Musings on School Author Visits (and a wedding)…

 

I’ve been doing a few school author visits this month, as well as mentoring some young writers, and I’ve been musing…

  1. Small rural schools are a lovely thing; with fewer than 200 students, every adult in the building knows the kids, and that makes it an easier environment in which to be a kid, I’m pretty sure. Class sizes are typically smaller, and it just feels more like family than the bigger schools. It’s sad that as a cost-saving thing, school boards are amalgamating such small schools, leading to longer bus rides for kids and what must be overwhelming crowds for a lot of kids who value their personal space.
  2. Kids are aware of the scary, addictive nature of the internet. While visiting one middle school, a  girl approached me after my presentation, seeking my advice on how to avoid being sucked into the Google vortex while trying to write a story. On the spot, the only advice I could give was to use Google as a reward – say, after you’ve written a couple of pages, allow yourself a few minutes of internet time. Amazing that she’s so self-aware at age 12.
  3. Kids want to be good and want to learn. At that same school, three students approached me as they were leaving (on their own initiative) and apologized for their misbehavior (which I hadn’t even noticed since it was a large group), explaining that they’ve been diagnosed with ADHD.
  4. Calling out students who are inattentive, by mentioning they’ve made themselves outstanding by being the only one in the room without a “listening face” as I call it, is effective. Probably makes me some enemies, but maybe they’ll learn something about being polite, rather than trying to drag others off-task with them. I’m always happy to put on my teacher hat when required:)
  5. The absence of school librarians is noticeable. The middle school above (500 students) does have a librarian, and the library is so well-used, especially at lunchtime, partially as a quieter refuge from the noisy cafeteria. One school I visited has a parent volunteer to supplement the few allotted librarian hours, which is awesome. The good thing is, most kids do have a public library card (and hopefully have somebody to take them to the library occasionally…)
  6. Couldn’t resist adding this gem from today: A student told me about a friend of hers who keeps a list of lines for picking up girls (they’re 12). The one that made me laugh out loud: Getting out a pocket mirror, showing the to-be-wooed girl her face in it, and asking: “Does your father know you stole the stars from the sky and put them in your eyes?” You can’t make that stuff up!
  7. Kids are the best, and I’m so happy I get to write books for young readers. Sharing in their enthusiasm and energy for life is a real treat.
  8. Shout-out to Linda Hudson of the Writers Federation of Nova Scotia who makes these school visits possible through their Writers in the Schools (WITS) program, and to all the adults who make the time to arrange for authors to visit. But mostly, thank you to the students who show up (for the most part) with their “listening faces.”

And I couldn’t resist putting in a few wedding pics from Shannon and Peter’s October 20th country wedding at Peter’s home. Such a wonderful day; my heart was/is full!

Our new, LARGE extended family in Tyrone, ON

The bride making her bouquet in this DIY country wedding.

Proud and happy parents – a new son!

Our four kids – two by birth, two by marriage – love them!

Lots of musicians (and dancers) in the crowd.

Mr. and Mrs. Vooys!

 

 

 

On the Ground, in Nova Scotia Schools

Nova Scotia public school teachers are in a difficult position, possibly poised to strike; something nobody in the schools wants. Image result for teaching is a hard jobI really fear they’re up against the wall, and if they want change, they need to stand firm. If you’ve never spent time in a school lately, I’m pretty sure you’d be shocked at the myriad of challenges students bring with them to school each and every day. Beyond academic struggles, kids have to deal with family break-ups, socio-economic, emotional and behavioural difficulties, including pent-up anger, violence and mental illness. And then there are the kids who are simply unable to “play nice” with others, for a variety of reasons; the ones constantly seeking attention, the ones looking to be loved. The magnitude of these  complicating factors has to be overwhelming for teachers, especially given the fact there are so few educational assistants in elementary classrooms these days.

As one young teacher recently told me, (after telling me about a year spent with two students in her upper elementary class, one who came to school each day wanting to kill somebody and the other who wanted to kill himself) it’s not that there’s not enough money for education, the problem lies in the allocation of those financial resources. There are too many people in offices being paid too much money to create more paperwork for the people on the ground, in the schools. Teachers want to teach, they want to help kids succeed and be happy, and they need sufficient time, energy and assistance in the classrooms, to do their jobs. Period.

And don’t even get me started on the many school libraries that are now staffed by part-time volunteers (thank goodness for those parents), rather than dedicated librarians. How did reading get lost in the educational shuffle? In rural areas, the school library is often the only library available to kids, the only source of good books.

A couple of smiles from recent school visits. Kids always want to know how old I am – big thanks to the grade 3 student who, when I said that I’d seriously started writing toward publication when I was about 40, exclaimed: “You mean you’re older than 40 now!”  I guess when you’re 8, 40 seems super old. And a big smile to the grade 2 boy who, in writing/drawing about Nature’s treasures, wrote me this poem:

The grass is green,

the sky is blue,

Nature is beautiful,

and so are you!

Thank you to all the schools who invited me to visit through the Writers in the Schools (WITS) program over the past six weeks – it was such a pleasure spending time with your enthusiastic, eager kids. Keep up the great work!