We lived in Ottawa for three years and produced two more sons. By 1967 we had moved to Campbell’s Bay, a small village in western Quebec with a bilingual population of about 1,000. A combination of factors drove me back to a classroom – a daily commute of 35 miles each way, across the provincial border to Cobden in southeastern Ontario north of Ottawa. The car radio was a constant companion.
This time the school principal had the choice of making me – with the equivalent of three full years of teaching under my belt – or an absolute beginner – the head of the English department and I won by default. I got to teach the three senior grades of the Cobden High School. At that time the Province of Ontario still had province-wide university entrance exams and the results were published so there was pressure to produce results in a very public way.
Teachinng English was fun. The students were very different from the ones I had taught at St. Hilda’s and St. Hugh’s School in New York City, which at that time also had a secondary school level. My pupils had included the children of famed writer, Madeleine L’Engle – she herself taught part time in the school in those days while she was waiting, unsuccessfully for a publisher to pick up what became one of the most successful children’s books ever – A Wrinkle in Time. I had also taught a daughter of one of the producers of the Jack Paar show. Those kids were urban, worldly and sophisticated.
In contrast, the students at Cobden High School were pragmatic and down to earth; many of them started their school days with farm chores. I didn’t have to be the staff sponsor of the school yearbook, but I was expected to direct the school play. To make it even more challenging, the cast had to come solely from the Grade XII classes. It made sense to choose Our Town since this was the play I knew better than any other. It was a great success, largely because these students – especially the males – looked the part of the more mature characters – and the kids understood the context of the play really well.
Like many schools at the time, the budget for new textbooks was pathetic. When asked to order books to deal with unspent money in the departmental budget, I blew the whole amount on LP recordings of poetry readings. That turned out to be a good choice. We were expanding our media repertoire as well as our understanding of literature.