As a chemistry teacher, my students, their parents and school’s administration expect me to know stuff — stuff about chemistry. When I returned from last spring’s Chemical Institute of Canada conference, I realized — not for the first time — that I don’t know very much about chemistry (or anything, really). The little bit that I know was sufficient to give me an inkling of what was going on in many of the sessions.
But here’s the thing: I know just about enough chemistry to snow everyone around here into thinking that I know a lot. When someone asks me a chemistry question to which I don’t know the answer, I give ‘em an articulately worded response worthy of an accomplished politician cornered by the media — or his wife.
And guess what? They fall for it.
My music teacher colleagues, on the other hand — they know music. They understand what all those little black dots mean. A few of my colleagues sing with the Canadian Opera Company Chorus; some are in legitimate bands — good bands, bands that people pay to see. These folks do music.
Our Upper School art teacher is a serious player on the scene in Toronto — she paints things — and I don’t mean the porch. Ms Popova does art.
The head of our English department published a novel,1 for Pete’s sake. With a real publisher, not the websites that print 2000 copies of your grandfather’s memoirs as a night watchman. This book is so good that I, a seasoned commuter, missed my stop while reading it.
Our French teachers can really speak French — not just the swear words. They understand the subjunctive — and use it properly. I hear them speaking French among themselves, about high level topics like the Middle East, home renovations — and salacious staff-room gossip. They do the language.
A former colleague who taught science and physical education, was an Olympian (!). That’s right, the Olympics, not the sack race at the church picnic. Paul Craig is still an athlete, in spite of being on the wrong side of 60. Paul Craig does athletics.
Another colleague — the head of our business department — is a former venture capitalist who left a lucrative career to pass his CA-ness and CFA-ness on to young people. When he talks about stuff like the prime lending rate or foreign exchange or why we got rid of pennies — people listen. Mr. Muranaka does investing.
But it’s tough for a chemistry teacher to do chemistry. Sure, I know how to clean paint brushes and unclog a shower-head, but I’m hardly on the cutting edge. That said, think about where doing chemistry got Walter White.
This may sound insincere, but I am humbled and blessed — and sometimes a little bit depressed (just kidding) to be surrounded by such top-notch educators who are at the top of their game doing what they do.
When I manage to pick myself out of this blue funk, I have a happy realization: for the tiny bit of chemistry I know — at least I can teach it.
- Aga Maksimowska, Giant, Pedlar Press, 2012.