Friday, March 31, 2017

The Lansdowne Letters: On the Horns of a Dilemma

Not everyone has the opportunity to have a parent as a teacher,
but I was fortunate to have both of mine for a number years.

Some students, especially in high school, would shudder
at the thought of facing a parent in the classroom;
but I counted myself lucky because I had both during my high school years.

My Parents on Their Honeymoon
Sandy Cove, Nova Scotia, Canada, 1948
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

My parents were excellent teachers, among the best I encountered
from kindergarten through my Masters in Education.

In the end the siren call of teaching lured me from the Oil Patch into the classroom,
where I spent the majority of my working years as an elementary teacher.
It was a choice I never regretted because I consider the education
of children among the most critical responsibilities of any society. 

My parents were in my heart and mind as I taught,
for the most important lessons I learned about teaching
occurred not in university but in my parents' classrooms
during the times I was their student.

Solving an Introductory Multiplication Problem
My Classroom
 Aurora, Colorado, USA
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

My father in particular influenced my teaching
because he also taught me while I was in elementary school.
I landed in his classroom for the first time in Lansdowne House
for the last half of grade five.

The contrast between him and my previous teachers was striking.
Yes, my father was well-educated, brilliant, and organized,
but his greatest teaching gifts were his ability to build rapport with his students
and his skill in adapting the curriculum to meet the needs of his individual students.

My father was decades ahead of his time. 
Almost forty years later in my Diverse Learners Masters Program in Denver, 
I was learning teaching strategies my father had taught me in Lansdowne House
in the remote wilderness of the Hudson Bay Lowlands in 1961.  

You might think that a ten-turning-eleven year old
would not be thinking about how teachers teach,
but you would be mistaken.

Counting my father,
I followed the calling of seven consecutive generations
of teachers in the MacBeath line.
Teaching was in my blood.

My Father During His Undergraduate Years
Acadia University
Wolfville, Nova Scotia, Canada
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

My father discussed many aspects of teaching First Nations students
in his unpublished handbook "The Northern School Teacher."
I'll share just one here.

My father wrote:
"Another difficulty faced by the Indian teacher is that of text books
and the subject matter of the text books,
especially for the readers in grades one to five.
The children just had no way of relating these books to their personal lives. 

"Pleasant Street," which I think lead from "Funny, funny Sally's house,"
to "the little store on Pleasant Street,"
had absolutely no resemblance to the narrow woodland trail
which meandered along the shore of the lake from the one-room shack
where Speared Turtle and his twelve children lived
to the Hudson's Bay Company Store
which is usually the only commercial outlet
with which the children ever came in contact.

And Gilbert Thunder of Kasabonika Lake
couldn't care less, and certainly couldn't understand
how "funny, funny Spot, fluffy, fluffy Puff, and pretty, pretty Sally
play and run down, down, down."

From an Unknown Dick and Jane Reader
Back to Front:  Dick, Jane, Puff (cat), Spot (dog), Tim (teddybear) and Sally

It is uninteresting to poor Gilbert,
for Gilbert Thunder is twelve years old,
and even though he is only in grade one,
it's not because he is stupid.
Actually he is quite bright.

The reason he is only in grade one is because
there has been a school in Kasabonika for only the last two years.

And the idea of Spot and Sally running and playing together
is utterly incomprehensible to poor Gilbert,
for his dog is named Kitche Schikeg (Big Skunk)
and is a big brute of unsavory appearance, questionable ancestry,
and deplorable deportment.

Kitche Schikeg is not a fluffy little, long-eared pet
with whom the children romp and play.
Kitche Schikeg is a mangy looking, half-starved beast of burden
whom you do not approach unless you are armed with a large stick
and who would bite your hand off if you tried to pet him.

Basilisk & Ginger at Main Base / photograph by Xavier Mertz/ cropped by M. Louise Barbour
Format: Glass negative Notes: First Australasian Antarctic Expedition, 1911-1914
 From the collections of the Mitchell Library
State Library of New South Wales

I will admit that the Indian Affairs Branch
is on the horns of a dilemma.
The primary purpose or goal of all Indian education
is the ultimate integration of the Indian population
with the white population,
and the teacher has to familiarize her charges
with the white man's way of doing things.

But surely there must be a better way to familiarize poor Gilbert
than boring him and baffling him with this inane drivel
about "funny, funny Puff" and "pretty, pretty Sally.

