Sunday, August 30, 2009

The 10 000 Kilometer Club

     Some Time ago I wrote a piece on All Old Guys Should Cycle. I explained that I set a minimum goal of 1000 km per summer.

      Well, last night I rolled my odometer over the 9999 km mark and of course it resets to 0. In fact I have rolled the 9999 two and a half times. Once my battery died and I had to start over again. However, the odometer helps to keep up my will to continue cycling as it sets a very definite goal and if I set something which I can achieve it works.

     I have a Cateye speedometer which is quite accurate. It records time, trip distance, accumulated distance as well as speed. There is also a clock for regular time. Fancier speedometers are available which record heart rate if you really want to go for fitness.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Reflections...Valuable Colleagues

      Colleagues were extremely valuable to me throughout my career. Colleagues are able to influence you in many different ways on a daily basis. Fortunately most influence is positive,but there was the odd negative result.

     Teachers gain so much from each other by cooperating. They have so much to learn from each other and the students are the ones who benefit. I enjoyed working with people to put together units or to outline a full year program. In that way we did not have to reinvent the wheel. One wheel could be built with many more parts to make it a better wheel. It would take much time for one to create a unit, but together complete units of work could be put together with much more detail.

      Early in my career I was fortunate enough to work in a team teacher situation teaching science. When you team teach it is important that all details be planned so that all material is covered in a similar manner. Evaluation was also prepared so we really had to cooperate.

       I also was able to learn many skills by watching my colleagues. Sometimes we organized formal lesson observations, but may times this learning was incidental when you would walk through a classroom or by listening to someone explain a procedure they used and you could take it and adapt it to your own situation. Many small tricks of the trade were shared.  Many times I needed some moral support and it would come from fellow teachers . I guess many times people could tell if you were down or struggling with something and needed a little moral support.

      I also enjoyed having student teachers. I usually felt I had something to gain from them as they were coming out with some of the latest methods. They needed a chance to put some of their ideas to practice. They also had to watch me and again saw some of the old tricks.

       I have been retired for twelve years and meet former colleagues regularly. These are good times that we enjoy.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Major Error of Omission

     A few posts ago I wrote about the wonders of new potatoes and the first feed of new potatoes of the season. Well, I missed something. I got my priorities wrong. Potatoes might be good but they're not the best in my world. How could I forget about tomatoes?

     I've always liked tomatoes from my garden. I think it starts from my Mom's garden. Each fall Mom would have boxes of tomatoes in the house to ripen them. I would take two or three out of the box when I came home from school and go out to do my chores. Can you imagine a kid choosing tomatoes over cookies?

     Now I have ripe tomatoes about the first of August and eat them at least twice a day until they're gone in December. Sometimes they get ahead of me and I have to freeze them so I also have tomatoes for cooking in the winter. I also give away tomatoes to friends and neighbors.
One of my favorite tomato dishes is to layer cheese tomato and egg in a shallow pan Then I bake it. I will post the exact recipe later in this blog.

     So, now I feel more at ease that I have corrected a major error and my world is much better.

Monday, August 17, 2009


      I started this blog in August of 2008. I didn't really do much with it until March of 2009. It's been more than fun! It's an adventure, a challenge, a satisfaction. I like to write and I appreciate comments and feedback. Some of this has been slow, but I am learning new skills as I go. It took a long time to discover how the mechanics of the blog work and I'm still not through with my discovery.
     What I really like is browsing through blogs . I'm amazed at the photography, ideas for topics, writing styles and enthusiasm. I've found some blogs I really like. I've found other blogs that teach me things about blogging. Commenting on blogs is still a work in progress for me. I try to say something which is meaningful and constructive.

      So blogging is an activity on which I hope to spend more time discovering new skills on both sides of the blog.

