Winter Activity Day

Consent forms had been received and every penny collected. The buses were arranged. Winter Activity Day was upon us and I am not sure who was anticipating it more, students or teachers. I do not snowboard as much as I want to, or even as much as I used to. You think that when you get older, you will figure out how to the things you want to do more often. But I went from being a T-shirted-and-tattooed board shop employee riding forty days a year to a button-down-with-tie teacher strapping in maybe five. Winter Activity Day—our school’s annual trip to a local mountain— was one of those now elusive and lucky days.

I stopped into a pub on the way home from work. Sitting beside me at the bar was a guy probably in his late thirties or early forties, a decade older than me.

He asked me what I did for a living.

“I’m a teacher.”

He snickered, “How much do you make working only ten months a year?” “Google it,” I quipped. “And it’s not only summers off,” I continued. “It’s weekends, holidays, two weeks for Christmas, another for spring break and a slew of other days not in class like next Friday for Winter Activity Day.”

“This is exactly what’s wrong with education these days,” he told me.

“Everybody in school is always on break. When does the learning happen? Kids nowadays can’t even spell and I pay taxes so you can go skiing?”

Snowboarding, I think. And while part of me agrees with him and the problem with how many students think euthanasia has something to do with kids in China, I have heard his complaints too many times to keep rattling off statistics that demonstrate the correlation between school-based activities and learning, and explaining the pedagogical soundness behind Winter Activity Day and similar practices.

“Yes,” I simply answered, and then turned my mind to more pressing matters: Getting paid to snowboard—this is the closest I’ll ever come to going pro.

The Day came. It was early February and my second day on-hill. The chosen mountain was Mt. St-Sauveur, a 45 minute drive north of Montreal, a vertical of 213 metres and annual snowfall of 309 centimetres. It was a long way from the 1200 centimetres that spoiled me at Powder King, BC, where I rode my undergrad years. But these days I take what I can get.

Quebec does not get better conditions than what we got that day. The preceding 48 hours provided twenty fresh centimetres and high temperatures hovering at–3 degrees, a coveted amount of snow on an uncharacteristically warm February week.

A bit overcast in the morning, the sun burst in the afternoon. Shone so bright I had to change the lenses in my goggles.

In the lodge for lunch, I ate quickly with the students, exchanging conversation about the weather, the snow, the trails, and even a little bit about school. Every one of us was eager to get back out. Get in more runs before the 3 pm meeting time at the buses.

“This is going to be one of the only times this year that I get to go snowboarding,” a grinning Grade 8 student said over cluttered and empty styrofoam bowls of poutine.

“Me too,” I confessed.

Riding the chairlift alone on my last run of the day, I thought back to that guy in the bar and his question: “When does the learning happen?” The truth is that we can’t make people learn. We can only create an environment where learning can happen.

Winter Activity Day ended with no fights, no broken bones, no incidents whatsoever, nobody even late for the bus ride home.

Teaching and working in the board shop are not too different from one another, I tell myself. Both jobs are in sales. In the former, however, we are trying to sell the hardest thing that has ever been sold to a kid and that is the idea that school is cool, that they want to succeed. So what if I am not snowboarding as much as I want? Teaching is one of the most fulfilling jobs I can imagine. It would just be better if they gave me those two months off in the winter.




Tim Mook Sang is a school teacher in Montreal. His poetry has been published in a number of magazines and journals, most recently in The Literary Review of Canada, ditch, and ottawater.

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