“Hey Kid. Kinda quiet ‘round the Saloon. Ain’tcha got anythin’ lined up?”
“Nope. But as ya kin see, Pal, there’s a few folks in jist relaxin’ an’ chattin’ over a bev’rage a choice.”
“Yeah, I see thet. Look there, is that Norah Colvin?”
“Yep. Says she’s waitin’ on a buddy a hers.”
“Reckon thet buddy is here. Why it’s—”
“D. Avery? Them two’s buddies? What a they have in common?”
“Well, they both know their way ‘roun’ the Ranch.”
“Reckon, but Norah Colvin’s respectable an’ all, an’ our writer’s so…”
“Jist serve ‘em both Kid an’ leave ‘em be.”
Hello Norah! I’m so glad we have a place where we can finally hang out together. But it seems Kid is wondering that we’re buddies.
Buddies! I like that. Buddies is not a term commonly used in Australia, so I think this is the first time I’ve ever been called someone’s buddy. I like its informality. At schools, sometimes they now have a ‘buddy bench’ where children can wait for a buddy to rescue them if they have no one to play with. I’m generally introverted so am pleased that you’ve come and rescued me from my lonely bench (bar stool). Thank you.
More than a buddy, Norah, you’ve been my mentor at Carrot Ranch, looking out for me from the beginning. Kind of like Pal does for Kid, though you’re much nicer about it. But besides Carrot Ranch and flash fiction we also have in common our educational backgrounds. I have recently retired from teaching though I’ve done a poor job of it as I am currently working in a pre-k classroom, although as a para now and not a lead teacher. Is this your age group, 4 to 5 year olds?
I’ve often considered myself a six-year-old at heart. I’ve mostly worked with 5 – 7 year olds, though have worked with some of before school age and some a little further into their primary schooling. I’m interested to hear you admit that you’ve retired, as I have been reluctant to use the R word.
“Ha! I only use the R word for convenience. “Retirement” doesn’t really seem like the right word choice, but I did not return to school this past fall and I’m not just playing hooky. I taught formally for 24 years, mostly fourth grade (9-10 year olds) and I finished as a sixth grade (11-12 year olds) math(s) teacher. But even before I was a certified teacher I spent time in pre-k and K classrooms. When a pre-school teaching friend needed help this winter I said Yes. It’s been a lot of fun working with this age group again. What do you like most about this age group?”
I have always loved supporting children as they embark upon their journey into literacy. I have always thought it a privilege to share the joy as they discover the magic of the black squiggles upon the page, whether they are reading or writing them. I love to share in their excitement as they explore and unlock the mysteries of mathematics and their delight as they realise what they can do. To see the children bubble with confidence, curiosity and creativity reawakens the six-year-old in me who was crushed by structure and conformity. There is nothing more rewarding than to see a child in love with learning.
I totally agree! My favorite sound in the classroom was always “Aha!” as a child’s perseverance paid off.
What do you love about working with pre-school children, D.?
In pre-school the work of the children is still play, and it’s in play that we learn and develop best. I love their curiosity and sense of wonder. And I love their kindness and the simple straightforward strategies they practice to solve problems. Pre-school teachers and children have it all figured out.
Norah, when I first came along the Ranch you had a recurring character named Marnie. Where did that character come from?
The Marnie stories, some of which I compiled on a Marnie page on my blog, were written in response to Charli’s flash fiction prompts. Over time, the character grew and I got to learn more about her. Although she was entirely fictional, parts of her were based upon my own shy child self and other parts upon many other children I knew, had taught or read about. It was quite a compulsion for a while to write the flash fiction responses about her, but then she faded out of view and I haven’t written anything about her for some time. The stories focused on bullying, neglect and dysfunctional families mainly.
D., you have some lovely young children who often feature in your stories — Marlie and Hope. Unlike Marnie’s dysfunctional family, both have supportive families who nurture their curiosity, creativity and carefree spirits. I see this as indicative of your warmth and nurturing heart. Would you agree?
Ha! That heart is a work in progress. I don’t know where those two came from or their families. But I like them. A lot. It’s an ideal, I suppose, but I have met kids that have blessed families like that and that get that kind of respect from their families.
Many of your flash fictions show children and teachers in school. You write amazing flashes but what I have always been impressed with is how the prompt also engenders an essay about education from you. Your passion is unflagging, Norah.
