Uncommon Threads: The Tapestry We Weave
If you follow your bliss, you put yourself on a kind of track, which has been there all the while waiting for you, and the life that you ought to be living is the one you are living.
– Joseph Campbell
As I ease myself into the final few years of my teaching career, I find I am less and less willing to compromise my personal values and beliefs. This is as it should be if integrity is a standard by which we wish to be judged. In short, one word, authenticity, is the key that unlocks my actions and philosophical approach to teaching and learning, and has become more than ever my guiding principle.
Fortunately for me, I have no further need nor desire to sell myself to prospective employees, and am content to simply present myself as I am, rather than who I might like someone to think I am. Please keep in mind that this portfolio represents more of a history of my life looking back, rather than a sales pitch aimed towards the future, although I am certainly proud of the broad range of experiences this binder holds testimony to, and believe this should present ample proof of my professional qualifications and character.
Reflecting back on the life I’ve lead, it appears a certain contrariness and stubbornness have served me well, as I have no regrets whatsoever about the unusual choices I’ve made and the divergent paths I’ve ventured along. Not having twenty-five cents for a cup of coffee in Prince George, and later being thrown in the town drunk tank for the night is as rich and valuable a memory as being served deluxe whiskey by a bevy of beauties in Yokohama alongside my charismatic company president, Jun Ogasawara. And in between, I cherish the image of the Nigerian postman handing me my Manchester Guardian through the open window of our local palm wine shop, where I gathered every afternoon with the men of the village to help finish off the day’s supply of freshly tapped palm wine, while listening to the elders tell stories in a language no one outside Uzairue could understand.
At this point in the narrative you may well ask what relevance any of this has, and I would answer, somewhat petulantly, ‘It’s a puzzle, and I’m trying to fit all of the pieces together.’ You see, I don’t want to be defined by the role of teacher; teaching is just one aspect of who I am. In fact, my greatest achievement in teaching was not as a teacher per se, but as a residential counsellor...
The Door to the Kitchen
It isn’t that they can’t see the solution. It is that they can’t see the problem.
– G.K. Chesterton
It was a blistering hot day at the group home when Gerry walked past me grumbling, ‘I’m thirsty’, and went on to fill his cup with tap water. The other residents were capable of quenching their own thirst, all except for Gary. Gary would rub his tummy and make a sad face when he had to use the toilet, but beyond that he didn’t express himself much, having spent all of his life in a locked institution where most of his basic needs, one hoped, were taken care of by the staff. We were not supposed to have favourites, of course, but I had a soft spot for Gary’s gentle childlike nature.
Residents entered the kitchen through a door with a large glass window, but Gary only came when he was brought in for meals. It suddenly occurred to me, as Gerry noisily gulped down his water, that Gary might be thirsty too, but had no way of telling us. As I left the room to find him, it dawned on me that it would be so much better if he could just wander into the kitchen by himself and get his own water. All that was preventing him, in fact, was the kitchen door, or to be more specific, the thing that magically made the door open, the doorknob. Having grown up in locked wards, Gary, being somewhat passive anyway, was always lead though doorways by the hand, and as I surmised, had never once been taught the secret of the doorknob.
To make a long story short, at the end of three weeks Gary was able to twist the knob and enter the kitchen whenever he pleased, thanks largely to the behavioral modification techniques I had learned in psychology. To the casual observer it may have appeared that I was simply repeating, ‘Do you want a cookie Gary?’ as I stood on one side of the glass pointing down at the knob, but in truth it was much more subtle than that. What I did accomplish was to give Gary a freedom he had never in his life enjoyed before.
No amount of teaching the present perfect progressive in order for ESL students to pass a grammar test will ever mean as much to me as that one small yet so important lesson, teaching Gary to open doors. I take a special pride in this achievement as no one else at the group home had even thought about this; it wasn’t written on Gary’s life skills plan.
