The task of the educator is not to cut down jungles, but to irrigate deserts. C.S. Lewis

As a child I was a klutz. I was worse than that. My scrawny body and unruly limbs seemed unable to move in unison. I left bits of my flesh on corners I bumped into, bruised my hips and knees on table edges, and broke my arm riding my bike. Standing, sitting or walking, I had the uncanny ability to trip over my own feet.

I was the kid in gym class picked last, the one who found any excuse to avoid the lesson in the first place. When I made it to grade 10, I discovered this was the last year I’d ever have to take what was euphemistically referred to as physical education. In all the years I’d been forced to take this class, I hadn’t learned viable ways to control my clumsiness, let alone, get good at any of the sports I’d tried. At fifteen, I’d concluded I would never be good at these things. I would raise the white flag, and not suffer any more hits to my already waning self-esteem.

Then I met Mrs. Ferguson. A sturdy, won’t-be-pushed-around-nor-charmed sort of woman, she listened to my excuses with an ever-present smile and occasional nod. She had heard me out, I thought. I’ll sail through this class on the fringes, hide out whenever I can and then the embarrassment and shame will be over once and for all. Except the woman placed me on the basketball team. I’m 5 foot, 4 inches. Standing in stocking feet, some of the other girls on the team were taller than I could jump. How was I going to defend anything, run fast, or down baskets?

I remember thinking that maybe she was new to this teaching thing. Or perhaps she was partially blind. I hoped she’d get it once she saw me in action.

During one particular game, I’d sandwiched myself between the basket and a much bigger girl who ploughed right through me. She hit me. I rocketed into the wall.

Mrs. Ferguson inspected my bloodied knees and elbows. “Great stop,” she said, putting her arm around my shoulders. “Look at those boney knees.”

“Really? I stopped it.” I said, fuzzy headed.

“You were terrific,” she said. “You’ve got a lot of heart.”

Not sure how she did it exactly, but I started standing a little taller after that day, bruises and all. I tried out for more teams, never skipped a class, and to my surprise signed up for grade 11 and 12 physical education classes. They were optional courses, but I couldn’t imagine not taking them.

As an adult, I tried rowing (again with much bigger girls who left me behind), ran several marathons, and took up hiking, weight training, yoga, Pilates, various forms of dance, cross country and downhill skiing. I’m not very good at any of these things (running and hiking being the exceptions), but I’m out there doing it. Still striving. I take some pride in the fact that I don’t quit easily. Stubborn, some might call it.

The last time I saw Mrs. Ferguson was at my ten-year reunion. She asked me what I was up to. I told her about my work, the marathon I was training for. Honolulu I think it was. “Still out there saving the world,” she said, “you were always into so many things. You have a lot of heart. Nice to see nothing’s changed.”

I wish I had said, “Lots has changed, thanks to you, Mrs. Ferguson. My life long (or at least adult life long) love of physical activity along with my willingness to put myself in the uncomfortable position of learning something new (physical or not) has led to many successes. This has happened because of you, Mrs. Ferguson. I couldn’t have done it without you.” But for some reason, I was tongue-tied. It doesn’t happen often, but it did that day, much to my regret.

Mrs. Ferguson and others like her made a difference in my life. They watered the desert I was, showed me the person I was and could be. As teachers take job action in British Columbia, the Minister of Education should remember how important teachers are in a child’s life and stop cutting down the juggle.


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