Back to School - Lingering Lessons From Grade Four

by Helene Louise  

I loved my grade four teacher. It was the late seventies and, at that time, she was already “an old lady”. She was really wrinkly, didn't smile much, she was grumpy most of the time and she ran her classroom in a strict old-fashioned way, but I loved her anyway. She had a great big piano and from time to time she would play "I's the by...", a Canadian folk song from the East Coast as we all sang along, happily but not quite sure what it was all about.

My grade four teacher spent a lot of time lecturing us about "the good old days", like how it had been when she had gone to school in a one-room schoolhouse. That fact alone fascinated me, when the seventies already seemed like such incredibly modern times. One of the things she would tirelessly work into whatever she was teaching us was, "...If you have even just ten minutes of time, then you should make good use of those ten minutes. Ten minutes is enough time to get something done." Whether it was reviewing our times tables one more time or helping our mothers dry the dishes, she insisted that even small ten-minute intervals were to be appreciated and made good use of.

As I wrote in my book, the bulk of my daughter’s rehabilitation after a childhood stroke has actually come from the cumulative effect of many small bursts of effort—ten, fifteen, twenty minutes at a time—over many years. And arguably, this entire project of writing about our experience is also the result of many snippets of time that I’ve made use of while riding the subway, waiting for the bus, sitting at a coffee shop on my lunch hour or wherever else I’ve found a bit of time between other things.

I’m always grateful for the little signs that something good has come of my efforts, modest as they may be. For example, in this back to school season, the Association hémiparesie, a pediatric stroke association in France, has distributed instructions for how to adapt a ruler for those who have limited use of one hand (like children who have suffered a stroke). And in doing so, acknowledged that the idea is based on the adapted protractor instructions that I shared last year (first with an explanation as to how they came about and then as a bilingual version), also developed over many little ten-minute intervals of time. It’s a simple idea, of course, but all of our ten-minute contributions taken together, are making a difference someplace. For those kids who will be helped by these adaptations, the cumulative effect is indeed tangible.

It’s been a really long time since I was in grade four, but since then (along with eventually finding out what that folk song was about…), I have come to appreciate the value of my teacher’s insistence on making good use of even just ten minutes of time. Even if you don’t see the impact up close, somewhere, maybe even far away, in this case a year later across the Atlantic in France, something good can come of it all. (And who knows, maybe even further still—I was thrilled to recently ship the french versions of my books to New Caledonia, located in the southwest Pacific Ocean, about 1, 200 km from Australia!)

So, in this back-to-school season, I am thinking of my grade four teacher whose lessons are still resonating with me today, so many decades later. And maybe in some indirect way, still resonating in a classroom somewhere through the ways in which I have applied her advice. I can’t be sure of course, but I am sure that she was right about making good use of even just ten minutes of time.

“Bonne rentrée scolaire” as they say in French! (i.e. Wishing you a great back-to-school season!)

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