Faculty Of Education At UBC
Jack, Al, Mel, and I found our way to the east side of Vancouver to the home of Al’s sister (Evelyn), husband (Andy), and their young son. On the other side of the city was the University of British Columbia (UBC) where we were intending to enroll.
“Well here we are,” Al said to his sister as the four of us filed into the house.
Evelyn was a relaxed, pleasant, self-confidant and attractive young lady. She smiled as she guided us to the kitchen table.
“Come in and sit down. I have a bite of lunch ready for you.” She looked at me, “You must be Bill. Al has told me all about you.” I got up and shook her hand, “Oh. I certainly hope not. Nice to meet you.” Jack had a permanent dark tan. I think from his surname he was maybe Ukrainian. He gave his usual half-shy, half-chuckling, deprecating grin as if enjoying a joke only he knew. “I’m Jack,” he said, looking down. Mel was the good-looking member of our little gang. He was tall and thin with smooth regular dark features. He had a serious look, a quiet air of confidence and a beautiful singing voice, which he loved to exhibit in public. His eyes locked with Ev’s. He grinned and nodded with just a hint of a wink as if they were sharing a secret thought. We never learned the secret, but had definite suspicions as the year went by. “Andy will be home soon. Then we can take a run out to the university so you can see where it is. I hope you won’t find it too crowded here. We have just the one small spare room and the two bunk beds fill it completely. But you have full run of the house.” We all agreed it would be fine, as we settled down to demolish the lunch, much to Ev’s satisfaction. Andy worked as a stevedore on the docks. He looked the part—big, sturdy and serious. The house showed the side benefits of his job. There were knickknacks and gewgaws everywhere, dishes of hard candy, wall ornaments—everything coming into Canada from overseas by ship that would fit easily into the game pocket of the hunting jacket he always wore to work. There was an easy but distant relationship among us. We respected each other, avoided arguments and only once hit a bump in our working relationship. When my car needed a new tire I suggested since they were using the car they might contribute to the cost of the tire. One agreed with me; two disagreed. I don’t even remember how this impasse was resolved or who was on my side. That’s how little importance it was to our overall operation. Andy was rarely around because he worked long hours and often into the night. Ships don’t keep regular office hours. However, he made time to take us to a used car lot where he thought there was a good car for us (actually, more ‘me’ than ‘us’ since I was the only one with spare money). My first reaction to the car was not very positive. It was small, green and British. My first question was, “How fast will it go?” I wasn’t looking for a racecar, but I did want one that would keep up with the traffic on the highway. The salesman assured us it would, and it wasn’t expensive, so I bought my first of what would turn into a series of Morris Minor convertibles. I wish now I had kept one as a toy for my old age. As the year went on, I learned of a racetrack in Abbotsford, about 45 minutes inland from Vancouver, where there were amateur races on the weekends. This was in 1957, and Chevrolet had upgraded their Corvette to a V-8 engine in 1955. There were a lot of people racing these new overpowered machines. It was fun to watch the Corvettes leave the other cars way behind on the straight stretches, and then get passed on the S-turns by Volkswagen bugs and even Morris Minors. It was surprising how many of the Corvettes would die in clouds of engine smoke a couple of laps before the end of the race. I helped Jack with his Math (usually in spite of his reluctance) and felt we had a good, but distant relationship. During the first few months, Jack developed a close friendship with another fellow. Jack told me when it suddenly ended because the fellow was gay. I asked Jack why he couldn’t have kept him as just as a friend because they always seemed to have fun and enjoyed doing things together. I didn’t get any answer other than Jack’s diverted eyes, shy grin, and an emphatic shake of his head. It didn’t make sense to me then or now. I have several friends who are gay and we just have the same sexual relationship I have with straight men—none. It’s just that simple. A few years after I left Vancouver, I got an invitation to his wedding in Mexico. I tried to send a gift, but the address was a rental hall and I didn’t know how to get it there on the right day for him to get it. That was the last I heard of him. Sounds ominous, doesn’t it? Al was a stocky, muscular, blond with a crew cut. I don’t think I ever knew what he was taking at university but it seemed to go well for him. You may remember him from the beginning of this book as the fellow with whom I went to Chicago and who later ran off in my/his car to get married. I have no idea what Mel was taking, or if he even went to university. I must have known at the time and have just forgotten. He was a great guy to have around because he enjoyed life and made sure it treated him well. He loved singing to any assembled group. One time in pub, he got up voluntarily and began singing. In a burst of uncharacteristic showmanship, I joined him and we sang together. He tolerated my presumptuousness with better grace than I deserved. But then, he was a really nice guy. I had heard how wonderful it was to live in Vancouver, what with its warm winters and sunny summers. I was unprepared for the torrential rainy season. I was also not aware that most of the houses were not insulated. The combination of coldness and humidity in winter made me feel colder than I ever was in Manitoba. There is nothing like climbing between damp, cold sheets to engender a cozy night’s sleep. In spite of that, Vancouver is a beautiful city with magnificent periods of sunshine and exquisite beaches. I was a bit naïve about dangers in a big city. One night, not all that late but dark, I was walking home by the most direct route. It was somewhere along Hastings and Pender, I think. It was what might be described as a disreputable area. As I walked along, I observed a group of about seven individuals who definitely deserved the same description as the neighborhood. They totally blocked the sidewalk, leaving me with two sensible alternatives. One would be to walk out into the street around them and the other was to turn around and scurry back the way I had come. I chose ‘none of the above’. I didn’t like the idea of turning my back on them nor did I like going out of my way to get around them. I just kept walking straight ahead, deviating only enough to avoid walking straight into any one of them. With a firm but pleasant voice I said, “Excuse me, please.”
