Saturday, April 26, 2008

Shoe's Off

So as I said earlier, last weekend was the celebration of the reopening of the Capitol Theatre. There was much fanfare and the whole town was a twitter. The Capitol put on a fabulous show celebrating the diverse talent of this region...and I can't tell you just how much talent there is here. It gives me shivers just thinking about it. We saw singers, musicians, stand-up comedians, choirs, soloists, and the list goes on.

Until one has been to a truly local Nelson event, one can't quite grasp how intimate these shows can be. Of course when we invite outsiders to perform for us, there is never quite the same back and forth banter as we are really on our best behaviour for our out of town guests. But this was, in all senses, a local event, almost like a talent show one would hold in one's own living room, like the ones we used to put on when we were children to entertain the adults...but of course with much more talent.

The evening finished off with the showing of "Shoes Off," a Canadian short flick which I will share with you shortly. There are so many things about this little movie that are so Canadian, I could probably write another post about just that. But you need to know the local connection, so I will try to focus. The music was written by our very own, very talented Don McDonald. My understanding is that Don actually won a Cannes for this particular musical score. But the connection doesn't stop there. The soprano that you hear towards the end of the movie is Alison Girvan, Don's beautiful and equally talented wife. The violinist, Wendy Herbison, is another long time local, in fact, she was both of my sisters' music teacher for many years. So without any further delay, please join me in watching "Shoe's Off."

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Local Celebrations - Capitol Theatre Restoration

Another week has come and gone. I meant to post this last week, and then life got away on me yet again. In any case, last weekend was the twentieth anniversary of the restoration and reopening of the Capitol Theatre here in Nelson. But the Capitol Theatre's history goes back to 1927 when it first opened at a cost of $75,000 which was, undoubtedly, a pretty penny back in those days, and indeed, it was lauded as one of the finest theatres on the continent at the time. It served mainly as a movie house in the Paramount chain of leased theatres, delighting audiences with all the earliest films following the silent movie era. These showings were interspersed with live dramatic performances of traveling companies and local groups.

The thirties were the hey-day of cinema and crowds flocked to see nightly shows complimented by live acts to introduce the movies. In the mid-thirties, the old Opera House in Nelson burnt down and the 1000 seat Civic Theatre, which I understand was a depression "make work" project, was built. It's initial purpose was for live theatre.

During the wartime forties, cinema began to fall out of fashion as people had less time and money. Eventually, Famous Player, holding the lease on both theatres, opted to book the larger Civic Theatre for films. The Capitol continued to sporadically show films along with live acts and music shows, however, as time went on, these began to dwindle in number. By the fifties, as necessary repairs and improvements to the building were neglected, the Capitol fell into disrepair. For awhile, it was used as an auction hall and furniture warehouse and at some point in the sixties, the seats were eventually removed. By this point, the roof leaked and the Theatre which had once held audiences spellbound, sat in a dank pool of water. Indeed, its future looked bleak.

By the early eighties, the seeds of a dream had been planted, and the Capitol Theatre Restoration Society had formed. Locals began to raise funds, and soon thereafter, the City of Nelson acquired the building. Through a fortuitous stroke of luck in the mid-eighties, a significant government grant allowed the project to really get under way. The Theatre was completely gutted, and received an extreme makeover. The original side murals on the walls were lovingly restored, the stage area was increased, and among other things, rich crimson carpets and seats were installed. By the time the repairs and restoration were finished, this original Art Deco Theatre had never looked more grand. Since this time, the Capitol Theatre has reclaimed its prestigious place in Nelson's history as it has once again become the hub of the performing arts in this community. If you're ever passing through, make sure you check out.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Raving Mad Rants

Teaching is not a lost art, but the regard for it is a lost tradition. - Jacques Barzun.

I'm struggling with whether to tell you a nice / funny story, which is most tempting, or to go on a rant. The present inclination is to rant.

Most of you know that I teach...or teach sometimes. I had taken a bit of a step back from it and was pursuing other interests, but still keeping my fingers in the pot, so to speak. And then late winter I was asked if I would step into a position, at least temporarily. The teacher was leaving and they needed someone quickly, however, it was a tough position to fill as it was French Immersion. I've worked at this school before and really like the staff and have a lot of respect for the administrators, so I agreed to take it on until the end of June.

In many ways, I really enjoy French immersion. Although we don't stream our kids for the program, overall, they tend to be highly motivated students with supportive parents. Sometimes, however, that "supportive" translates into "pushy" and out of touch with reality. This past week, I've been writing report cards. I've also been chasing down students for missing assignments and missed tests and at the same time giving them an idea of where they stood academically. In the process, I've fielded numerous calls and had some "emergency" meetings. The following are a few examples of how some of them went.

I had one mother come in with her daughter absolutely frantic when she heard that her daughter had only achieved a C+. I explained to this mother that it wasn't the end of the world, her daughter had a C+. Now you must understand that a C is supposed to be considered average. Therefore, anything above a C is above average. One really can't have everyone in the class having an "A" or an "A" would have no value, it would simply be average. An "A" is supposed to be exceptional. In fact, the definition we are given is "someone who exceeds expectations and outcomes." Now a student who hands in projects late and fails to take responsibility for making up missed tests hardly sounds like an exceptional student who has exceeded expectations. All that aside, at this point, the mother says, in front of her daughter, mind you, "You don't understand, this IS the end of the world for my daughter." My first thought was, "Your poor daughter, you are setting her up for a miserable life and failure." One can't always be the top and the best at all one does. And if one expects to always be, isn't he/she being set up for horrible disappointment. Isn't it more important that one enjoys what one does and feels motivated to continue...not so stressed that one doesn't even want to try? Isn't it more important for one to have acceptance and support from a parent regardless of academic performance?

