Archives for posts with tag: teaching tips
A 1939 Canada Grade One/Two Lesson in Gas Chambers Being Bilingual

First Day at School in Toronto, Canada 1939

On Sunday, September 3, 1939 Germany defied a British ultimatum to withdraw its troops from Poland and World War II broke out

Next morning Father sat glued to the radio at our breakfast table in Toronto and solemnly told us, “This is the darkest day in the history of the British Empire.” Outside the window the sun shone brightly, daring to differ.

I danced, not walked, with my sisters up the quarter-mile cinder path along Dufferin Street to Briar Hill Public School for my first day of school on Tuesday, September 5.

Grade One teacher Jeannie McDowell had shoulder-length, loose,  wavy black hair and was a little preoccupied, plump and lopsided. She wore a black sweater coat and brightly flowered dress with a white background. She was colorful and dramatic compared to the housewife mothers I knew.

At first I was seated near the front which was particularly good on the day we had a substitute teacher. She was wearing an egg in her bosom to see if it would hatch and that kept our attention.

We did our sums with a choice of two colors from the crayon box. My favorite combination was purple and green, although some days I was in the mood for yellow and orange, or red and blue.

Miss McDowell loved to have us do art but always insisted we draw a black frame around our creations, as if they were important and permanent.

She didn’t read stories to us; we stood in a line at the front and took turns reading out loud ourselves.

One day she turned solemn, like Father, and told us Jews were being gassed to death in Nazi concentration camps, their bodies burned and turned into soap. I knew from her eyes she was telling the truth and trusting us the way she would adults.  In my heart I decided not to ever join with people who made comments about Jews. This was a decision about who I was, made without my parents’ input. I was sure they would agree but they were too passive.  I felt very grown up, thanks to Miss McDowell.  I thought the Campbell side of our family should stop having its reunions at a camp site on Lake Simcoe with a ‘Gentiles Only’ sign.

Another day, after I had been moved back to the grade two corner of the class, Miss McDowell picked up the chalk to begin writing on the blackboard beside me. We sang O Canada in English every morning but now she taught it to us in French. This was a giant step outside of the curriculum box. For good measure, she taught us La Marseillaise as well.

The Five Teaching Keys

Jeannie McDowell was a very smart teacher.

  1. Her classroom was colorful and fun.
  2. She shared adult facts with us but made us feel secure.
  3. She visualized the future and helped broaden us to be good citizens.
  4. Thanks to her, I started to become my own person.
  5. From art to antisemitism and bird-birth to bilingualism, I learned a lot and felt very stimulated in her class.

Margaret Kell Virany   lover of language and literature, note-taker of Northrop Frye, journalist, editor, author

For More Details of Fascinating Lives, Read Margaret’s Books: Kathleen’s Cariole Ride, a war bride’s answer to a call of love in the wilderness; A Book of Kells: Growing Up in an Ego Void, a 20th century Canadian confession.


6209113I’ve discovered a fantastic e-book and suggest you may want to buy a copy too (for $2.99) and write a review to encourage the author. Here’s why:

  • At age 23, Fiza Pathan of Mumbai, India feels “totally cool and self-actualized” due to reading the classics since childhood
  • reading a classic a week or a month is a habit she’s trying to spread to all parents, teachers and students
  •  her 90-page Amazon e-book, Classics: Why We Should Encourage Children to Read the Classics, states her case with passion, personality and  precision. The 90-pages divide into 17 mostly four-page chapters
  • she lists favorite girls’ and boys’ classics as voted on by her students
  • language skills and vocabulary, imagination, general knowledge, love for literature, descriptive powers and morals develop from reading them

The content is particularly rich with details of her own and her students’ development.  Artistic and scientific temperaments are dealt with engagingly in the chapters entitled My Encounter with Dracula, Frankenstein and Science, and Classical Characters Who Have Influenced My Reality.

Pathan’s insightful tips are gems for the reader to take away:

  • choosing the right first classic is very important in the education process
  • classics cause children get better grades, speak and write articulately,  and grow up to be happy people
  • classics are like bound movie scripts for our brain production house
  • classics are the safest and most time-tested method to ignite the flame of creativity
  • classics are defined as “books of all time rather than books of the hour” and “clean, decent fiction written primarily to tell a story rather than make money”
  • classics are tools of information that encourage the student to think practically
  • more than anything else, classics give a middle school student some direction in life
  • The world is not a humdrum affair of facts but an adventure without limitations
  • Children need a bit of good fiction to nourish them in a world that seems out to kill them
  • A good writer will manage to help the reader create a good ending for him or herself in real life

Teachers will want to adopt Pathan’s original techniques for enlivening English classes. Parents and grandparents will be empowered to see how they can have an effect. It’s easy to follow her prescription of reading a classic a week or month by downloading classics available free due to the Gutenberg project.

As well as feeling “totally cool and self-actualized”, Pathan also writes, “The growing globalized society of the late 1990‘s has developed to such greatness that though I am 23 I feel completely ancient”. In wisdom, yes, she is ancient. With our support, her book can be a work of rejuvenation, not just for literacy but for humanity also.

Margaret Kell Virany   lover of language and literature, note-taker of Northrop Frye, journalist, editor, author