I didn’t avoid looking at them, but I avoided eye contact. I had read somewhere that you should never make eye contact with angry dogs or wild animals. They didn’t exactly fit into either category, but I figured the idea was about the same. Individuals moved just enough to let me pass without physical contact, but they were well inside my usual personal space allocation.
I wasn’t worried until they were behind me. Although I felt very vulnerable, I kept walking at my normal pace. All went well. A few days later I read about a person who had been put into the hospital by a gang in that same area. I think they let me pass because they figured no one could be that stupid unless there were police all around the area and I was the decoy for their sting operation. My educational experience at UBC started well. Most of the classes were alright except for being rather old fashioned and/or weird. There was a class on discipline that involved such things as how to strap a student without accidentally causing bruising (hold him by the wrist to protect it) and how to avoid hitting yourself on the leg if the student were to pull his hand away. I was taking the classes for teaching high school Math and Science. In the Science methods course we spent weeks on how to construct a diorama of an Eskimo village. It was a skill I have never called upon to use since. Needless to say, I was getting good marks and putting in the time. For the first time in my life I was attending classes regularly because attendance was rigidly enforced, at all times, and with dire consequences for absenteeism. For my first session of practice teaching I was assigned to one of the largest high schools in the area. There were over 100 teachers and over 2000 students. It was a very different environment from any schools I had been in previously. My assignment was to teach Grade 9 Mathematics to an assembly line of students. I would teach the same lesson six times a day as students filed in and out of the room. Then the next day it would be the next lesson six times as the students march like robots through the course. It was not what I would have wanted. It was boring and a useless learning experience for me, but so-be-it I thought. I never learned a single student’s name or face. I felt I had done well to learn the names of a few of the teachers.
Then some more courses and a different diorama followed by my next student teaching assignment Grade 4 Art, Language Arts, and another subject. Surprising, but at least I had the same students more than once a day and could work with them in their process of learning. I was looking forward to a real teaching experience. Within a couple of days I learned that one of the students in our Education program had been assigned to student teach Grade 12 Physics. She was immediately reduced to tears because she had never even taken Physics in school and was planning to teach primary grades when she graduated. She had approached the Dean of Education but he had turned a deaf ear. To me, the solution was obvious—she should switch assignments with me.
My initial meeting with the Dean was short but not sweet.
He said, “NO,” with the explanation that it was done deliberately so that students would practice teach a level and subject as far as possible from what they planned to teach after they graduated. My reaction, loosely translated, was something like, “Huh?” He explained further. It would be an experience they would never get otherwise. Students would have their whole career to practice their subject and grade of choice. I must admit that he was right . . . up to a point. For me it was a good experience working with primary grades, and one I did use many years later when I was employed as consultant/supervisor/coordinator for all grades in the Portage School Division.
I must have seemed unconvinced because he added a gem of wisdom for the girl who couldn’t manage to learn two years of Physics overnight to keep ahead of her students.
“You don’t need to know the subject. You just have to know how to teach,” he said. My response was, “I’d like to see you try to teach an advanced course in Greek without ever having taken Greek.” Our discussion rapidly went downhill from there and I was verbally thrown out of his office with language inappropriate for a Dean. I tried to reason with him on a couple of other occasions until he refused to see me. I wrote him a letter trying to explain the situation from my perspective including a reminder that I had a year of teaching experience.
He wrote back to me, including the statement, “Whatever teaching ability you might have had you obviously left in Manitoba.”
It was a letter I kept as a memento . . . or as ammunition just in case there were future repercussions . . . and there were. It seemed prudent for me to back off at this point. A few days later the student teacher dropped out of the Education program. I was sad because I thought she could have become a good teacher. I didn’t follow my inclination to have one last meeting with the Dean. It would have made me feel so much better, but it was too late to help her. The rest of the year went as well as could be expected and I was finishing with A’s and B’s. Three weeks before the graduation ceremonies, the Dean announced that in order to make teaching more of a profession like Engineering (he actually said that) there would be an additional four week session of practice teaching starting right after graduation so it could be worked in before the public schools closed for the year. This was a problem for me because I had by then accepted a lucrative summer job in the research department of the Flin Flon zinc mine. I took a deep breath and tried to see the Dean. Over the intercom he told his secretary to tell me he would not see me. I asked her if he was alone or if he had someone in his office. She said he was alone. She should have lied to me. I went to his door, knocked firmly, walked in and told him it was his job to see students and I was a student. As you might guess, we did not have an amicable discussion about the possibility of my taking the final session in the fall because I needed to go to my summer job. He was not prepared to be flexible; it was now or never. I thanked him, sarcastically, and left for my job in Flin Flon.
~ It Pays To Check ~
After I had left UBC I decided to check my transcript. They were not sent out to students, only to other people, so I got a copy sent to a friend in order to see it. It itemized my course work (all passing grades) and noted my Practice Teaching as incomplete.
So far, so good. Then at the bottom of the transcript there was a typed notation: ‘FAILED YEAR - NO CREDIT’.
I thought this to be a bit harsh, so I sent a polite letter to the university president outlining my experiences with the Dean of Education, including a copy of his rude letter to me.
A couple of months later I again checked a copy of my official university transcript. It came with the typed notation at the bottom deleted by being covered with “white out’.
A bit tacky, but efficient.