Sunday, August 16, 2009


      In a previous piece I told you that my career spanned from 1958 to 1997. That length of time alone calls for Professional development activity (P.D. activity.) However, I took a one year teacher training course at Saskatchewan Teachers' College in Saskatoon in 1957-58. This program was designed to prepare people to take over a classroom and be independent. At that time most of the graduates would be teaching in a one room rural school so they had no supervision and no one to ask for advice. The program was excellent in practical terms but was out of date and obsolete as many of the one room schools were closing due to low enrolments.

      I taught in a one room school for my first year and the course served me well. I was very fortunate to teach in a district where the community gave me tremendous support. I then decided to attend university for one year as I had decided to stay with teaching.

      As time went on things had to change and I had to add to my skills. Here's where professional development came in. Professional development improved and many valuable sessions were available. Teachers' conventions and workshops were available. You could always pick something up to apply in your classroom. I needed something to keep me motivated and possibly make things more interesting for students.

      One of the more influential speakers was a Madeleine Hunter who had many practical strategies in lesson planning. Our district hired her several times and implemented her program. In this way the district was able to set up an excellent teacher evaluation system. Madeleine's program structured the lessons in several parts. As teachers, we were required to follow the plan. It really worked!

      Our district set up a professional development fund where teachers could access funds to attend a workshop of some kind every second year. Now some teachers did not like P.D. and did not access the funds. This is where I came in and helped everybody out . I applied every year and as a result got to attend sessions every year.

       One time my Dept. Head came to me and asked if I would like to attend a week long session. He pleaded being busy that week. Gullible me said ,"Sure! I'd like to go." It was the Quest program sponsored by the Lions Club and was designed to train teachers to teach the new health program that was about to be implemented. So I accidentally got myself assigned to teaching the new health program. The Quest program however could be adapted to any subject area . So I received a benefit all around.

      I found that P.D. kept me motivated and as a result I was able to be much happier and satisfied as I went about my teacher assignments.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009


     Number one in my reflections of teaching has got to be the students. Some of the adjectives which come to mind are energetic, exciting, genuine, creative and unpretentious to name a few. With qualities like this it was always stimulating for me to be in a classroom. You never knew what was coming next and you had to be ready for it.

     Variety of students alone would have made the whole experience challenging and interesting. First the range in abilities in most classes was extremely wide. You had the little guys who were only managing to keep their head above water. Then there were extremely brilliant people. With the brilliant people teaching skills, appreciation,facts or understanding all material was like dropping a pebble down a deep well and hearing it bounce off the sides of the pipe all the way down. They took everything in and related it to the bank of knowledge they already had . Many times these were indicated by idiosyncratic behaviours. One boy had a noticeable little giggle after processing everything. Others you could sort of watch their eyes and "see the wheels turning" so to speak. The poor little guy who was just getting the basics gave the smile as he understood the concept.

    Style of learning was always interesting to notice. I'm afraid that I could not always accommodate this one in my bag of tricks. One girl in particular repeated everything aloud to herself. It sometimes drove me batty as well as the kids sitting beside her . But this is the way she learned best. I'm sure many other students had the same style of learning and that for some along the way they had been discouraged from this habit as it was considered to be distracting for other students.

      For me each student had a unique personality and this was interesting to get to know. It made it easier for me to consider individual differences. Since I still live in the area where I taught I meet former parents. First, they are amazed that I remember their child after such a long time . Second , they are amazed that I remember something about the child. I tell them that they gave me their child for a year so the least I could do is get to know them. Then it's automatic to remember them.

     Now it wasn't always sweetness. There were some bad apples. Bad apples had to be dealt with in their own individual ways. There was always tremendous support from administrators and guidance personnel. Many times these were learning situations as how to or how not to handle a situation. A very high percentage of the bad apples grew into good apples . I taught in one district for 28 years so many former students sent their children to me. These people had turned out to be honorable citizens and good, supportive parents.

     So I have many positive memories when it comes to students. Students made the career really tick!

Monday, August 10, 2009


     In April, May and June I wrote six pieces on early morning bird walks . These months are exciting because migrating birds are returning. After just winter birds, we see water fowl, shore birds and song birds.