I think that the suitability or non-suitability of the textbooks notwithstanding,
a partial solution to the problem depends to a large extent on the individual teacher.

The success of the teacher's efforts depends upon his ability or inability
to adapt the textbooks and curriculum to the pupils and the situation.

I remember going to the school at Pikangikum once to inspect the school.
The grade four reading lesson that day was about school safety patrols and traffic signals.
To illustrate the lesson the teacher and the pupils had built a beautiful working model
of a traffic light powered by four flashlight batteries.

This would have been a wonderful teaching aid for outside
but it was of no earthly good to children
who never have and most likely will never see a car or street
and whose only conception of traffic
was canoes on the lake in the summertime
and dog teams on the ice in the winter.

Learning the White Man's Way
Dunking for Apples on Halloween
Lansdowne House, Northern Ontario, Canada
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

I do not want to blow my own horn too much,
but by way of illustration,
I want to tell about how I handled the identical lesson 
when I was teaching at Lansdowne House.

I briefly explained about traffic and the necessity
of having stop lights, school safety patrols, and safety rules.

Then I got the children discussing things in or about Lansdowne House
which might need regulatory measures in the manner of safety rules.

We started off by drawing up a set of safety rules for canoes,
rules such as never standing up in a canoe situation. 
and always making sure the canoe is drawn up out of the water
and tied whenever you stop on an island for dinner or for the night.

We got so enthusiastic about safety rules
that we drew up two more sets of rules:
one for safety on the ice during freeze-up and break-up,
and one for safety around aeroplanes.

A Norseman on Skis
Flickr ~ NOAA:  Rear Admiral Harley D. Nygren   License 

This last set of rules might seem strange for children
who have never seen an automobile,
but not when you consider that they are very familiar
with the bush planes which bring in all the mail,
take a great many of the families to and from their winter traplines,
and which always bring the government officials on their periodic visits.

Before we left this particular lesson for good,
we also drew up sets of rules for the care and maintenance of canoes,
the care and maintenance of kickers (outboard motors),
and the care and maintenance of snowshoes." 

Lansdowne House
Members of the Fort Hope Band watching a floatplane arrive
at the dock at Lansdowne House at Treaty Time, June 1956.

John Macfie Transparency  Reference Code: C 330-14-0-0-95  Archives of Ontario, I0012712  © Queen's Printer for Ontario
The materials on this website are protected by Crown copyright (unless otherwise indicated), which is held by the Queen's Printer for Ontario.  
If credit is given and Crown copyright is acknowledged,the materials may be reproduced for non-commercial purposes.

When I was a student in my father's class in Lansdowne House,
I experienced him using many strategies,
that I was later trained in during my teaching career,
strategies such as making learning relevant to his students
adapting lessons to meet the needs of individual students,
and designing lessons with visual, auditory, and kinesthetic components.

I think back to that place and time, 
and I am in awe of all that my father accomplished as a teacher.
I saw him continue to do so when I was in high school.

My mother may have been one of the best teachers I ever had,
but my father was the best.

Till next time ~
Fundy Blue

Crossing Petite Passage
Bay of Fundy, Nova Scotia
Photo by Roy MacBeath 
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

For Map Lovers Like Me:

Location of Lansdowne House
Known Today as Neskantaga
Hudson Bay Lowlands (green)

Location of Northern Communities


  1. Relating the lesson to the kids is so important. Otherwise, it's gibberish. Like us learning all the rules of space travel around Mars. Your dad was ahead of his time and helped you to be a better teacher as well.

    1. I hope you are enjoying a relaxing Saturday morning, Alex! We're having a snowy, stay-at-home day. The teacher in me thinks that that space-travel-around-Mars lesson may have percolated in your subconscious for years and had an impact, because look what you've done! You've written a popular sci-fi series, some of which has been translated into Turkish, and it's chock full of pilots traveling on and around planets and in space. That was one of the things I enjoyed most in your books, the vivid and clever take on traveling in space, the immediacy of the space battle scenes, the jumping. OMG! Something to consider!

  2. It's so wonderful that you carried on your parents' (and family's) tradition of being educators by becoming a teacher yourself!

    1. Thanks, Debra! I will be forever grateful for the rich and rewarding career I had as a second/third grade teacher. Children are wonderful human beings, and I learned more from them than I ever taught. Enjoy your weekend!

  3. Such a great post, Louise, and the photo of your parents on their honeymoon is gorgeous!

    1. Happy Saturday morning, my cherished Montreal friend! Thanks for your constant encouragement and support. It means a great deal to me. Wishing you a lovely weekend and sending you hugs!

