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Who Am I?


Doug Woodley

My family came from England to the Toronto area in the first and middle decades of the 19th century. I was born there in 1944. My father owned and operated a small printing business that had been started by his father. I went to public schools and was raised by my parents within a matrix of a large and lively family full of aunts, and uncles and cousins. My memories of my childhood are very pleasant, and refreshed at will with what now amounts to a family archive of photographs, 8mm and 16 mm movies and innumerable letters, journals, etc.

Schools were crowded in the early fifties and I was advanced at an accelerated rate through elementary school and graduated from West Hill Collegiate in Scarborough shortly after my 17th birthday. It was a family expectation that I would follow my father and older brother to the University of Toronto, but I chose instead to come here to Waterloo, to what was then called Waterloo Lutheran University. I think that I was tired of following my brother, wanted to live away from home, and I especially liked the small size and concomitant advantages I found here. At that time, there were around 600 students registered here. The teachers were excellent. I remember handing in a paper to Dr. Flora Roy that I had dashed off carelessly and she called me in to her office, gently, but firmly, admonished me, and sent me back to rewrite it.  I'm not sure if this sort of thing happens today, especially in a school with 15 000 students, but it happened as a rule then and I think that it has been an enduring benefit to me.

After one year at WLU, I'd run low on money and decided to try Teachers' College in Toronto. I wasn't sure whether I wanted to do this or not and I remember arriving for my appointed admission's interview and standing on the sidewalk across from the front door for a few minutes contemplating alternatives. The teaching master, Hank Hedges, who had arranged to interview me came out of the door and called over to me, "Are You Woodley?" he said. I replied that I was. ""Well, come on in," he answered and so I did and so I began.

My family had always been enthusiastic travelers and without a doubt our favourite method of travel was by canoe. My grandfather had canoed in Algonquin Park a few years after it had been established, my parents canoed throughout Ontario from the 30's to the 80's, and my brothers and I had spent significant time camping with them or at summer camps. When we were still in our teens, my older brother and I paddled by ourselves from Canoe Lake, down the Petawawa River to the Ottawa.

So after Teachers' College it seemed like a good idea to take a teaching job with Indian Affairs in a tiny community on an Indian


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reservation in the far northwest of Ontario.  The place was then called Osnaburgh House and it's on the Albany River north of the railway line north of Sioux Lookout. There I found myself assigned to live in two rooms attached to a

one-classroom school with responsibility for teaching about 30 children of all grades up to grade 7. There's a lovely Canadian book written by Gabrielle Roy entitled (in English) the School on the Little Water Hen that relates experiences very similar to mine. To be honest, I wasn't at all sure that I wanted to be a teacher, but within a few days I'd become so involved and charmed by the whole situation, that I realized with complete certainty what I was going to do with my life.

In those days schools were given ship's biscuits and powdered milk to distribute to the pupils. After considering this, and tasting these, I went out to the Hudson's Bay store, bought two buckets, a supply of chocolate powder, two washbasins, some towels and 3 dozen ceramic mugs. I filled the pails with water, placed them on top of the school's space heater, and set up a couple of tables beside it. In the morning, the children would come in and pour warm water into the washbasins and spend a few minutes washing their hands. An older child would pour chocolate powder into the second bucket and stir it up, and then anyone who wanted, at any point during the day could go back, get their cup off the hook where it hung and help themselves to hot chocolate. Attendance was very good. In fact, the children would arrive well before the bell and after dismissal they'd return within a few minutes to continue schoolwork or play games while I sat at my desk and prepared for the next day.

Teaching a one-classroom school is an intensive experience and I soon found that there was a remarkable synergy available. I'd ask the grade 6's and 7's to help the grade 1's and 2's with their reading when they had finished their own work. They liked doing this, so they tended to finish their assignments quickly. But even better, I saw that as they assisted the little ones, they themselves began to improve their own skills at an increased rate. There's no better way to learn something than through trying to teach it to someone else.

On weekends, the whole village would come into the school, move the desks against the walls and with a couple of guitars and fiddles they'd have dances. I weighed around 140 pounds in those days, and how those doughty ladies delighted in swinging me around!

