Monday, September 1, 2014

Learning to Teach, Teaching to Learn

A week ago Friday my path took a turn that I didn’t see coming.
It didn’t show up in the headlights – not even the high-beams.

I got a call from the Chair of the Community Development and Health department at Fleming College. She asked if I’d be interested in teaching this fall?

Now, I’d been interested in teaching at Fleming since I arrived in Peterborough. Back in the nineties I’d taught a few courses at George Brown’s Community Worker program and really enjoyed it. So I started enquiring as soon as I arrived.

I discovered that lots of people had done part time teaching gigs at Fleming. As in the private sector part time contract workers are a cost efficient way of filling gaps in the workforce when an Employer can’t offer job security or a Benefits plan.  This I already knew.

Then the job at George Street church came up and swallowed me whole. I took the supervision of a Fleming “Social Service Worker” student who needed a field placement. The first and second summers those students helped get the Community Garden going, host a Community picnic, and get the office systems in place for what was to become Seeds of Change.

We also invited the Fleming Early Childhood Education program to use the auditorium at the church. This fall will be the third year that program is in place there. With this arrangement I got to know a few more of the teachers and administrators in this department at Fleming.

But when I submitted my resume to the Chair last spring – I heard nothing back. Weeks, then months passed. So I figured the Fleming path was a dead end.

Until last Friday, when, from around the corner, came an opportunity to teach two classes - just for this fall - it was explained. They were intending to hire a full time professor but their search process had been delayed and they needed someone – could I start next week?

I have to say that my first reaction was “Oh Shit – a job”.
We’d been psyching ourselves up to be self-powered, self-employed, consultants/facilitators/ and workshop program directors. It was like suddenly I went from riding my bicycle to jumping on a bus. Signing up with a Community College, it was more like going from a two-seater kayak to a cruise ship.

But it was like an offer I couldn’t refuse. Not only would I serve to lighten the “worry load” of friends and family who were wondering how we’d pay the mortgage on our new home (with Lynn working part time and going full time to school).  This call out of the blue also had the feel of what Lynn calls a “god set-up”.

Just like god to surprise you with an opportunity you didn’t see coming. Just like god to wait until the last possible moment. Just like god to take you to the edge of the precipice and as you’re ready to jump….show you a footpath down.

So I spent the weekend getting my head around this new prospect. As I pickled large jars cucumbers with garlic, hot peppers, and wild grape leaves, I gradually let go of the plans I’d carefully laid out. Every time I felt this new opportunity “pinching” my plans – I’d breath deep and let my imagination soar to a higher place to get a bigger, longer view of the possibilities ahead. Like the pickles – those plans could ferment and be enjoyed later.

A full day of Orientation at Fleming was enough to make a marble-statue’s head spin. Getting up to speed. The ADL for the PRP at the CDR didn’t match the EFC at the PCP. I wasn’t yet in the system so wasn’t able to get “on line” to the portal of all relevant info.

I did connect with quite a few folks I’ve come to know and Bill Peacock – the resident Elder of the department - took the time to tour me around and introduce me to a bunch of new smiling faces. They made me feel better by complaining about the start-up chaos and modeling a good-humoured stress about it all.

I do love chaos and the creative opportunities it brings. There’s little I like better than diving into deep waters and having to figure out which way’s up, which way the current’s going and then - sink or swim.   (“That Allan always lands on his feet,” my Aunt Ruth used to say.)

The next day was my mother’s 81st birthday and my sister had invited Mom’s brother, sister, sister-in-law and niece along for a party. It was when I was telling them about this new job that I realized something about my roots as a teacher. In the Church-world I often talk about the “family business” of Clergy who’ve served the United Church. But my mother, my aunts, and my cousin are all Teachers.

While my mother’s Dad and brothers all went off to serve the Church, she chose a profession of service - gender appropriate for their era - and equally important. Opening minds – young and old – to the methods, skills, and perspectives that a good education offers - is a sacred trust.

When I finally managed to get my head out of my own ass and finish looking at how this opportunity worked or didn’t work for me and my plans – I managed to see how I might serve the students coming my way.

These students have chosen to invest in an education that will equip them to serve others. What a beautiful thing that is. There’s no shortage of people in Peterborough needing to negotiate the mountain passes of our Social Service system. They need guides who know the ropes. Workers who will steer them right. Helpers to encourage them in that soul-sucking journey, and show them how to negotiate a river crossing where the bridges have all been washed out.

I’ve got a few grey hairs, a healthy dose of cynicism, and the street-smarts of an experienced guide. I’ve been negotiating the politics and the institutional barriers of our so-called Safety nets for decades now. I know how to get things done with little or nothing - and I know how to milk the cow when she don’t want to be milked.

Most of all – my greatest asset I figure – is that I love to learn. I’m old enough to know that my answers need questioning. That the relevance of my experience is limited - because the mountain terrain is always changing with floods and landslides. That the glaciers that once fed our Safety net are shrinking fast. And so, ingenuity, creativity, and persistence are the spikes and ropes of this trade.

I am a deep believer in the power of collective action, of pooled thought, of drawing lessons from the ages and giving old lyrics and new beat. I know the road back from burnout. I know that you never know what’s around the next corner – good, bad and ugly – that the turns are taken best when taken together.

This week I’m a college professor. I’m looking forward to what I’ll learn.


Anonymous said...

Congratulations Allan. I wish you the very best in this endeavour - and it is soooo true - NO-ONE learns more than the teacher - you will do well and you will love it.

Lynda Ferguson

Jo Hayward-Haines said...

I'm excited for you, Allan. And all this before I even got a chance to respond to your last post, which was beautiful.

AS for me - I got my wish to live my art. Sensing Sacred Balance is the raft through the cancer currents, which are chaotic. My last radiation session is this Thursday. Every story's got a picture, don't it, and I'm seeing new sights.