Teachers

Many exceptional teachers have been gentle guides on my circuitous path as a poet. I hope you will want to return often to this page to read my tributes to the people who have influenced my life and supported my dreams. Perhaps their stories will remind you of the people in your own life who have shaped and moulded your character and given you wings to fly.

One of my favourite quotations:

“We are, each of us,
angels with only one wing;
and we can only fly
by embracing one another.

- by Luciano de Crescenzo

The first person to help me fly was the teacher I was fortunate to have for seven years: Mrs. Marion Duncan. Living in the very small hamlet of Ceylon, Ontario, I attended a one-room school for all of my elementary education. Mrs. Duncan was the kind yet firm and patient teacher who for seven years tenderly planted the seeds of learning in the fertile soil of my imagination.

In our one-room school, students moved over one row each year to signify the passing from one grade to another. I believe I was in Grade 4 when one day I wrote a little story that impressed my beloved teacher. It seems to me the story was about a squirrel or a chipmunk...not surprising since a love for animals has been a constant in my life.

Mrs. Duncan encouraged me to take the story home and read it to my parents. I remember thinking I must have created something quite special if I was to show my parents. So I flew down the one hill, across the railroad tracks, up another hill and along a short stretch of road that spanned the distance between home and school. My mother happened to be hosting a “Ladies’ Aid” meeting at the time so I had an even larger audience than I might otherwise have enjoyed. I remember that a room full of dear neighbours listened politely and praised me for my fledgling attempts as a writer. The echo of their applause has remained a beautiful sound in my memory, like the rhythm of a heartbeat calling me to a higher purpose.

A few years ago I had the great honour of being asked to compose a tribute for Mrs. Duncan and her husband, Leslie, on the occasion of their 50th wedding anniversary. I hope you enjoy my attempts to put into verse the wealth of memories that were evoked by that request.

The Blackboard Music Awards
for the Top Ten Memories
of SS#10 Artemesia

1) Rhythm and Blues:
weekly visits from Mrs. Waddell, the traveling music teacher who tried her best to work with some very raw material
occasional visits from the “Inspector” when we’d all try to be on our best behaviour. We really did try, honestly
the sounds and scents that emanated from the woodshed as the early version of a photocopier, called the “Gestetner” allowed Mrs. Duncan to emerge with an armful of wonderful stencils to enhance our learning

2) Rock and Roll:
throwing that ball over the woodshed roof for some harmless recess activity
some minor casualties resulting from too many turns at “Red Rover”
playing baseball with heart and soul
skipping endlessly to familiar chants; never mastering “double-dutch”
the fun of spring picnics with games and races

3) Hip Hop:
emergency visits to the washrooms, signaled by one finger or two, depending on the degree of distress
end-of-the-year trips to Niagara Falls or some other worthy destination; the smell of the bus fumes; memories of the excitement of such an adventure

4) Rap:
the image of that strap in the top drawer or sometimes on the edge of the desk for extra effect; being told by parents that if we got in trouble at school, we’d be in twice as much trouble at home
other innovative discipline strategies, e.g. standing in a corner; memories of one young lad standing in front of the class with an eraser dangling from his ear as a logical consequence of throwing around such a useful resource
the clever diplomacy of our gracious teacher who could sometimes get her point across with just a glance from narrowed eyes and a brief remark, such as “Perhaps you’d like to get back to work now.”

5) Classical:
receiving an excellent education, not only in the “3 R’s”, but also in a range of other enrichment opportunities
lessons in character building, human kindness and even personal hygiene (those fingernail inspections were relentless!)
hanging on every word as the teacher read in her melodious voice from a chapter book late in the afternoon
the wonder of one teacher being responsible for teaching eight grades all in their own little rows; the older classes sometimes helping the younger children. (One’s selection of classmates was always the luck of the draw in any given year. For example, I had all girls in my row when I started in Grade One. Four years later, my sister, Anne, was the only girl in a class of boys.)

6) Gospel:
the morning announcements, always including The Lord’s Prayer
the pride of finally learning The Lord’s Prayer “off by heart”
feeling special when we received an end-of-the-year gift from our teacher, such as a delicate lace handkerchief which still holds a place of honour in the memory box of former students

7) Country and Western:
the rural nature of our setting
the good old days when the sun was friendly and the winters bestowed their ample gifts of snow for making tunnels in the side of the hill and for tobogganing at break-neck speed down the big hill, miraculously avoiding the trees (most of the time!). We would always try to time our descent to arrive at the bottom of the hill just as the bell would ring
the smell of wet mittens drying at the big stove in the classroom
lunches eaten at school, with children always comparing what goodies were in each other’s lunch boxes (the tantalizing aroma of hot dogs emerging from a thermos)

8) Show Tunes:
Oh...those Christmas Concerts! They were the stuff of legends, requiring weeks of intensive preparations
a big stage being assembled to accommodate all the action
preparing drills that were like a type of square dance
costumes that held together for the whole performance (with a little luck!)
being selected to deliver, with shaking knees, a variety of recitations
practicing our plays and being so proud to perform in front of the whole community

9) Blue Grass:
“Arbour Day” yard clean up every spring - an early introduction to our responsibility for the environment. Being taught these values raised the consciousness of our young minds and has influenced me to this day
preparing for the local fairs - struggling to master the art of printing and cursive writing for the competitions (being gently reminded that my “r’s” looked a little like Grandpa McCoy’s hat. They actually still do!)

10) Disco
girls trying to look cool in crinolines, saddle shoes and the fashions of the day
boys trying to look cool for the arrival of a pretty young girl with beautiful curls in her hair and vying for the place of honour to sit beside her. That little girl was the teacher’s daughter, Carolyne, who would occasionally come for a visit, accompanied by a kind-looking gentleman whose quiet strength was evident even to children of such a tender age. Mr. Duncan must have wondered many times how his dear wife managed to balance a busy career and still take such good care of her family.

To this special couple, held in such high esteem, my sisters and I would like to express our deepest appreciation for being such an important influence in our lives.

(Congratulations on the happy occasion of your 50th wedding anniversary!)

- by Sharon Sinclair

(with thanks to her sisters, Shirley Cornfield and Anne Teeter, for a little trip down memory lane)

I invite you to return often to my website as I gradually build my gratitude file of friends who’ve given me wings.

Perhaps you might even wish to do the same. Who are the people you would choose to recognize? Feel free to let me know at .

Poetry Speaker, Sharon Sinclair

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