It was one of those times when a coincidence feels like something more and is hard to dismiss.
I was familiar with only one school in the Surrey District, the one in which my teaching career began. I completed my practicum at one of Surrey’s junior secondary schools, and those weeks still rank among the most challenging times of my work life. My time as president during the pandemic has afforded me few occasions for school visits, even within the lower mainland. This has made my limited visits with a Principal or Vice-Principal in their school that much more meaningful… at least, for me. And I am grateful that I was able to visit with a member in a Surrey school before my time has run out.
The visit took place on a Wednesday afternoon, and it was a novelty to meet and speak in person. As we wrapped up our time and said our goodbyes in the main office, I shared with the Principal, and the office staff seated around, that my time as a teacher began in Surrey. I went on to say that I understood William Beagle Junior was gone. Hearing this, one of the clerical staff slowly spun her chair around to face us and said, “This is William Beagle Junior Secondary School.”
A few beats of time passed in tableau. I was trying to reconcile this information with the name mounted on the outside wall, facing the street, the name I typed into Google Maps. My confusion and puzzlement obvious, my host walked me to the foyer of the main entrance and pointed to the plaques commemorating both the former school and its new name. I was struck by a symmetry: this was quite possibly the last and only Surrey school I would visit during my term, and it happened to be the beginning point of my professional journey.
I felt mild recognition when looking down the hallway from the office to what would have been my classroom; but, for the most part, time had rendered the school and surrounding neighbourhood unfamiliar. I, too, was quite different from who I had been the last time I stood in this foyer. On the drive home, I reflected upon the expected growth and changes captured in this loop of time. And now, months later, my reflections return to this point of origin and the hallways of Beagle.
At the beginning, I learned many things at Beagle, and one discovery from the months of my practicum came to mind on March 4th. It was during my time at Beagle, with my grade ten classes, that I first encountered one of the inevitable cycles of change that come to education.
As it was spring in a junior high, the grade ten classes were preparing for the transition to high school. And, with that came course selection and plans for their future. In both high school and post-secondary, with self-centred preoccupation, I had never given much thought to the larger wheels which turn to influence and govern policy. Although a student of Education, my time and my energy were largely confined to the classroom and the desks in front of me. So, it came as a surprise to me that this cohort – this Class of ’89 – would have a BC Transcript different from my own. It had never occurred to me that something fundamental, like graduation requirements, should be dynamic.
In typical fashion, the hallway bulletin boards featured displays of information for course selection. Prominent in the displays was the bold reminder for grade ten students about to enter their grad program: requirements have changed; plan accordingly. Reading the details posted there, I felt an ember of resentment forming. As a non-athlete who excelled at board games, was picked last for sports teams, and found a locker in the smoking lounge convenient, it seemed very unfair that future grads would escape the trials of a mandatory senior physical education course.
In tracing my loop as an educator from its beginning to its current place, I would encounter such a reset of qualifications several more times.
Early in my years as a teacher, I accepted the additional role of high school counsellor. For several years, I guided students and families on their paths for a Dogwood. Along the way, initiatives were introduced with the intent to best prepare our youth for an emerging world.
I stepped into the role of Vice-Principal the same time a new Graduation Program was implemented in BC, nine years after the last was introduced. Well before and long after my transition from counsellor to Vice-Principal, I worked to communicate the need for these changes and the sought-after outcomes.
After another nine years, the next iteration of BC’s Graduation Program aligned well with my transition from Vice-Principal to Principal. And, once more, I invested much time and energy in communicating the evolution, its rationale, and its rewards.
Fourteen years later, now a long-time Principal, I worked closely alongside our educators and school community to implement yet one more iteration of the BC Graduation Program, one most ambitious. This new program went well beyond adding or removing course or credit requirements; the very construction of a ‘course’ was challenged to evolve.
And, seven days ago, Minister Whiteside announced for BC a New Indigenous-Focused Graduation Requirement. Given my vintage, this may be the last occasion in my loop for such change, and it may require less time and energy to implement. To clarify, each decade of the last forty years in BC re-envisioned the “educated citizen”; and, with each revision, Principals and Vice-Principals invested as much time to champion the ‘why’ as they did the ‘how’. The mechanics of how this new graduation requirement is implemented will vary. Some districts will make a seamless transition while others will hit some bumps. However, the call for this action – the ‘why’ - is not unclear; it has been heard and is widely supported. It is time.
In the ebb and flow of time, light and dark strike a balance when the equinox arrives. With it comes spring renewal, a re-set … and a break. For this time ahead, after many months well-spent in supporting your students and staffs, I wish for you this same balance, equal parts rest, recreation, and laughter.
Keep well and safe.