Think of your own daily journey as you read some of my memories of getting to work…
We all have our unique patterns, habits and routines associated with life and living, and part of that is getting to work each day. For teachers, that means getting to school. After a while I find that the familiar journey each day can be completed on mental autopilot. I can drive thinking of other things and then suddenly wonder how I got to my destination and curse myself for not paying attention. Sometimes I have a feeling of being teleported— maybe that’s how I once got a speeding ticket. I was working in Fort McMurray at the time and, to make matters worse, got the ticket in a school zone. The officer issuing that ticket could probably read the shame in my body language, and assured me that I was not the first teacher so caught, and confided that, in fact, he catches a lot of teachers.
I recall mornings when I worked in Ontario in which three young boys, brothers I think, walked past my house on their way to school, often lingering to pick up branches from the forest floor to use as swords and walking sticks. Most mornings, getting ready for work, sipping my second cup of coffee, I watched the boys go up the hill and into the woods, playing tag, follow-the-leader and other children’s games. I marveled that they ever reached their destination, delayed each day as they were by innocence and curiosity. On one winter morning they passed by looking like miniature astronauts with giant life support backpacks walking stiffly and rigidly with little flexibility allowed by their bulky snowsuits. I watched as they tried to climb a snow bank at the end of my driveway and then as they meandered slowly and disappeared up the hill. Later driving to my own school over the same route, I was wishing all the while that I was a child astronaut with a long wooden walking stick strolling the lunar landscape aimlessly.
In Kuwait I had a twenty-minute walk to school when it was cool enough in winter to actually walk, or a half-hour drive to the same location with heavy traffic in the hot season. Walking was a life-threatening process in a neighbourhood not designed for pedestrians or cars. On narrow, dusty, litter-strewn streets with the cacophony of rush hour horns and diesel exhaust, I circumnavigated garbage bins inhabited by feral cats living on the garbage. Crossing Tunis Street to reach Fawzia Sultan School across from the Dar Al Shifa Hospital, with six lanes of traffic in a country where driving etiquette does not exist was always a life-threatening adrenaline rush. But even there I could eventually negotiate the streets and avoid the construction sites, where fallen debris has killed pedestrians because there are no safety barriers, and reach my dusty wall-enclosed school building.
In the Bahamas, while teaching at the St. John’s Anglican College, I learned to negotiate traffic circles while driving on the “wrong” side of the road in this former British colony.
This morning, with the wind chill factor thrown in, it was – 48 C, and the school buses were not running. I pulled on several layers of clothing over my long underwear and managed to get my Sorel boots over thick woollen socks to begin my walk to school in the dark. Everywhere one walks here in Fort Chipewyan, stray dogs, usually friendly, will come and greet you. The sad cases are the ones tied by a short chain to an engine block living in perpetual cold. I pat the friendly ones. I can hear the crunch of snow underfoot, I glance up at a crescent moon in the pale morning sky, I hear dogs barking and ravens cawing as I make my walk to school. It is a cold, yet soothing journey.
Eventually, no matter where our journey to work takes us, we learn to cope with its challenges and the routine becomes just another part of the day—but a part of the day that may be savoured and fondly remembered when we move on to other times and places.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Marty Rempel is a Special Education Coordinator at Athabasca Delta Community School, Fort Chipewyan, Alberta.
This article is from Canadian Teacher Magazine’s May/June 2011 issue.