My mother is, as are the majority in Atlantic Canada, of Celtic descent. As the story goes, her ancestry is linked to a lady of nobility (I’m going with princess!) who centuries ago jumped ship and settled in the region of Ferryland. Whereas my father descends from the Métis tribe – people of mixed European and indigenous ancestry – a lineage I’m rightfully proud of. However, such a claim just goes to show how much times have changed; until relatively recently it would have been a skeleton you’d have worked your damn hardest to keep firmly in the closet. Only in my generation have steps been taken to right the wrongs of the past. Prior to this, Canada’s First Nations people were subject to institutional racism and shown little respect by those who proclaimed cultural superiority.
I was born and raised in Goulds – a rural neighbourhood just outside St John’s, Newfoundland, Canada. A picture-perfect image of climbing trees, exploring and swimming in rivers often springs to mind when imagining what life for a child in Canada is like. Well, I was pretty much blessed with just that. Being the middle child I wanted nothing more than to emulate whatever my elder brother did – even if for my parents that meant yet another sibling learning to play the trumpet.
Luckily my family was, as were many in the town, very musical. Music and the arts were super-rich; barely a week would pass before yet another homespun festival – organised by the people for the people – was in full swing. As my siblings’ appreciation for music waned my aptitude for music became clearer. Looking back, I consider myself fortunate to have had music as an outlet; it kept me busy, whereas for some, small-town life led them down a less than salubrious path.
My parents were of a generation, likely the last in fact, whose lives weren’t hampered by a lack of a higher education. In 1992 the Canadian Government introduced a moratorium on cod fishing in St John’s – the staple industry for the wider community. The resulting widespread unemployment meant that those with jobs clung on to them for dear life. As harsh as it sounds, jobs often only became available when someone retired or died. Even well-meaning retraining programmes were considered pointless, when there was no outlet to utilise those skills. I know I’m painting a bleak picture, but it was as matter-of-fact as that – the next generation didn’t stand a chance.
With such a shortfall of job opportunities, my parents were acutely aware of potential problems I might face. Therefore, they were hellbent on me getting a higher education – effectively ‘learning’ myself out of the situation. Upon completing my undergraduate degree my father, egged on by my grandmother (a former teacher), urged me to go that extra mile and complete an education/teaching course. We all knew that music was going to be at the heart of whatever I did with my life, but teaching music … well, that was far from my mind.
However, I had to be pragmatic; my employment forecast was in no way different to many others. The onus was on me to make a decision. Enticed by the prospect of spending the summer months at an overseas campus, I took the plunge. My chosen place of study, Memorial University of Newfoundland, had an overseas campus in Old Harlow. It gave students an opportunity to study overseas whilst experiencing the culture (no sniggering, yes, Harlow has plenty if you go looking) that the town and beyond had to offer.
On 20 April 2005 I arrived in England and settled – with the help of what has become affectionately known as ‘The Old Harlow glitterati’ – into a new way of life. I, unlike others at the campus, was eager to venture beyond the confines of Old Harlow and witness first-hand what the New Town had to offer. First impressions were positive – by comparison to laid-back Newfoundland, Harlow was buzzing!
With live music being my ‘thing’, The Square was comforting, as it wasn’t dissimilar to venues back home. Just as my time at the campus was ending, an unexpected yet wonderful complication entered my life. I say complication, because it was my full intention to return to Canada. However, becoming smitten with a lad from Harlow put paid to that. The long and short of it was that Harlow became my home.
To this day I still praise my father for motivating me to make what has turned out to be a life-changing decision.
Thankfully, the school I teach at now is an altogether different place from my first encounter with it. I knew teaching was my vocation, but I could have quite easily called it a day there and then – it was challenging to say the least. I persevered and when I returned to take up a permanent position in 2011 (developing the music programme) the school was undergoing major positive changes. After heading up the Performing Arts department for several years I’m now Director of Performing Arts across all schools within the trust.
I never wake up with that ‘I don’t wanna go to work’ feeling – every day is different and exciting. We educate and instil rules without needing to intimidate. Children more often respond favourably when discipline is delivered with respect. Besides, there’s no point shouting – unfortunately that’s something far too many children experience at home. For some children school becomes a sanctuary from a far from ideal home life. Within reason we are lenient to those children, but for their own good we don’t want them to give excuses to themselves. We want them, as with all our pupils, to nurture their potential, build aspirations and move on from us with the tools to succeed in life. Some of our approaches to education may not be favoured by other schools, but you can’t argue with our outcomes.
My husband (the same lad I met all those years ago) is stubbornly proud of his Harlow lineage. I’d go as far to say that, like a stick of rock, Harlow runs through him. Living with someone who has such unfaltering loyalty heightens your own perspective. I feel so positive towards this town that I now class as my home – I make no excuses for saying I’m from Harlow.
I’m sure my grandmother would be proud of where I am in my life right now. And especially proud that I’ve taken on her teaching legacy.