Matt Rosati has been teaching English and Social Studies for 14 years and is an English department head in SD42, Maple Ridge.This is his first journal as a new co-editor.
I finally got started. My wife has been asking me to prepare the baby’s room for some time. Pulling down wallpaper, drywall repair, sanding, painting, pulling up carpet, installing a new floor-these are a few of my least favorite things. Last week, it was clear that I had run out of excuses and “important things I had to do” when she looked at me and said, “We have to get this done, he’s coming.” Her stomach attested to her earnest tone. Ready or not, baby number one was on the way. So Saturday I pulled down wallpaper, repaired drywall, sanded, and painted. My mind drifts when I do this type of work and I thought about what in the world I was going to do with a baby boy. Would anything I do be enough? What if I forget something important that I have to teach him? How can I remember not to forget? Then I stared thinking about the missing parts of my own education and lamented that though my new son will begin a season of learning new things daily, my time for learning had passed. I had to pull myself back to the present moment and realize what a silly thing I had just thought. What was I talking about? I can count on two hands all the new things I have learned just since the New Year.
Excited, I ran into the hallway,
“Honey, I got it!”
“That’s nice . . . are you done painting?”
She was really much more excited for me, but she knows me enough to keep blinders on me until the job’s done. So, I got it, indeed! I hope that by sharing a couple of the many wonderful learning experiences I’ve had in just the past few weeks, I can inspire you, dear reader, to keep the desire for learning and growing aflame and well-stoked.
One of the greatest pleasures I’ve had this year is to be part of the Leadership Academy. It’s a collection of about 25 teachers and administrators, mentored by Faye Brownlie. We travel to two of five possible destinations-Cranbrook, Kelowna, Prince George, Vancouver, or Victoria-and we conduct break-out sessions to complement Faye’s main presentation, Leadership for Learning.
These amazing people are from all over British Columbia and Yukon, including Comox, Smithers, Christina Lakes, Prince Rupert, Quesnel, Arrow Lake, Whitehorse, and Sooke. We’d worked together through the fall and we’d all had the same dilemma: while each of us was presenting a session, the others were concurrently presenting. We would never have a chance to see each other’s work! Luckily, Faye had already solved our problem. During our retreat in January, before we prepared our spring presentations, we took an evening and the next morning to give a quick overview of what each of us had presented in the fall. We were quickly overwhelmed by the immensity and brilliance of the ideas and techniques that were delivered. Some tried to keep notes, some tried to capture Power- Points and videos on flash drives, and everyone walked away with something. For days after, I tried to remember all the big ideas, but soon, I realized the biggest idea of all. Each of the presentations was unique and pushed pedagogy to new depths, but the fact that each of them was predicated on a foundation of literacy, engagement, and researched-based practice was what made them all interrelated. I learned that it’s this foundational pedagogy that makes the curriculum come alive and become meaningful to our students, and that the details will vary. I’m so grateful to my colleagues and friends for reinforcing this lesson.
Another beautiful lesson I learned is that the power of children’s literature can make even a grown man cry. When asked, “What is your favourite children’s book?” I have always reverted to Shel Silverstein’s The Giving Tree, a wonderful book, but probably a favourite more for the sentimental value of being the first book that I remember having. This changed after an evening with children’s author David Bouchard.
Mr. Bouchard was speaking in Port Moody in mid-February, so I went with my wife and two friends. He had spoken at our district kick-off this year and I just loved his stories about how he discovered his Métis heritage, and about his daughter and their love of books and reading. I listened intently in Port Moody; I knew good things were coming. When he asked if anyone could remember the three reasons to read that he had mentioned earlier in the evening, I raised my hand quickly and boldly. “Success, passport to the future, and self-esteem,” I said. It was perfect; I’d just won a copy of his book, I am Raven. I listened to all the great titles and experiences Mr. Bouchard shared, and toward the end of the evening, someone asked for the title of a powerful piece of children’s literature. Mr. Bouchard reflected only briefly before he told us how he couldn’t read The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, by Kate Dicamillo, without weeping. I asked my wife to write that title down and the challenge was on!
The book arrived a few days later and I read half of it Friday evening and started the last part Saturday morning. I had a lump in my throat toward the end, but weep, really weep? I consider myself as manly as any other man who avoids sweating and getting dirty. I started the last page. I finished the last page. My wife glanced up from her book to see a grown man with tears streaming down his cheeks! I love that book and will call it my favourite until a new favourite embraces me. I re-learned that children’s books aren’t just teaching tools for my high school students to learn about theme and character. I learned that sometimes beautiful writing can indeed be a mystery, not to be analyzed- just to be enjoyed.
So the pressure is assuaged. The baby’s room is well on its way to completion; it is, like most things in life, starting that is the most difficult. The pressure of fatherhood, though still a nebulous source of anxiety, doesn’t have to include finite lessons and expectations for learning. So as we look ahead, I hope you’ll join me and a soon-to-be new face, yet to be introduced, as we see things through fresh eyes. I hope you keep learning and keep perfecting your practice. Matt Rosati for Joanne Panas and the BCTELA Executive