Time has killed off those posts which for many years accompanied my flash fictions, but education has been, and still is, the focus of my life, my life’s passion and work. I am frustrated by the limitations of formal schooling and would love to see us all educated in more positive ways. I guess we are often told to ‘write what you know’ and education is what I know best. My mixed feelings about school mean that sometimes I write rather negatively about school, and other times paint education in a positive light. I can do the same about parenting. It is my attempt to show what often/sometimes is against what could be. My poem Education is perhaps expresses this idea most succinctly.
For me, working in a traditional school was always like balancing on a thin line that connected what my employer expected of me in schooling children and how I believed children should be educated. Don’t get me wrong. I absolutely loved working with the children. They gave me so much joy. I was just always aware of how much more joyous and beneficial it could be.
Yeah, so much depended on the school admin. It was discouraging the more they wanted to dictate the means to the end. It saddened me to see over the years the rigid structure and conformity coming back into schools and making it more difficult to nurture the innate creativity of children. The best days were when we were free to find our own way to the ends, to develop fun and engaging activities. It was a lot of work but the kind that left you energized rather than drained.
I did my best to change things. I didn’t always just accept the status quo. Which is really surprising as I always toed the line and never liked to be in trouble at school or at home when I was growing up. I wrote a little about my journey in a long-ago post To school or not to school which linked to an article with the same title I wrote for a teacher magazine which can be read here. It lists some of the early influencers upon my educational thinking. Considering it was written almost 30 years ago, and I continued to read about education constantly since then, I could now add many more influencers to the list, some of who I’ve listed here and here. John Holt was probably one of the first who confirmed my misgivings with the ‘system’ were well-founded and the amazing, and sadly late, Ken Robinson was one of the more recent. However, children were perhaps my best teachers, my own and the children of others. Children can teach us so much if we just watch and listen and learn.
The children are our best teachers! We’re just the guides on the side, ready with the right question and materials to keep them engaged in their explorations.
Some of my retired friends, who are happy to use the R word and were once teaching colleagues of mine, ask me why I stay involved with teaching and education. They want nothing more to do with it. But I can’t let it go. Education is me and I am it. It is where I belong and where I want to be. (To innovate on a quote from ‘The Big Orange Splot’.) I am life-long learning.
I love that idea of life-long learning but know there’s so much to do and learn in a non-school setting. Teaching took all my time and energy. I’m moved back closer to family now and am more available to them. I am lucky to still have children around to play with but without having to write reports on them. Maybe that’s what Marlie and Hope do, show that the real learning happens naturally and informally. I loved working with the kids but haven’t regretted my decision to leave school. I’m enjoying each day and they are full. R is for return and rediscovery and rejuvenation.
I still stay involved, but instead of being in the classroom, I use one of my other skills — writing. I write for my eponymous blog where I post my responses to Charli’s flash fiction prompts you mentioned before. I write freelance for educational publishers and have a couple of big jobs on the go at the moment. I create teaching resources to support teachers of children in their first three years of school which I make available on my website readilearn. And … I write stories for children, some of which are published in anthologies, some are published in the Library For All collection and some, I hope/keep my fingers crossed/if I’m really lucky, will be published as picture books one day.
You will get your picture books published!
Well, I know the Saloon is open 24/7 but I have to go. I hope Pal and Kid haven’t been eavesdropping, what a boring old pair they’ll think us.
Education can be the most exciting and rewarding career going. It can also be political and polarizing. I admire you for carrying on the good fight Norah and know that your writings are another contribution to the education and welfare of children.
We’d probably both be more comfortable out playing games and kicking up our heels with a group of children. It has been great catching up with you over a drink though.
Yep! See ya Buddy!
“Told ya Pal. Norah Colvin’s decent an’ respectable, she could do better than ta buddy up with that D. Avery.”
“Jist shush Kid. But yeah, Norah’s purty amazin’. Here’s her poem:
Thet says it all.”
If asked, Pal & Kid will deny that they spill from the pen of D. Avery. They claim to be free ranging characters who live and work at Carrot Ranch and now serve up something more or less fresh every Monday at the Saddle Up Saloon. If you or your characters are interested in saddling up to take the stage as a saloon guest, contact them via firstname.lastname@example.org.