Some of the Other Pieces
For this is the journey that men make: to find themselves. If they fail in this, it doesn’t matter much what else they find.
– James. A. Michener
While that happens to be my favourite, I could easily come up with another dozen wonderful stories from my five years of working as a vocational instructor, sheltered workshop manager and residential counsellor for various associations for the mentally handicapped. The most important lesson learned during those years was Mark Goldman’s simple mantra, ‘Try another way’, practical advice for both trainers and their clients for times when obstacles seem to prevent further progress.
Moving on to more traditional teaching roles, my greatest satisfaction comes from the field of Adult Literacy. In fact, helping someone crack the reading code is akin to opening doors; the purpose of the lesson is empowerment. However, providing students with the confidence to speak less than perfect English is also satisfying professionally, as well as empowering for the individuals; these, as opposed to demeaning grammar tests, are what make teaching so worthwhile. Language is power.
But let us not get bogged down by pedagogy; to me life must be lived holistically, with an eye always on the bigger picture. The dozens of teaching jobs I’ve held throughout Canada, West Africa and Japan all add up to much more than the sum of time spent and money earned. The rich range of experiences, including those that hurt, has shaped my character and made me the person I am today. It strikes me as quite wonderful that the ideas that started germinating within me as an undergraduate student four decades ago, when I first read the works of the existentialists and visionaries like Carl Rogers (On Becoming A Person) and the Beat writers, are blossoming now!
This leads us to the present, and this portfolio: what exactly am I offering here, aside from sufficient documentation to earn my final credit for the Teacher/Trainer of Adults Certificate. Actually, I had hoped that question had already been answered, but just in case it isn’t clear, let me reiterate. This portfolio, containing transcripts, certificates, resumes, letters of reference, pamphlets and what may seem like a hodgepodge of miscellaneous items, is sufficient proof that I can and did jump through all the necessary hoops society demands of us in order to earn a good living. Furthermore, I have included items that show me to be a businessman, an entrepreneur, owner of a successful educational services company (Canadian Study Tours, Ltd.), partner in a consulting and tutoring firm (Canadian Academic Preparation School, Inc.), and even director of a dormant (for now) mediation service (Glanville Mediation Services). There is also ample evidence to show I am a good citizen; records of my involvement on school councils, on volunteer boards of directors (currently President of the Canada Japan Society), and more importantly, I am now serving as a trained mediator for the Youth Justice Committee in Scarborough, after serving as a pioneer on the now disbanded Adult Justice Committee. This means I can help guide conversations with youth and their parents so that those charged with certain crimes under the law can make amends and if sincerely contrite be cleared of criminal charges, allowing for a fresh, unblemished start.
So What Else Is There?
One way or another, we all have to find what best fosters the flowering of our humanity in this contemporary life, and dedicate ourselves to that.
– Joseph Campbell
I have a photograph my mother gave me of an old man resembling Charles Darwin. She remembered sitting on his lap in the conservatory and being fascinated by his white beard. I also have a copy of a sermon he gave one Sunday in 1914, two years before his second granddaughter, my mother, was born, and some coins and sketches of far off places he made as a young man in the British navy, including a view of Yokohama circa 1867. In fact, I even have all of his original ships papers, passed down through the generations, and can go online to track down the histories of the HMS ships he served on. I have a book, Darkness at Finisterre, describing the capsizing of the HMS Captain in 1870, the ship his younger brother drowned on along with 500 other British sailors, resulting in his leaving the navy to open a school for boys in the south of England. I have many pieces of the puzzle, but no matter how I try to put them together, Owen Fanshawe Glanville remains a complete mystery to me. Who was that man?
