“I thought you were dead,” my friend Chris admitted as I entered the bar on the Thursday before Good Friday.
“This is my weekend to make a comeback,” I reminded him. Chris must have forgotten that I suffer from both megalomania and delusions of grandeur. The talk soon turned to the likelihood of a teachers’ strike, scheduled to be coming up in April. The Ottawa-Carleton board was ‘chosen’ along with six other boards to do the striking on behalf of the province’s teachers.
“I didn’t know anything about that.” I confessed my ignorance, but was more interested in taking my first sip of beer.
“Doesn’t your wife teach?” Andy asked me. “What school is she at?”
“Lisgar. They’re all gifted over there. Maybe they spend their time on theoretical math or trying to figure out what Kant was trying to say. How would I know what gifted people talk about ?”
The truth was that I didn’t follow the day-to day concerns of the education field now that I was almost three years out of it. People always ask me if the kids had gotten to me by my thirty-first year in the classroom. I always say no, I enjoyed the kids more than ever as my career wound down. It was the educational bureaucracy that convinced me to go.
We’re all familiar with the old George Bernard Shaw saying, “Those that can, do. And those that can’t, teach.” Complete hokum, in my biased opinion. Teaching is a skill of its own, and one that takes real experience to master. But I will use ol’ George’s train of thought to add my own amendment to the issue. “Those that can’t teach, go into administration.”
I’d like to think that somewhere in the murky history of the hallowed halls that if someone had had some experience as a capable teacher then they might be invited to become a vice- principal, and if they did a good job there, then they would make the next step to being the principal teacher, or the principal as we call it now. You know, upward mobility based on the novel concept of competence and ability.
It seems that along with big hair, He-Man and Punky Brewster the decade of the 1980s brought a new concept into the field of education. That is, that anyone, after as little as four years of teaching, was equally qualified to start running the show. All you had to do was take one or two Ministry of Education summer courses, paying escalated fees of course. After this daunting task was completed one submitted not to a formal interview of sober questions-and-answers but to a demonstration in front of a panel of school board administrators. This amounted to a show, created and organised by the applicant, as to why they were best qualified to start running a school.
I remember being entertained by one successful applicant at a party in Lindsay, Ontario after he had become vice-principal at the larger of the two high schools in town. He told me he made a copy of every certificate or ribbon he had ever won in his life, including one that acknowledged his latest accomplishment of giving blood. He then proceeded to start reciting all of his do-good accomplishments, from being a Cubs leader to a member of the town’s Kinsmen. To illustrate his prowess in so many diversified fields he started donning different hats to his head, adding each one to the pile on his crown without taking any of them off, until he looked like combination of the Mad Hatter, Bozo the Clown and Dr. Seuss’s Cat in the Hat. I couldn’t tell whether he was immensely proud of his prowess as a showman, or like me, aghast at the folly of it all. I think I was too drunk to remember.
The point is, Bozo could be the Deputy Minister of Education in Ontario right now. Who else would have spent the past ten years perfecting a policy whereby grades are handed out to the students on a scale of one to four, then are converted to a percentage mark for the report cards? It’s like translating from Japanese to English and then back to Japanese. Figuring out how to mark a student has become as confusing as trying to figure out the Ontario government’s policy on beer stores. It’s why, after being a devoted follower of politics my whole life, I have now decided that I’m a anarchist.
It’s true that I never become an educational administrator, but maybe now that I understand bureaucratic policy I can wangle myself a job as the Beer Ombudsman.