Monday, November 21, 2011

Day Fifty Six: Delivering Report Cards Northern Style

We just finished report cards this past Friday, and this week we'll have two evenings of parent teacher interviews, Tuesday and Wednesday. Here is what I wrote on November 6th, 1999 about delivering report cards while working at Father Porte Memorial Dene School on the Black Lake First Nation in what was then a fly-in Dene community.
Delivering Report Cards
November 6th, 1999
            At least twice a year, the teachers in Black Lake deliver report cards to the student’s homes. This past report card session I was busily trying to arrange my reports according to who lives where on the reserve. I called for help, and soon two of my girls were placing the envelopes all over my desk in piles representing the different areas of town.
Although I’ve lived in Black Lake for five years, I still don’t know where everyone lives; not to mention, I had sixty reports to deliver. Luckily, I had a map of town. Two of my boys joined us at my desk and helped explain who lives in which house. With their help, I was all ready to hit the path.
In previous years, someone has offered to drive me, or I have asked for a ride. This year, there was no snow, and it was a relatively nice October day. I had decided to walk.
As the girls watched me head out, they called, “We’ll come.” Again, they did not ask; they stated.
“That would be great,” I said.
We went to one house and then realized how many of the parents worked at the band office, so we backtracked and handed out a few there. One of the girls decided to go home.
As we went from house to house, I always knocked. My student guide said each time, half-playfully, and half exasperatedly, “Just go in.”
We came to one house where a young man was leaning out an open window. I wasn’t sure if he was one of my storefront students because some on my list I have only met once or twice. My student found the right envelope and walked it to the window, handing it to the young man.
In my teacher voice, I said, “Come back to school soon.”
The young man nodded.
I said, “You are always welcome to come to storefront anytime. Come back and work hard and you can get into grade ten.”
He nodded again.
The young woman with me spoke to him in Dene and then they laughed.
As we walked away, I said, “What was that about?”
She said, “I asked him if he knew what you were talking about.”
I raised my eyebrows, “What did he say?”
She laughed again. “He didn’t know what you were talking about. He just nodded his head, but he didn’t know what you meant.”
We laughed for at least the next five houses. I kept seeing his smiling face agreeing with me as he draped out the window. I wondered how many other lectures or speeches I had rambled out in my teacher talk. It’s not that he didn’t understand English, but I know that often I use school vocabulary and speak very quickly. This combination must cause my students – who mostly speak English as a second language – to tune out.
My laughing guide gave me tips on many of the houses. “This one has a mean dog. No one is home here because the lights are out.”
I tell her about the first time I delivered report cards. Again, one of my students accompanied me on foot. I was surprised to see other people on skidoo and truck because I thought part of the assignment, being a new teacher, was to actually walk through the community.
In retrospect, I am glad I did walk, even thought it was minus thirty degrees Celsius and snowing. I remember that at each home I entered my glasses fogged up, and I had to take them off so that I could talk to parents.
Part of the fun of delivering report cards is to peek into each student’s home life. The first generalization I made of Black Lake, from a semi-insider’s perspective, was that everyone is a neat freak. The first smell which greets you at the door is either Javex, pine sol, or laundry soap. The second generalization is that people love to decorate. One of my student’s houses is called the flower house because artificial flowers overflow like an Amazonian flower shop as you walk into the kitchen and living room.
Many people have wood stoves. There is nothing better than walking from a snow storm into a wood-heated house. The heat penetrates right down to the bones. Some people have a cabin-like interior with poles across the roof for drying clothes. The one time I was in a Dene trapping cabin, these poles across the roof were used for making dry meat. Although some houses are like a cabin, they are still absolutely spotless.
I grew up in a less-than-immaculate house, and our farm yard is a junk man’s paradise. I love to tell my white, middle class counterparts, who often have stereotypes about reserve life, that my family were the ones who had lessons to learn; however, with four years of mentoring, modeling, and instruction from my babysitters, we are beginning to keep our home fairly clean all by ourselves!
Back to report cards. The second time I took out report cards, one of my grade nine girls took me on her skidoo. At first she couldn’t start it, and I was afraid that we’d have to walk again, and I was really looking forward to a skidoo ride. But, she revved the skidoo to life and we headed out.
After about the fifth house, she said, “You drive now.”
I resisted, not having driven a skidoo since I was in grade six.
Finally, she insisted, and I sat in the driver’s seat. I drove, inching along, to the next house. When I returned from delivering the report card, she was back in the driver’s seat.
Two years ago in June, My husband and I caught a ride with one of the veteran teacher associates. She stopped every so often, and nodded in the direction of different houses, telling us which envelopes to take. We scrambled out of the truck and trotted to the various houses. We were seasoned pro’s, now. There wasn’t a lot of visiting. We were just getting it done.
Still, our colleague shared as she drove. We giggled with her as she explained to us that her mother had told her granddaughter, “I haven’t looked in a mirror since 1986.” We nodded, more serious now, as she told us a story about how her mother saw a raven drop meat in front of her on the day that her father died.

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