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Saddle Up Saloon; Chattin’ With Norah Colvin

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“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.

Hello D.

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:

Education is 2

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 shiftnshake@dslayton.com.


51 Comments

  1. suespitulnik says:

    Hmmm. A country where the word “buddy” isn’t used often. That was a surprise. Your buddy chat brought to me a new thought, that education and schooling are two very different things. After reading your conversation I must agree with this new premise. I’m happy to say I haven’t been in school for a mighty long time but I have never stop learning and that’s a good thing. Thank you ladies for sharing your insights and especially for being such active members of the Ranch.

    Liked by 6 people

    • Thank you too Sue!
      Yep, schooling can give education a bad name. In or out of school we need to nurture curiosity. It is the saddest thing to see an uncurious child, and it does happen when all the “answers” are handed to them.

      Liked by 3 people

    • Norah says:

      Thank you for your lovely comment, Sue. I always enjoy meeting another life-long learner who is happy to consider an idea from a different point of view.

      Liked by 3 people

  2. Jules says:

    I really enjoyed ‘eavesdropping’ on this educational post. I was a pre-school teacher, in what seems another life. Then I had my own… and then helped to raise both grands until they entered more structure systems. The grands entered full time Kindergarten programs, which not all public schools promote. A half day Kindergarten seems to be such a limited amount of time and the children don’t get to play all that much. I was a parent aide in one of my children’s K classes. There was too much of move from this spot to that and sit and expectations to learn. Most of the children already knew the alphabet, how to spell their names and recite their phone numbers and addresses. Many also knew the basics of shapes and colors. I always thought there should be more time to socialize.

    Anyway… Thank you D and Norah for being educators and life long learners. That’s me to. Though I’ve been happily retired basically since the last grand attended full time school for the first time. I worked so many different part time jobs (including teaching) that when the time came to stop and breathe – I did. It gave me the opportunity to travel with my hubby – as he travels to different states for his job.

    I just got back from visiting La Crosse, Wisconsin. I got to ride a double wheel paddle boat, see eagles, watch the US Navy’s Blue Angels (aircraft) practice over the Mississippi, and learn that at one time La Crosse was in the Guinness book of World records for the most pubs on one street (29).
    I’ve translated some of those experiences into poems at my blog.

    I think we all can be teachers if we can listen to those around us and impart our knowledge without bragging. I have always thought that listening was one of the best lessons for teachers. When we ask questions, ones that leave a child or another adult the opportunity to share – that’s priceless.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Thank you for your comments Jules. You’re correct about listening, we are all not just teachers when we actively listen, but are learners too. And listening, simply letting a student know they’ve been heard, also helps with behavioral issues and helps them be better able to learn and grow.

      Liked by 2 people

    • Norah says:

      I love your comment, Jules, especially the bit about your recent travels which makes me think maybe I should stop and engage in other pursuits and experiences while I can. Hub is still working though and not much interested in travel, and we can’t do much of that at the moment anyway; but I’ll keep your thoughts in mind.
      I especially like the way you describe listening as one of the best lessons for teachers – listen and give the others time to think and express themselves. Perfect!

      Liked by 2 people

  3. What a wonderful chat! Oh yes, Norah is very passionate in her work, and for this a role model too. Thank you, for sharing this great chat interview, Charli! To both of you best wishes for a wonderful week! Michael

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Kate says:

    I enjoyed eavesdropping on your conversation. You are both passionate about the professions you had and the children were truly fortunate to have you as their teachers. I have always liked the way Norah has shown in her blog posts how to incorporate creativity and play into a structured classroom environment – something both of you clearly did. Thank you for sharing your stories.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I used to have so much fun, working at play and seeing my students learning in an active way. But then came the boxed curriculum and insistence that we all do the same exact thing, to literally be on the same page at the same time. Good teaching became a subversive act.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Norah says:

        Oh I know. That happened here too. Then I knew it was definitely time to go. But I couldn’t help trying to make things better for children and teachers. That’s my mission.

        Liked by 1 person

    • Norah says:

      Thank you, Kate. I appreciate your kind words. Play is not just play to children. It is their life’s work. It’s how they learn; and we can learn so much through observations of their play – even more by joining in. 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

  5. Chel Owens says:

    I knew this was a good day to pop in for a drink! You two are some of my favorite bloggers!

    I agree with your perspectives on education. My children haven’t been such robots in a system since I’ve had them in charter schools and have been more involved based on what they report home. Meanwhile, a blogging friend up in Yorkshire has a dyslexic son who is forced to take French… There are certainly needs for a more organic system and a less regimented one.

