1972-73: My First Teaching Year

was in a remote northern Alberta town called Grand Centre which had just built a new Douglas Cardinal senior high school which served students from the town, the nearby town of Cold Lake, the native reserve Beaver Crossing, and the nearby Air Force base. Students of the day were just getting into pot though drinking was de rigeur in the area for young and old.
A few memories…
Early in the year the admin had to close down the smoking room they tried having inside the school. Kids had trashed the room and destroyed the carpet. They were then moved outside where they should have been in the first place. An initial failure of giving the student body some freedom.
In September, the admin set up tv monitors in the agora for anybody who was ‘free’ to watch the famed Canada-Russia series. Lots of kids skipped especially for the tie-breaker final game when Paul Henderson scored. I remember seeing that huge pandemonium goal along with many other hockey fan teachers.
One afternoon bands of students came to ‘capture’/collect each teacher unexpectedly and escorted them to the staffroom (reminiscent of the French Revolution scenes in Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities). From there each one was ‘summoned’ to the central agora where the entire student body of several hundred had massed to savour the humiliation of seeing teachers as the targets of taunting and booing. The climax came when the principal (who was a casual laissez-faire guy who never wore a suit) was in the agora and they pressed him for the rest of the day off. To his credit, he remained jovial–they had had their fun–and now it was time to return to class, which we all did.
Later in the winter one of the teachers lost his wife to a car crash in a blizzard on the highway to Bonnyville (closer to Edmonton). GC even had a streaker incident (another fad of the times)
In the 2nd year, there is a yearbook picture of me with the student newspaper staff with a stogie sticking out of one girl’s mouth and a poster on the wall behind us of two rhinos humping with a large caption ‘Make Love, Not War’. The passionate World Famous Trike Race around the agora (complete with betting) was to follow as was the rock operetta I co-wrote–“First Butterfly in Grand Centre”, performed with many teachers in outrageous roles to an enthusiastic crowd.
Before summer break, the wild guidance counsellor I sang with evenings in the local lounge ran off with a cute 15-year-old, later coming back with her, married. The following year, after he left the school, he accidentally shot her on a hunting party. Shades of Peter, Paul, and Mary’s “She’d her apron wrapped about her and I took her for a swan” (“Polly Von”).
Hard to believe any learning or teaching got done, but the English Dept. taught thematic modules ( 2 per 5 credit course; students chose their themes; teachers created the curriculum). Kids could take options then and I created a memorable course on The Poetry of Rock (which included folk artists such as Dylan and Lightfoot) that was very popular as well as a course on The Poetry of Nature which had about 8 kids in it! (We drove in cars during class to a nearby lake one fall morning to generate some poems!) I also taught Drama 10 and an English 30 night class to local adults. I spent a lot of time running off spirit masters or doing mass runs on the school’s one photocopier to create the reading materials.

Yes, it was a wild and crazy time and a great time to be alive. I was the leader of a band of Air Force guys who did gigs in the area in bars, at legions, at weddings, at bases (including Wainwright one New Year’s for $1200–a lot of dough back then–and barracks accommodation). We became the band in the area, playing many smoke-filled rooms for masses of drunk people. It was customary for the band to drink before and after shows and during sets. I was in some danger of becoming an alcoholic had I stayed in GC, and that was one reason we moved back to Edmonton after 3 weird years.

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