On to my next story...a father called me and started out with, "I've never done this before but..." I am thinking, please don't do it then because I'm going to end up being really embarrassed for you. He continues on, "I understand that my son has 84%, do you think you could boost his mark by two percent so he gets an A?" Whoa! What's that about? First, a B is a pretty good mark. Second, what kind of message does that send to a child? I had to explain, NO! That is a very slippery slope. If I raise one student's mark by two percent, then to be fair about it, I would have to raise all my students' marks by two percent or be accused of playing favorites. If I'm raising everyone's mark, what's the value of the mark? What does that teach a child about work ethic and what sort of satisfaction does that give a student in terms of personal achievement? Could a child really be proud of receiving something that he/ she doesn't deserve and didn't earn? What sort of incentive would there then be for the child to work hard next time around? And if that's the way the system works, why would I bother writing report cards at all? Why wouldn't I just send the report cards home and have the parents fill them out with the mark they wanted their child to have. That would make everyone happy, it would save me the time of having to mark and write reports (which really is very time consuming), and everyone would be happy with their mark.

I had another mother come in with her daughter, and you must understand that this was after term cut off and the day that I was supposed to have my marks into the office. The mother said that her child was surprised at and disappointed in her mark. The more the conversation went on, however, the more obvious it was that it was the mother who was surprised and disappointed, I say this because of disparaging comments the mother made to her daughter regarding the quality of her work. This was another child with a "B." The mother wanted her child to be able to redo all assignments and tests. The child had already redone one test. Is it fair that a child is able to use her tests as practice sheets until she gets the mark she wants? How fair is that for the students who studied hard the first time and only wrote the test once? The other issue is that each time a student wants to rewrite, I need to rewrite the wouldn't be fair to give the exact same test. If I did, it would mean that the students who only wrote the test once, wouldn't know the questions I was going to ask, but the student who writes it three times most certainly would. Also, if I have all this extra rewriting of tests and marking, then how am I going to adequately prep for the classes I have to deliver? How fair would it be to the other students that I deliver a less than satisfactory lesson because I am busy rewriting tests and doing extra marking so that one parent is happy and that I meet my obligation of getting my report cards written and handed in in a timely manner.

These incidents were highly disappointing for me and make me wonder at our society. I'm expected to deliver a quality education, yet asked to do things that would undoubtedly erode the system and make it meaningless. Such acts show a complete disregard for the educator and lack of respect for education in general. I am truly saddened as I hope for the success of each and every one of my students and spend countless hours over and above my obligations to ensure that my students meet the learning outcomes and attain that success. I want my students not just to succeed academically, but to become outstanding productive citizens and able to think for themselves and contribute to society in meaningful ways. I want them to be able to believe in themselves enough to take the risk to try new things even if they don't succeed the first time. I want my students to find passion and joy in their lives. I don't want my students to be burnt out before they are even twenty because of external pressures that have been placed upon them. There are many parents out there who do appreciate educators and also have these same goals for their children. To you I am truly thankful. Your children will be just fine.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Spring Has Sprung

After much eager anticipation, it seems that spring has finally decided it's time to show its face. She arrived this weekend bringing us weather reaching up to the 20's...that's Celsius for all you Americans reading. Virtually overnight a myriad of tulips and crocus decided to show their pleasure at the arrival of our long awaited visitor by donning the brightest array of colours they could muster up. The songbirds sang their hearts out in a symphony of chorus and we were all most pleased at the performance. We certainly hope honoured guest was too and that she will decide to stay.

As for me, I even took a wade up to my knees in our frigid Kootenay lake. My Nordic blood was overjoyed at the exhilaration of it all, but not quite enough to go for a total dip. Perhaps that's because I didn't have my swimsuit with me, nor a towel. Perhaps next time.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

The Storm

The window to my soul flies open. Light floods in and the seed that has lain dormant on that fertile plot for a near eternity unexpectedly begins to germinate.

I find myself high in the mountains enshrouded in thinly veiled mist. We can still, however, look out over the vast range into the valleys far below. I imagine the rush soaring eagles must feel in the midst of each noble swoop peering over such majestic terrain.

The alpine fog thickens slightly as it swirls around the mountains’ highest peaks creating a mystical enchantment that charms us all. Under its spell, we are drawn in and rush towards the edge of the massive granite slab which drops precipitously into treacherous vertical cliffs beneath us.

Mountain weather moves in haste. The once light breeze strengthens its force as the sky begins to undulate and darken above us. The storm quickly envelops us and the others fade out of my view as thick fog quickly snakes around me. The air buzzes like a swarm of angry bees as icy rain bitterly begins to chafe my exposed skin raw. The hissing intensifies and luminous blue sparks explode off nearby rocks dancing fervently.

My hair begins to stand on end literally and I immediately realize the whole mountain is electrified. I call out frantically to the others, but the howling winds silence my pleas. I fight against the gale as I make my way to the nearby cabin to seek refuge. I desperately yell from the doorway into the face of the wind hoping the others will come.

Suddenly my sister emerges through the clouds running towards the doorway. She rushes in as the air explodes with a deafening thunderclap and simultaneous lightning flash. The others are nowhere. We huddle inside waiting for the calamity to pass.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

April Fool's

Could someone tell me, is it true? Have we really passed the spring equinox? The weather seems to be a little confused these days and I think it's high time someone lets him know that spring was supposed to officially start almost a week and a half ago...this is what I woke up to this morning. Don't get me wrong, it's lovely, just not quite what I'd expect for April. I guess the groundhog must have seen his shadow this year.