After a very pleasant two years at Osnaburgh I was asked to take a principalship of another school, and with some misgivings, I accepted. Sandy Lake is 200 miles north of Red Lake and had an 8 classroom school. I taught Grade 7&8 as well as looked after administration. I'd been taking lessons in the Cree language, and I continued there. My teachers were elders from the village who were very tolerant of my mistakes and willing to tell me their stories. It was in this manner that I became aware of one of the most important things I ever learned.

 Over the past decades, since I worked with native people, there has been a catastrophic desolation of their culture. Poverty, despair and crime have become endemic in many northern communities. I noticed that among the children we were teaching, there was a deep problem developing. We were teaching them stories that conveyed values that were often not only alien, but also counter to their culture. To give an example, our culture has really very few words for our family connections; father, mother, brother, sister, aunt, uncle cousin, grandparents, niece, nephew. That's about it.  Among the people who call themselves the Anishenabie, there are much more complete and complex relationship terms. They not only belong to patriarchal families, but also to matriarchal clans. Their sense of their own individuality is


much less than ours and their sense of identity is much more a matter of community with others. I came to see that to them, I

lived a bleak and barren life, and as a consequence they were wary of me as a cold and dangerously unconnected person. By being able to speak to them (not very well I must confess) I gained a certain amount of trust and even began to become a somewhat more complete human being in their eyes.
Very soon, I saw that for all the stories that we were making the children read, there were many more that were not being told; stories that had been told for hundreds, maybe even thousands of years and that these stories were a mythology that was essential to the identity and social order of these people. So I discussed this with the community leaders, and with the approval of my supervisors in Sioux Lookout, I set up regular visits from elders to the classrooms where they would tell the children the time honoured stories of their language. I would sit in these classes myself, and in so doing sent everyone the message that these were part of regular school and to be respected.

During this time, I spent much of my summers in southern Ontario, and of course, I met a young woman there who shared my interests, and we fell in love, and in 1968 we married. We spent a few months together in Sandy Lake, but by then I'd seen that either I was going to spend the rest of my life in the north or I was going to have to leave immediately. I chose to leave.

I returned to Waterloo with my bride, took up supply teaching while I completed my bachelor's degree at WLU, and then looked for another teaching job. Lutherwood was just getting started in 1970. The board had hired a fundraiser, Ted Meibohm, who'd hired a social worker, Dean Engbrecht. Both of them were Americans, and they were looking for a teacher to run the school in the new treatment facility for emotionally disturbed adolescents. This interested me, so I applied and was hired as the school principal. I worked there for five years, setting up the school, designing not only the programme, but also the school building itself. Once again, I found the children wonderful and the challenge of finding ways to help them learn to read and to develop a basis for trust to be totally engaging and worthwhile

In 1975 I moved to the Waterloo County Board of Education. I worked at Lincoln Avenue School in Galt and then MacGregor Senior Public in Waterloo to 2007. Although I was encouraged to consider moving into administration, I preferred working in the classroom. I loved teaching; I worked as a teacher for a total of 43 years, and when I retired in 2007 I felt that I could have worked another year or two, but that it was better to quit while I was ahead. People often ask me whether children have changed over my career and I usually answer this by saying that children haven't changed, but childhood has; in fact childhood at times seems to me to be disappearing altogether.

I belong to a group of friends who like to go on remote river canoe trips. I've spent many summers canoeing down some of the magnificent rivers in this country: the Rupert, the Great Whale, the Seal, the Bloodvein, The Barrens, to name a few, but now that we're all in our 60's and 70's we find that shorter and less challenging trips are more to our taste.

Sharon and I still live in the same house we moved into when we first returned to Waterloo in 1968. We enlarged it as our family grew. We've been blessed with three daughters who are all happily married and have children of their own now. Like so many of our generation we have children living a long way away: in the States and in Scotland, but at least one lives right here in Kitchener. We keep busy with our friends and various volunteer activities when we're not on grandparent duty.

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