With school start up, it seems fitting to reflect on the fact that there is always a teacher that stands out in the mind of each of us for leaving a lasting, positive impression.
For me, it was Mrs. Dorothy King, who was my teacher for Grades 5 and 7. To this day, I can remember her camel hair skirt and silk blouse outfit, and how her diamond rings glistened as she rolled the chalk between her hands, which made a clicking sound as the chalk rolled over her rings. To a girl who only owned hand-me-down clothes, I really wanted to grow up and be just like her, but not just because of her skirt.
Mrs. King was an older teacher and was proud of the accomplishments of her grown children, which she shared with us regularly.
Her son worked at NASA, which at the time, in the late ‘60s, made us feel like we had an inside glimpse into the inner workings of space travel. She also regaled us with her travel experiences and had us draw pictures of the countries she explored, while she explained the sights, smells and different cultures.
To this day, I credit Mrs. King’s accounts of her trip to China as the reason travelling to the Great Wall of China is on my bucket list. She impacted what I wanted to do with my life, because everything she taught in the classroom was delivered with an equal dose of education and inspiration.
She was the consummate professional who stayed after school to support kids who were struggling with their work, or to just let us hang around while she did her work, as she knew many of us were latch key kids who were heading home to empty homes, because of both parents having to work.
She had no problem meeting with parents to discuss their children’s progress, or lack thereof, and counselled parents whose children were struggling with issues over and above their studies.
Our school was in East Vancouver and it had its share of kids that came from troubled homes. Our home was one of them.
I remember the day my mom was asked by Mrs. King to come after school to discuss why I was tired all of the time. My mom was a stoic and private person, so telling Mrs. King about the turmoil that comes with living with an alcoholic husband who often kept the household up late into the night would not be something she would easily divulge. But it was the reality of our life.
However, after watching from the corner of the room where I had been tasked with reading a book while they discussed the issue, I recall Mrs. King reaching for my mom’s hand and both women’s eyes glistening.
Mrs. King was always kind, but from that day forward she made an extra attempt to show me I was cared for in her class. Unfortunately, though, she still didn’t let me sleep in it.
I often wonder what Mrs. King would think of today’s classrooms.
When she was a teacher the teachers were part of a federation of professionals that did not want to be called a union, yet they have since voted to adopt a union model and have joined the Federation of Labour.
While advocating for teacher’s rights has always been an integral part of the British Columbia Federation of Teachers’ role, the degree to which they have been in conflict with government has escalated tenfold since her time in the classroom, which ended in the early ‘70s.
Children with an array of special needs that never graced the seats of her classroom make up a good percentage of today’s classes.
Parents often hold equal or greater levels of education than that of teachers and have increased expectations on the education system, as has society as a whole, which looks to schools to find solutions for many of society’s failings.
Mrs. King seemed to have taught during a simpler time when the basics of arithmetic, hand-writing and learning through rote delivered the required skills for students, but she tackled the task voraciously.
I have a vivid memory of Mrs. King coming to the realization at the beginning of our Grade 5 year that the majority of the class did not know the words to the Lord’s Prayer, which was still recited every morning in class.
She insisted that the times tables be embedded into the mind of every student through any means possible.
I remember it well, as it was one of the few times that she lost her composure, because she believed we would not be able to function without being able to multiply in our heads. I would have to say I tend to agree with her now, but at the time my Grade 7 mind wished many afflictions on her.
If Mrs. King was around today, she may not have agreed with removing the Lord’s Prayer from the classroom, because of her strong reaction to our biblical ineptness, but I believe she would have been supportive of children with special needs and would agree with today’s diverse curriculum supporting individualized learning.
Her professionalism, which I remember the most, lends me to believe she would be disappointed with the students being put in the middle of the conflict between the union and the government.
However, I believe she would embrace every opportunity to find solutions to the issues affecting her students, without conflict.
As September rolls along and the school year kicks off, Mrs. King is the teacher that I remember most, because of her professional and caring nature.
I hope every child is settling into a classroom that has a Mrs. King, or at least a version thereof.
Cheryl Ashlie is a former Maple Ridge school trustee, city councillor, constituency assistant and citizen of the year, and is president of ARMS.