Henry and I have both started school this week, and it's been a huge transition. We have been home together for the better part of four years, and while both of us were more than ready for school, it's definitely a big adjustment. I may be suffering from Stockholm Syndrome a bit. I have been held captive for years, but now that I have been freed from my tiny dictator's tirades and demands, I miss him terribly. I miss my backseat driver, my constant companion, my little sidekick. It's been terribly hard to hand him over to strangers, even as I welcome a bit of a break. I now have more time on my hands than I have ever had, given that I have returned to work part-time and Henry is at school more or less full-time. The bees will get my extra attention now, as will my father-in-law, my writing, my community projects and maybe even myself.
I hadn't planned to go back to teaching. I love teaching, but having been denied a much-needed transfer for several years, I was ready to walk away. The hour-long commute was not going to work for my family and my sanity, and I had decided to resign. But then the transfer came through, and it was such a sweet deal that I couldn't possibly turn it down. So, after a lifetime of being an Elmira District Secondary School Lancer, I am now a proud Galt Collegiate Institute Ghost. I have landed at GCI, a mere 22 minutes from home, where I am now thrilled to be working for one period each day in the Student Success Centre. I spent years working with at-risk students and I am so grateful to be back in that position, supporting the kids who need it the most. And I am able to throw Henry on the bus in the morning, harvest honey in the afternoon and still pick him up at the end of the day. Also, I work in the most beautiful old building. It's a castle, really. I am teaching in a castle, for just a wee bit each day, having my cake and eating it too. We are all going to do well with this arrangement after the craziness of the first week is over.
As I have headed back to teaching this week, and have been trying to get my head around starting all over again at a new school, I have been thinking about my dad. He taught for so many years, in different subject areas, to different age groups in different cultures and countries.... and yet he was always so consistent. It's not hard to be consistent if you are being true to yourself. As a teacher, he was his authentic self, the best version of himself, and I am proud of the example he was for me and for others.
My dear friend Ken Reid is one of many friends I will miss this year, when I am no longer teaching at Elmira high school. Ken and I have shared initials, mailboxes, podiums, jokes and hugs for many years as co-workers at EDSS. When we needed someone to speak from a colleague's perspective at Dad's funeral, he was my first choice. Ken has a tender heart, a keen intellect and a beautiful way with words. I was eager to hear what he would have to share about working with my father at our hometown high school for so many years. Ken Reid (who, by the way, has the best of all possible names for an English teacher) did not disappoint when it came to paying tribute to my dad. His words were so lovely that I asked if I could share them here. So, as our family heads back to school in all its varying configurations (Russ and Rachel to university, Isobel and I to high school and Henry to JK), I want to remember my dad's example and also be reminded of what it means to be the best version of yourself, wherever you spend your days.
A few words about Bob Raymer - by Ken Reid
Being asked to say a few words about Bob as a teacher is an unexpected honour for me. Unexpected, because I am not in the math department, and I never saw Bob interact with students in a classroom. In fact, I really know so little about what Bob did once the door of his classroom was closed, that in order to even begin to get my thoughts in order I had to set aside the idea of Bob as teacher, and instead think about Bob as a presence in the halls of EDSS. That is something I saw, and I am pleased and honoured to tell you about.
Bob and I never had long conversations about what he thought or believed about teaching or anything else. Our paths crossed first when he volunteered to help with the volleyball team I was coaching. Later, at the end of his career and beyond, I leaned heavily on him when he offered his van to me to drive students into the wilderness for canoe trips that we couldn’t have offered without the vehicles to get them there. In between, it was all casual conversations, a minute or two before a staff meeting, or a quick catch up in the hall between classes. In some ways that isn’t a lot to go on.
Yet I consider him an inspiration, and admired him deeply. Because in some ways, I have a whole lot to go on.
You see, while Bob was downstairs, doing his mathy thing on the first floor, I would have been up a floor, teaching my students essay writing. And one of the essays I taught has a line in it that I want to read. The author, George Woodcock, says: “We do not develop principles merely for the luxury of enjoying their possession. To give them meaning we must act in accordance with them.” In other words, we are not what we believe; we are what we do. Granting a little room for human frailty, if you want to know what a person believes, just check out how they act. I like that, I really believe that is true, and with that in mind, I don’t need to have had a ton of conversations with Bob in order to know what made him tick. I just watched him for a decade or so.
And this is what I saw:
I saw him offer contrary opinions during discussions in a quiet voice, respectful of the person whose opinion he may have just crossed. And so I know that he believed in the power of gentleness and graciousness.
I saw him going about his behind the scenes business setting up and taking down volleyball nets and doing the annoying paperwork involved in running a volleyball team. And so I know that he believed in kindness and goodness, and that acts of kindness and goodness don’t need to draw attention to themselves, are not done for recognition, but for the sake of kindness and goodness.
I saw him speaking warmly and encouragingly to students in the halls, and so I know that he believed in the dignity of all people, and the importance of being God’s grace to all people.
I saw him faithfully attend meetings at which he was expected, and meet obligations which were placed upon him. And so I know that he believed in the importance of responsibility and faithfulness, and in giving to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.
I saw him lend a vehicle to the Outers club not only for the years that his daughter helped me run the trips, not only for the rest of his career, but for several years after that, until the van had to be sold, at which point he actually apologized to me for not being able to lend it anymore! And so I know that he believed in generosity of spirit, and, if he was asked for his shirt, to give his coat as well.
I saw him smile at all who passed him in the halls, and so I know that he was a man deeply acquainted with joy.
I began by saying that I had never seen Bob in action in a classroom, and it’s true. I never saw it, but I can tell you with confidence what it would have looked like. It would have been fairly quiet class, where he managed the behaviour not by yelling and threatening, but by communicating how much he valued each student in the classroom. The students who struggled would have known most certainly of all of them how much he respected them, and they would have tried their best in response. He would have taken his job seriously, so there would have been an efficiency and focus evident, while still maintaining a palpable warmth. And he would have smiled. He usually did.
In fact, as I go back now and look over the list I have just created of what Bob was like as a presence in the halls of EDSS, I realize that it bears striking resemblance to another list from another book that meant a great deal to him, and I will close by reading that list:
From St. Paul’s letter to the Galatians:
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.”
That was Bob Raymer as he appeared in the halls of EDSS. I suspect it was exactly as he appeared wherever he went.