    However, in my backyard in August birding becomes active again. Why? Well, some of the local birds come back to the yard with the young of the year. Some years these birds will nest right in the yard using a nest box or manufacturing their own nest. So when they nest away from the yard, it seems like there are chickadees, nuthatches, blue jays and magpies in every bush when they return. At this time of year it is still easy to pick out the young of the year.

     Then fall migration is beginning. Many migrants go through our urban yards . Some are seen just once and others hang around a few days or even weeks. So in my back yard I see white crowned sparrows, song sparrows, clay colored sparrows, chipping sparrows juncos and the odd other sparrow. Some years we have an eruption of pine siskins and it looks like this might be the year as I am seeing pine siskins each day. Warbler species that visit are yellow, yellow rumped, and Tennessee. We sometimes find orioles having a good feed of ants . This is the only time of the year when I see hummingbirds .

     It seems like when there's dirty weather many more birds appear in the yard. The sparrows take advantage of ground feeders. My vegetable garden is a total jungle at this time so the sparrows run under all the foliage and pick up insects.

      So these activities make it active and interesting in my backyard as far as birding goes.

Sunday, August 9, 2009


     Yeah! that's right! Today was the first day this year to have new potatoes from my own garden! For an avid vegetable gardener the best treat from the garden is to have new potatoes. Next, comes corn. Then beets. You can talk about flavor, freshness or whatever. It all fits when it comes to new potatoes. Working to grow a vegetable garden is all worth it when it comes to consuming the fresh new produce.

     I often wonder why I love growing a vegetable garden. It could be in the genes. My father and Grandfather on my mother's side lived for their vegetable patch. I think it has more to do with the food available when I grew up. You can go back to my "Isolated Farm " piece. My Mother was an excellent cook, but the supplies she had to work with were limited. She canned beans and peas. She made lots of relish and pickles. However, potatoes, carrots,turnips, parsnips and beets were stored in a root cellar. By January, carrots and beets were pathetic. Turnips and parsnip lasted a little longer . Potatoes had to hang on until July. They were in dreadful condition. So you see that when new potatoes were ready, they were a real treat compared to what we had just been eating.

    So I guess I never lose that experience of new vegetables from my time as a child.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Refections on My Career

     I was a teacher for 37 years from 1958 to 1997. I taught in three provinces and one territory. I look back on my time with the feeling that I would do it all over again, but change some things which experience drilled into me.

    Now for starters, I have to be careful what I say because one of my previous administrators reads this blog. He's a wonderful human being but can be a bit critical at times. I might have to defend myself strenuously if I go too far out in left field.

     I took the compulsory administrations class in education. It was a survey course and explained and justified why the system was organized the way it is. The grade system was dealt with thoroughly.

     Looking back, some students jumped through the hoops (grades) willingly and paid their debt to society and got an education. However, not all students learned at the same rate or had the same learning style. So some kids had difficulties as they were not prepared or ready to learn the concepts being presented at a certain grade level. Some of these kids went on and never did pick up the concept and as a result were challenged later or met with failure. A simple example would be some student who did not learn to read in the primary grades. Some of the obvious behavior problems were a result of students not being ready for a concept and acting up because of the difficulties experienced.

     Now I'm not the only one to make these observations. Various attempts have been made to accommodate the variation in student readiness. "Continuous progress" - remember that one? Open classroom concept? Portfolios? These were attempts to solve the problem of different learning stages of the student population. They were good ideas and would have worked, but they didn't. A teacher was left with the same number of students and found the strategy too challenging so gradually backed into what they were doing previously .

     My favorite teaching assignment was to be given 12 to 15 students who were labeled as having problems. I was able to go away with these students and modify a program to where they were able to succeed. At the end of the year I would come back with my charges. Would they have achieved grade level? No! But they would have met with some success and avoided the hassles they would have met in the regular program.

     So it bugs me to some extent that I saw students experience problems because of a system which was set up to accommodate administration rather than a system set up to meet the needs of the individual student .