An Open Letter to Peter Fassbender’s Smirk and the People That Taught Me

This is the second in a series of open letters to people who have influenced my life. Because of the current BCTF Strike, as well as the appalling response by the BC Liberal Government, I have decided to address this letter specifically to the education minister, Peter Fassbender’s Smirk.

Dear Peter Fassbender’s Smirk,

You and I have never met. You don’t know who I am, and quite frankly it will probably stay that way until we are both dead and meet on the plains of purgatory and battle each other’s souls to death for a place in the afterlife. I will win. You will lose. Here is why.

I grew up in Kelowna, BC, and I had amazing teachers.

No, not that isn’t right. I had amazing heroes. And even though I am older now, and somewhat wiser, I will still count them amongst the strongest, most influential people who I have ever had the joy of knowing. I’m going to tell you about them, about moments when they touched my life, taught me about math and English and happiness, and I hope you will, at least for a few minutes, indulge me in my honest rhetoric, because for all the complaints you hear, and the demands you are facing off with every day, I think perhaps you have not grasped the importance of these men and women. But I have, Peter Fassbender’s Smirk, and I make no qualms in telling you that without their active involvement in my life, their care and support, I would not be who I am today. No, I might not even be here today.

I won’t use names, to protect the innocent (Ha!). So, you will simply have to take my word for it that these marvelous people exist in the BC education system and have been drastically overlooked by you and the BC Government.

When I was in high school I was an annoying person. I was sarcastic and, to some extent, probably disrespectful despite my admiration. There is no excuse aside from teenage hormones, the uncertainty of my various spinal surgeries, and the fact that I was struggling very badly with my father leaving our family.

I was not, how shall we say, adjusting well to the changes in my life, and was in desperate need of strong male role models that would be reliably in my life. Still, my desire to come to terms with my father’s actions was considerable, and as I was growing into a bolder young woman I sought some way to stand my ground against what he had done. With that in mind I turned to my English teacher. He had the unfortunate role of teaching the ‘Dumb English’ class, which myself and another brilliant student had been put in because the other classes were simply no longer capable of holding us. It would have been a hellish experience if not for that teacher. He also taught me Japanese, most of which I have forgotten (ahh so desu ka? Hai, so desu.)

After school one day I approached this teacher, asking for advice. I explained the situation as a hypothetical “what would you do in this situation?” hoping he might have some scathingly brilliant response that I could throw at my father. Instead he thought for a moment and told me, quite frankly, that the next time my father pulled something like that I should say “Blood doesn’t require me to put up with your bullshit.”

Now, it took me over five years from that point to get up the courage to finally address all the lingering issues I had with my father. I had to figure out who I was, and what I wanted from life and more importantly, from my relationship with my father. But for every day of those five years I took those words with me. Nothing had ever come across so true and eloquent to me, and I doubt I will ever hear anything that again. It took me five years, but I said it, and now when I have a problem with my father, I speak to him as a woman, strengthened by the fact that this teacher gave me the words I needed to stand my ground. Without this teacher, I would not be as courageous as I am.

In the same vein as above, I had another interaction with a different teacher in my final year. I was a dreadfully sarcastic person in his class, almost to the point where it would have been considered rude. We bantered, called each other by nicknames, both of them the results of solid senses of humor. One day I must have breached the line, as I was told quite sternly to stay after class. I was horrified. I had never been asked to stay after class. Mortified, I took a seat as I was directed. He sat down in front of me, and all at once his stern expression disappeared and he asked if I was okay.

Holy shit mother of ass thank god. I was wise enough to know at that point that life wasn’t easy for my mum, and the thought of disappointing her with some black mark on my record scared the shit out of me.

The teacher and I spoke for a while. I explained how I was worried about my upcoming surgery, pain, my family, everything that was packed into my mind. It was out of his way, and not something he had to do, but he cared enough to ask. It was more than most others had done up to that point. He showed me the value of asking questions, of taking the time to be concerned. Without this teacher, I would not know how to take the time for others.

There was another teacher, too, who I am still in contact with and who I have the utmost respect for. He had taught my brother during one of his first years as a teacher, and as I had learned from previous encounters, the Sawisky name brought with it a certain history. I expected I would be Greg’s Sister as I was with many of the teachers around the school, delegated to the position of the last Sawisky who didn’t have to excel as long as she didn’t fail. Mercifully this was not the case.

To say I enjoyed English would be an understatement. I flippin’ love english. Words, words, words! But I have to admit, I found the imposed 30 minute reading at the start of each class which, let’s face it, every teacher does because otherwise these students will probably never pick up a book. Ever. Like, figuratively, ever. As with all my teachers, I asked if it would be all right if I could write during that time instead, and somehow that devolved into me doing the local crossword puzzle. And then devolved further into him doing the crossword puzzle. Pretty soon it was a crossword puzzle off. Who can finish it first? Who can finish it before the obligatory reading ends?

When I left for my fourth spinal surgery, he gave me a stack of books to keep me entertained. I ended up purchasing most of them for myself later on just so I could reread them. Have you ever read Hey Nostradamus! It’s a Douglas Coupland novel. I would recommend it. Maybe he can lend it to you. Without this teacher, I would have never pursued my love of writing.

These are people who have influenced my greatest decisions in life, who taught me what it means to stand on my own two feet. These are remarkable people that you will never get the chance of being inspired by because, quite frankly, I’m pretty sure they think you are a bit of a dingus. And as the BC Government seems to be treating this Strike as a Win or Lose competition, I have to tell you Peter Fassbender’s Smirk, I think I won this round. I have the ability to look at myself with a critical eye and say Yes, this is definitively who I am, and I am this way because of these people. They did not, I am fairly sure, consider me a dingus.

So while you are busy digging in your heels and placing a monetary value on the education of students, consider this: For as screwy as my childhood was, there are dozens if not hundreds of students who are more desperate for solid, reliable, oodfigures of authority in their lives. They need advice, reassurance, and help from the very same people who offered it to me, and so many others. And those students, the one’s you are denying an education to, are the future. Not you, Peter Fassbender’s Smirk. You are the past, but your decisions every day of the strike will have a very real and very immediate impact on those who will define the future of BC. You have a duty as Education Minister to stand up for the students and teachers, not the government. Believe me, I’d say the government is standing just fine on its own.

I carry the education I received from those people every day of my life, but it is the people that define the experience, not the mandatory syllabus. I would urge you to consider that what you are denying these students is not simply an education, but a chance at growing up as considerate, brave, and respectable members of the community.

Most Sincerely,

Kathleen Sawisky

PS: You’ll have to excuse my poor grammar. I have no excuse, I just simply don’t want to be judged on it.

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