somehow understood. I said I wanted to say goodbye. She thanked me and gave me a big hug and I looked up at her and said, as was my nature: "You're alright for a teacher," and then waved good bye to her - half sad and half glad.

I never saw her again but sometimes when I hear someone teach who looks a little like her the words just naturally come to my lips: "What a wonderful gift you gave a ten year old. "

A friend of mine quoted a saying which applies here: "When the student is ready the teacher appears."


1 comment:

  1. This was great to read. It reminded me of some of the great teachers I had growing up. "To teach is to touch a life forever!" Thanks for sharing your stories and your poetry! Especially with today's events, it's nice to see that there are good people in the world and to remember that being good and kind does make a difference.