Letter from Aunt Jane

"Alice!" said Erin from the front seat of the car. She pulled a piece of mail from the pile she was sorting. "You got a letter from Aunt Jane!"

Alice clasped her hands together. "Let me see it!" she squealed.

Erin passed the envelope to the back seat. Alice tore it open and studied the red card found within.

"So many words!" she exclaimed.

Alice handed the letter back so that Erin could read it aloud. It was lovely note filled with news of Santa Claus parades, vintage band uniforms, and dogs sprayed by skunks.

When it was finished, Alice leaned back into her car seat, smiled, and looked out the window. She sighed.

"Who is Aunt Jane again?"

Collective Wisdom: who was your most important teacher?

In my CBC Radio column this month, I ask: who was your most important teacher when you were growing up? Take a listen over at the Island Morning website.  

I thought this month I'd include a transcription, for those more inclined to read than listen.


No one liked my grade-five teacher Mrs. Griffith.

She was ancient. Gosh, she must have been almost fifty. She made us sit still. No talking. And... she made us learn grammar.

It was awful.

My grade fell through a gaping hole in writing curriculum. The class ahead of us was the last to be taught with phonics. The class behind us was the first to learn with whole language. My class, well, we didn't get taught either.

One day, after Mrs. Griffith watched yet another kid struggle with turning words into a sentence, she threw up her hands.

"Okay," she said. "Books away. For the next two weeks, I'm going to teach you grammar. Don't tell your parents."

Everything was done on the blackboard so it could be quickly erased to leave no evidence of this rogue teaching. 

In two weeks, we learned about nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, prepositions, and conjunctions. We learned to punctuate. We learned about the difference between a definite and indefinite article. We learned about subject verb-agreement. And we parsed. 

Oh, did we parse. 

At the time, we hated it. 25 years later, I can see it was the most important two weeks in my 17 year schooling career.

 Let's seek some collective wisdom. Who was your most important teacher when you were growing up?

<streeter tape>

I remember confessing to my grade four teacher the year I wanted to write a novel.
He didn't exactly scoff, but he made it clear it wasn't worth trying.

The next year, I said the same thing to Mrs. Griffith. She ordered me a book about how to develop plot and characters.

So I wrote. I filled a Hilroy notebook with a novel which borrowed heavily from the plot, structure, and characters of the movie Back to the Future.

Mrs. Griffith taught me the basics--the stuff she thought was important. But she also gave me the freedom and encouragement to chase after the thing I thought was important. 

I think about that a lot, because we're homeschooling our kids. Just this week, my son Henry created his own card game. The characters, rules, and card layout are almost identical to the Pokemon Trading Card Game.

I'm just as proud of this accomplishment as I am when I watch him parse a sentence. Which, I'm happy to say, he can do like a pro.

Secret snowman

Sunday afternoon. The kids are outside. A three-inch layer of perfect packing snow blankets the yard.

The back door opens.

"Dad!" exclaims Alice. Her cheeks are red. Her hat is dusted with snow. "I need a carrot, two buttons, and a scarf. I can't tell you why. It's a secret!"

"Okeedokey," I respond.

The door slams shut.

A moment later, it re-opens.

"Do we have a black top hat?"