    Liked by 2 people

    • It’s too bad, it could and should be different. The research is there to support more wholistic approaches, there have been successful progressive schools in the past, but it’s a pendulum. And everyone gets to weigh in, regardless of expertise or experience. But in most all schools there are educators like our Norah, dedicated and passionate, doing what they know is best for their students. I had many fine colleagues in my school too, and sometimes over the years, briefly, had good supportive principals I could learn from.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Norah says:

        I think it is the principal who makes or breaks a school and a teacher. I had an absolutely brilliant principal at one school and an abysmal one or two at another. The difference in teacher morale, the quality of teaching and student learning was obvious (to me anyway). Even brilliant teachers need the freedom to be so.

        Liked by 1 person

    • Norah says:

      I like your adjective – organic – it’s a good one. Children learn so well that way.

      Liked by 2 people

  6. Jim Borden says:

    wonderful interview with two of my favorite bloggers. Well done! It’s always fun to learn a little bit more about the person behind the blog. My wife is a pre-k teacher, so I could relate to much of what Norah was saying…

    Liked by 2 people

  7. I too, am passionate about education, and have mixed feelings on schooling.
    “I am frustrated by the limitations of formal schooling and would love to see us all educated in more positive ways.” I totally felt that line. I’m currently a private tutor working with various elementary school kids, and I’ve seen how our school system in Canada has let down a lot of kids. I’ve seen teachers who didn’t acknowledge kids’ needs, and refused to accommodate for them, and one of them was even officially diagnosed with autism and had recommended accommodations from a professional that were totally ignored. I’ve seen kids get pushed along and how they just become more lost in a system that claims, “No child left behind.” I’ve seen very similar stories from the public school, the Catholic school, and from a private school. These kids deserve better. They deserve a schooling system that is designed for them, not a system that they are slotted into because, “Well, that’s the way things are done.” We need to re-evaluate things that are as foundational as the grade system (why move all kids along in one group when they are all at various levels of skill and understanding?), and also how to evaluate work and learning. It would be a lot of work to rework the system from the ground up, but it would be worth it.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Norah says:

      Hear! Hear! We are on the same page with those thoughts, that’s for sure. As a tutor, you would see children from many different school systems. I think a lot of the problems stem from those two words ‘school systems’. We need to focus on children and their needs. You are right. It would be a lot of work. But it would be worth it. Thank you for adding your voice for change. Now we just have to figure out how to do it – for every child. 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

    • Yes, change is needed, real change not bandaids and slogans. I agree with you about the grade system; I am interested in an ungraded school, where groups are more organic formed by interest and choice. Middle school should be a time of apprenticeships where students can explore what it is they want to do and therefore what they need to learn. It would make the drugs and alcohol of high school less appealing if they already had their feet on the ground.
      Thank you for your comments.

      Liked by 2 people

  8. Norah says:

    Thanks so much for looking after me at the Saloon, D. Pal and Kid kindly kept out of our way and let us chat. I think the conversation may have been a bit one-sided though. Once I get started on education, I don’t know where to stop! Sorry.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Heehee. I figured I could rope you into a chat easier than getting an interview. I kind of like the format.
      Thank you for being such a good sport and taking part. You’re a good buddy!
      And don’t stop! Don’t apologize! You’re one of the dedicated ones that rallies posses for change.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Norah says:

        Thanks so much for roping me in. I was reluctant, that’s for sure. You made me feel comfortable having a nice cosy chat – just the two of us. 😂

        Liked by 1 person

  9. Norah says:

    Reblogged this on Norah Colvin and commented:

    I had a great chat with my fellow Ranch-hand, writer and educator, D. Avery over at the Saddle Up Saloon at the Carrot Ranch. We discussed my favourite topics – children, education and writing. Not your usual saloon fare, eh? A bit dry for Kid and Pal too.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. This is a great post Norah and Ms D. You two do have a lot in common although you live on opposite sides of the world. Norah, I love your poem. You are the only other person I’ve ever known to write a metaphorical poem.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Lots of interesting information in this interview. I haven’t heard of a buddy bench. I wonder if that works.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. “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 loved that line, Norah. I remember when my grandson discovered reading and the way he lit up. 🙂 It’s a superpower. And I too am a life-long learner. How can we not be?? Wonderful conversation between you and D. I loved listening in.

    Liked by 2 people

  13. What a lovely conversation between two inspired and inspiring teachers. I’m looking forward to your next joint project.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Such a lovely tête-à-tête between you two ladies; I was aware of Norah, but getting a peek into Avery was a surprise.

    Education no doubt is essential, and schools primarily teach the textbook kind.

    Common sense is one thing that is missing.

    Liked by 2 people

  15. Susan Scott says:

    So enjoyed this conversation between buddies. Two or 3 buddies a bunch maketh. Another word for retirement is ‘reFirement’ which is what you’re doing. Keep the flames going – so needed, so necessary. Have a lovely weekend …

    Liked by 2 people

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