We had a province-wide professional day last week. The kids didn’t have school, but we teachers did. There were dozens of conferences around the province put on by a variety of teaching specialties and affiliated groups and associations, as well as the option to individually explore some facet of your own teaching practice. The idea for this particular professional day was that every one of us knows what we need, so go out on this day and do it.
I chose to attend a conference relating to kids with learning difficulties. Obviously I chose that because it’s my area of specialty and I thought I might benefit from what the speaker had to say. Less obviously, I chose it because this conference was taking place at my old high school.
I hadn’t been back since my tenth high school reunion. I don’t live near there any more, and my parents had moved from the house in which I grew up almost twenty-five years ago. I rarely even go to that general area of the city any more.
But I was rather excited to go back now. I was hoping that I’d have the chance to explore a bit, to see what was different, what was the same. I was wondering if I’d be able to find my Grade 12 locker – or even any of the lockers I’d been assigned during my five years at that school. I was curious to see if my grad year photo was still on the wall in the same place.
I arrived much earlier than I needed to and, rebel that I am, headed for the teachers’ parking lot. Woo hoo! I thought. Never been here before!
I went in the back door of the building and went up the ramp to the office hallway. My locker used to be right outside the office, underneath the bell – I could never forget that, since that bell regularly scared the crap out of me. But where was the bell? Up on the wall where it used to be were a whole bunch of photos of groups of kids: the stage band of 1985, the girls’ choir of 1989 – not exactly my era, so I recognized no one in any of those photos and I couldn’t really examine them very well anyway, as they were quite high on the wall.
And hey! Where was the frickin’ office? Where it used to be was now a classroom. How does a school office just disappear? I went back to the corner where the pay phone (remember those?) used to be. There was a long corridor where the front door to the school had been back in the mid-seventies. Apparently there was a whole new wing to the school, and the front door was waaaaaay down at the end of that long corridor. The new office was along that corridor, too. Unfortunately, I couldn’t go in because it was locked up. I wanted to check and see if they had simply moved over that very, very long counter in front of the three secretaries’ desks or if they had something different now.
I headed back down the other hallway towards the auditorium where the conference was going to be. Everything that way looked as it had done in the past – except for yet another wing built beside the band room. What the hell?! How many more classrooms do they need at this school now?
The auditorium and environs hadn’t changed much. Same old uncomfortable seats, brand new sound system. And of course I sat in the one seat in the entire room that had a broken arm rest. That probably hadn’t changed in thirty years either.
The cafeteria, where we had our break between speakers, was slightly reconfigured from what I remembered. Gone was the smoking pit (thank goodness! That was always a corner to avoid back in the day!), gone was the teachers’ lunchroom (where did the teachers eat their lunches now? Maybe in that big new office area?).
Down the hall from the cafeteria was where I found all the grad photos. They used to be hung up high around the office area – which now wasn’t an office area at all – and at least they were now at eye level in their new location, so I quickly spotted my year. Yep, there I was in all my seventeen-year-old glory. One word: ewwww. I moved on.
The thing that struck me the most about my morning at my old high school was that it seemed claustrophobic, somehow. The hallways just felt small and dark. I’m not sure why this was, because I have spent my working life as a teacher in elementary schools, and those really are smaller than high schools. Maybe my current elementary school has exceptionally wide and bright hallways? Maybe I’m bigger than I was back then? Maybe I’m so familiar with the place, even so many years later, that there’s just no “mystery” left there?
The other thing that was great about the morning was that I never had to wait in a line-up for the bathroom. Most of the other women clustered around the two bathrooms close to the auditorium and cafeteria. Not me! I skipped off down some obscure little hallway all by myself and used the bathroom down there, because I knew it was there and nobody else there did! Win!
Oh – and the conference? It was boring and not worth the money I’d spent on it. But I was glad I’d gone, regardless!
* with apologies to Steely Dan for using the title of one of my favourite seventies songs