  4. My kindergarten teacher had a son my age and grade. But he was taught by a different teacher

    1. Hi, Adam! That's how teachers' children are handled in our district. A teacher's child went into another teacher's classroom. I hope that you and Daisy have a fun weekend!

  5. I agree, what use is a book with things that the children will NEVER see in their lifetime. great adaptation to have canoe, ice, snowshoes, and other rules that relate to life there. You were innovative, and the legacy passed on from your Mum and specially your Dad will always be with you, no matter what life situation.

    1. We both learned such wonderful life lessons from our parents, didn't we, Jean? I hope all is well with you and Hugh and that you are feeling better. Enjoy your fall weekend. We have spring snow here today. Sending you both hugs and head scratches for the kitties.

  6. Being able to relate and teach relevant things is sure a win indeed. I'd run if my parents were teachers lol but he sure knew what he was doing and influenced you all the more for it.

    1. Hey Pat! Hope all's well where you're at! I started high school in a new town (Sherbrooke, Nova Scotia) with my mother as my homeroom teacher for grade nine. Since there was only one grade nine class, I had no choice. And my father was my principal! How would you like that? LOL Have a great weekend, my friend!

  7. Oh, how wonderful that your parents were such excellent teachers. How skilled your father was, in particular. It's beautiful that you have teaching in your blood, and I can tell you do because of the way your write your posts. I learn so much from you. The photo of your parents is great. What lovely smiles!


    1. Hi, Janie! I hope that you are in the middle of a great weekend! Thanks for all your kind words! I'm fortunate to have lovely photos of my parents from their honeymoon. That was the last time that they took lots of photos of themselves at one time. After that there wasn't a lot of money for buying and processing film. Sending you a big hug!

  8. Such a valuable 'lesson' to learn, Louise, and something that stayed with you throughout your career.
    I spent most of my teaching career adapting curriculum for students with learning difficulties. That was the easy part! The difficult part was convincing their teachers to do so as well.
    Your passion for teaching is 'in your blood'......what a legacy you have built and your parents are grinning from ear to ear at your accomplishments.
    What a great post.

    1. Happy Saturday to two of my favorite guys and one sweet SD! I had a lot of sympathy for our special ed teachers, Jim. Like you, their biggest problem was getting teachers to implement the learning strategies they recommended whatever the learning difficulties were. And our special ed teachers loved working with me! I was open to most things.

      Where I balked was identifying boys as ADHD because I thought many were just squirrelly because they were boys who needed to move more and not sit quietly and still at desks all day. So my personal accommodations were to take my kiddos out myself for an extra recess and to incorporate movement into my lessons. I was notorious for my grammar jumping jacks where we conjugated verbs (oh so old-fashioned!) to jumping jacks. I actually broke my foot doing that one day ~ LOL We also had shake breaks where I'd put on Otis Redding's "Shake," and we'd all dance. Some kids thought I was nutty when that happened the first time or two, but I'd nearly always have little boys doing the worm on the floor. Okay I better stop, because I miss my energetic kidlets. We had so much fun! Have a great weekend, my friend!

  9. This post was so lovely. I could feel the generations of dedication to teaching. My mother is a teacher as well.

    1. Thanks for your lovely comment, Sheena-kay! I was just getting ready to start my IWSG post and saw I had a new comment on this post. It gave me a shot of determination to tackle it! Have a good one, my friend!

  10. I know that you were a great teacher and teaching is certainly in your blood. You adapted that lesson masterfully. It is so hard for me to imagine how to relay information from those texts to make it relevant to the those children. Your father taught you well. I love the pictures that you add to your stories to make this tale come alive.

    1. Hi, Peggy! Thank you for your kind words! I have such fun hunting down photos that I can use. I hope all is well with you, Don, and Sadie. XOXOX!

  11. Amazing post! I find this all so interesting! I feel really bad for the Native children and for your father! Good for you, becoming a teacher too! Big Hugs!

    1. Thanks, Stacy! I'm so glad that I got to spend my career in the company of children. They are such pure souls! Have a good one!

  12. I didn't have to know him to see your father was a great human being, and I never related to those Dick and Jane books either. I remembering wondering why my life wasn't like theirs. Not a good way to begin school life. I also look forward to your stories. You are collecting into a book, right? I hope so.


Thank you for your comments! I appreciate them very much.