Enter the digital age! All of us, whether we like it or not, are leaving a trail behind. While I value the very real and priceless artifacts of my great grandfather more than any jpeg or pdf file, there is something to be said for new media and the tools we now have available to help flesh out our ghosts. ‘Excuse me’, you politely interrupt, ‘but where are we going with this?’ Ah yes, the point! How I wish I could hear the voice of that man, talking about his adventures at sea, the pain of losing his brother in the greatest sea disaster of the Victorian age, or perhaps his views, as a clergyman, on Darwin’s theory of evolution! Even the trivia of his daily home life and what he ate and drank would be of such interest to me now, but alas, I shall never know. While I could assemble a rudimentary portfolio of his life, it’s impossible to say what kind of man he really was; kind or unkind, gentle or rough, tolerant or bigoted, humorous or gruff, generous or miserly, but of course there is no one left alive to ask. So... what will my descendants find of me? The papers herein tell part of the story, where I was and when and what I did, but they still don’t speak of me as a person, and if this were the only record passed on, my descendants might ask the same questions I ask of my ancestors. Yes, I have included some testimonials, as instructed, which reveal something of my character, but these are attestations to my digital self, which if you are still with me is an integral part of this story...
The Story Teller
No matter how old you get, if you keep the desire to be creative, you’re keeping the man-child alive.
– John Cassavetes
Are we there yet? No, but we are very close. As I write, I am reminded of my struggle to comprehend T.S Eliot’s The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock in first year university:
There will be time, there will be time;
To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet... Time for you and time for me,
And time yet for a hundred indecisions,
And for a hundred visions and revisions,
Before the taking of a toast and tea.
‘Oh please’, you say, ‘is this really the time for poetry?’ Indeed it is, and as you flip though this binder I hope you take the time to read through a few of my personal favourites, poems that mean even more to me now that they did when I first copied them down into one of my ever present black notebooks I carried as a young man. Surely this is a sign of my advancing years, a newfound appreciation for poetry? But if this portfolio was put together on a tool from tomorrow, like the Apple iPad, then you could merrily scroll your way through with the touch of your fingertip – and presto! you’d be hearing my favourite songs as well! Something by Ween, for sure, and a little Van Morrison, and of course some Dylan – well, you get the idea, this dam old fashioned binder portfolio just don’t cut it, Joe! And I could not have delivered all this text via a powerpoint presentation or even a web site or blog – no, the iPad would have been the best tool for the job, but as I write it’s still unavailable in Canada. So where does that leave us?
A quick summary. By the time you read this, I will have already stuffed this binder full of most of what this course requires. I have spent an entire afternoon writing this piece, which I’m pleased to say has turned something I dreaded spending my time on into a most enjoyable, at least for me, exercise! You see, I am a story teller, and there is just no other way I can think of to better explain who I am, which has been my goal all along. Now before you cry out ‘Boring!’ let me remind you I’m an English teacher, and it’s only natural to take great delight in the creative writing process, whether or not you have the patience to read though this. Perhaps this is the best place for my cummings quote:
To be nobody-but-yourself – in a world which is doing it’s best, night and day, to make you everybody else – means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight; and never stop fighting.
– e.e. cummings
Okay, but does being yourself have to take so dam long? The answer is yes. And I haven’t even started in on my father’s ham radio, and the mystery of what role he played during World War Two, thanks largely to the Official Secrets Act which he swore an oath to, meaning he never did tell us, although we pieced some of the clues together; his study of German, the spy network responsible for sinking so many of the ships that sailed down the St Lawrence from the shipyard he worked at, or the disappearances when the only way my mother could get a message to him was via an intermediary in Sorel. And all this just triggers off the story of my Aunt Rosemary laughing when her father, my dear grandfather, who married Owen Fanshawe’s daughter, fell in the garden every time a plane went overhead, too young to understand he was still reacting to the trauma of World War One, which was why he left Vancouver Island where he had emigrated to a few years earlier, and sadly, this kind man who I remember so well, was just never able to pick up all the pieces again. That’s why my mother can recall the bailiffs coming to their home during the depression years, and taking away their furniture, and why it is she was never able to finish school because Percy could no longer afford the boarding fees at the Ottawa School for Girls for her and her older sister. And that story – well you get the idea, don’t you. It’s rather like a tapestry, how all the threads interweave and create new patterns, just as that fateful decision to fly to Japan on a one way ticket in 1984 changed my life forever, and gave rise to the two sons for whom this ‘portfolio’ is meant as a keepsake.
I hope, dear reader, by now you understand how very important it was that I took control of this exercise. I’ve done my bit. I owe no one anything (wife, children and bank aside, of course). This choice to take these courses was mine, and I feel proud for having done things my way. That stubborn streak, remember?
One Last Thing, eh
The importance and unimportance of the self cannot be exaggerated.
– R.H. Blyth
How could I forget what I originally thought was the most important factor in the equation, to use yet another metaphor. My digital persona – my audio avatar! Please let me introduce you to the Scarborough Dude. Not to be confused with the real me, of course – heaven forbid, I’d never get hired again. If you wade through this portfolio you should find a few back issues of the Dicks ’n Janes newsletter, first published in 1985, a ‘zine’ before the word zine was even popularized. The purpose was mainly to serve as a means of keeping a closely knit group of ex-Lachine friends in touch as we moved around on this planet, with the shifting sands of time. We shared letters and stories and jokes in what was a ‘joint’ (wink wink) effort, and managed to break even after a twenty year run, thanks to volunteer subscriptions, with yours truly serving as editor, publisher, printer, etc. We embraced new technologies as they came along, starting with dot matrix printers and computer tapes, and moving to the first Macintosh, laser printers and the wonders of desk top publishing with which we could now include pictures! Indeed, there was even discussion as to whether or not we should include so called ‘internet’ friends, and who would and wouldn’t embrace this new electronic mail idea. Yes, the Dicks ’n Janes zine is now history, but just one year after the release of the final issue, it was brought back to life by yet another technological breakthrough, the podcast!
Once again, were you reading this on an iPad or some such device, I would insert a link here and you’d be hearing my voice now – or rather the voice of the Scarborough Dude, host of the one and only DicksnJanes podcast (link to testimonials here – if not, just flip the pages). I must add, the podcast, like the newsletter it’s named after, which by the way was named after the Dick and Jane books so many of us baby boomers learned to read with, is generally by invitation only, although as it happens friends recommend friends and that accounts for the hundreds of regular weekly listeners scattered across the globe. These people count on the Scarborough Dude to tell it like it is, or at least as the world appears through his eyes, and keep coming back for more, in one hour doses, many having stayed with the show for the entire 244 and counting, episodes. There is one thing they are guaranteed and value as much as I do, and that is, authenticity.
Hey, didn’t we start with that word – authenticity – have we finally come full circle? Yes we have: today I am coming out of the podcast closet, revealing my secret identity to all who find this; I am, for better or worse, the Scarborough Dude, and proud of it! These podcasts are my story; besides the therapeutic value of releasing pent up emotions week after week, especially with regards to the tragic state of the world, I reveal my inner being, bare my soul to the digital world. Now you may ask what’s the big deal about having a podcast as a hobby? I agree, of course, this is really not all that special, and in some ways is much like my father’s ham radio hobby, but using today’s technology. It only takes on greater significance in the context of this assignment; the portfolio is meant to help us put our best foot forward, to show what we are capable of as professionals. The DicksnJanes podcast, on the other hand, reveals the rants and raves of a grown man trying to comes to terms with life as it really is, sometimes sublime and sometimes, in the oft repeated words of the Scarborough Dude, just fucking awful! I know for sure that anyone who can get beyond the language and occasional bouts of baseness and vulgarity will find a man who is truly sincere, reflective, caring and at heart a teacher in the noblest sense of the word. For those whose prefer to judge a person by superficial qualities, adherence to politically correct stances and conformity to social niceties, I will conclude with yet another quote from the Scarborough Dude “Go f–” On second thought, better to play it safe: “Have a nice day eh!”