High School Swim Team

High School Swim Team

Our high school swim team was about to head off to a major competition. I was in grade 12 and seated in the auditorium with a number of my football teammates. This particular school assembly was to serve as a pep rally for the members of swim team. There were over 800 students at this assembly.

The female coach of the team walked up to the microphone. She called to the athletes, and the swimmers came out from behind the curtain. My buddies and I were disappointed that they didn’t come out in their swimsuits; you see, except for one guy, the assembled team was entirely female (and we were 17-year-old boys).

Now the lone fellow on stage was also also a football player. Football season was over; but still, he was one of us and there he was standing amongst a dozen females. We were jealous.

The coach talked about the upcoming meet and about the team in general. She then introduced each member. When the individual names were said, that student would step forward, we would cheer and the coach would state that person’s swimming style.

She was introducing the students from left to right. She finally came to Ed.

Next we have Ed Smith. Ed is a breast-stroker.”

OMG, did she really say that? The whoops began.

Ed, you are the man!”

But does he do any swimming?”

Looks like you have your hands full, Ed.”

The are some things that need to be carefully worded when presenting to a group of trans-pubescent boys.

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An Early Christmas Gift

An Early Christmas Gift

For the longest time, I never told anyone this story; well, except for two people. I think enough time has passed that I can share it now.

During my time as a principal there was a government grant program that hired people who were on Social Assistance (a provincial program) and gave them enough weeks employment to qualify for Employment Insurance (a federal program). If you were on Employment Insurance (EI), then you also qualified for additional assistance if you went back to school. The intent of the program was to give the unemployed some valuable work experience. The fact that those fortunate enough to be granted such a placement ended up being transferred from the provincial to the federal books would have been a secondary bonus for the province (I wonder if that wasn’t the primary objective). In elementary schools, these workers were employed as assistants in the kindergarten classes.

In most cases, these workers proved to be a valuable part of the team. Imagine being a teacher, alone in a kindergarten class with twenty students. Now imagine having another caring and competent adult in that room whose job it was to assist you with the running of your daily routine; in a word, invaluable.

By my third or fourth year as principal the criteria of the program changed. Either the length of the program was shortened or the amount of time to qualify for EI was lengthened (perhaps it was a combination of the two). Anyway, the workers simply returned to social assistance and, in many cases, awaited the next opportunity to participate.

It was mid December when Christa entered my office. It was at the end of the day. She was on the grant program for the second time and was being shared between two kindergarten classes. She was lamenting the fact that her time was coming to an end.

Mr. Caines, is there any way that my time can be extended by six weeks? If so, I could qualify for EI and, hopefully, get financial assistance to go back to school. I would like to go to college and train to become a teacher’s assistant.”

I told her that I would make some calls and see what I could find out. I would let her know when I had an answer. I figured I already knew the answer but didn’t want to say.

The next day I called and spoke to the person responsible for coordinating the program in our area schools. I was told that there was nothing that could be done to get Christa six additional weeks. I went one step further up the ladder and asked the same question. I was given the same answer. At this point it occured to me that I could simply tell Christa that nothing could be done and that I had done all that I could do. I wasn’t prepared to do that. I then asked the following question.

Somewhere between you and the premier of the province is the person who has the authority to make this this happen. Can you tell me who that person is?”

He gave me a name of an official in the Department of Education. He also said, “Don’t tell him I gave you his name.”

I called and managed to get this person on the phone. I explained the situation and pointed out that here was a worker who wanted to get off welfare and go back to school. I said that if the pot of money from which this program is funded has surplus funds then we had an opportunity to make a real difference in the life of this young woman. I pointed out that the additional six weeks did not have to be spent at our school. Perhaps she could be placed at an area church to work the additional time. This wasn’t about helping our school, it was about helping a person.

The official I spoke to confirmed that he was the one who could make this happen. He also confirmed that there were funds that had yet to be assigned.

I asked, “What do you need from me to make this happen?”

Just leave this with me and I will get back to you within a few days.”

It was just before the Christmas break when he called back. He told me that the money was in place to extend Christa’s work-term; in fact, she would be extended right through to June. She could also stay in our school.

This was great news. Not only were we about to do something wonderful for this woman, it meant that we were going to have two assistants in the kindergarten. The person who was scheduled to replace Christa and, of course, Christa herself. This would see each of the classes having their own assistant. This was a win on so many levels.

I asked Christa to stop in my office at the end of the day. When she did I gave her the news. Needless to say, she was over the moon. She wanted to know who to thank. I told her that the person who went to bat for her wished to remain anonymous but that I would pass her thanks on. Just seeing her reaction was reward enough for me.

Two years later I called the official in Fredericton. I explained that Christa had indeed gone back to college and had became a teacher’s assistant. She now had full-time employment at another school and was getting on with her life.

I hope he felt as good about this as I did.


There is difference between saying, I have done all that I can do, and, I have done all that I am willing to do.

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The Tinsel’s Silver Glow

The Tinsel’s Silver Glow

Before I returned to university to complete my BEd degree I was employed as a Youth Counsellor at a juvenile detention centre. Essentially, I was a guard. It was a casual, six month position after which I was laid off. That suited me just fine.

It was a few days before Christmas and I was working with the older boys. As I recall, there were 18-20 boys in the dorm. My eight hour shift was spent ensuring that they were following the routines and not fighting with each other.

Hey, Mr. Caines, watch this.”

The fellow who gained my attention was now standing before me and had his hands cupped beneath his nose. We were next to the Christmas tree that had been decorated several days earlier.

I wasn’t sure what he was up to but his actions were accentuated with a combination of coughs, snorts and gags. He certainly had my attention.

He then dropped one of his hands and at this point I could see a strand of tinsel hanging from his right nostril. He then reached into his mouth and, after another series of coughs and gags, pulled the other end of the tinsel out of his mouth. I was dumbfounded.

Watch this”, he said.

He then proceeded to alternately pull on opposite ends of the tinsel. It looked like he was flossing his nasal passage.

He smiled, “Isn’t this cool?”. I think if I had just eaten I would have thrown up.

Honestly, I wanted to laugh but I didn’t want to encourage him. I told him to stop and to remove the tinsel from his head. I thanked him for helping me to find the spirit of the season. I also suggested that he not put the tinsel back on the tree.

This is a gimmick that I will definitely NOT be teaching my grandson.

Merry Christmas to you and yours

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A Good One-Liner

A Good One-Liner

It was a year ago, mid-December, and I had stopped by my old school. I had some things to drop off, and I made a point of popping by the staffroom to say hello to former colleagues. One of the teachers I chatted with was responsible for the Co-op Program which saw grade 12 students carrying out a work-term with area employers.

About ten minutes later I went to the local gym and ran into that same teacher. She was spending the morning checking in on her students. I next saw her at the local pharmacy about ninety minutes later.

Jokingly, she said,“Why Mr. Caines, I do believe you are following me.”

I replied, “Just consider yourself part of my Christmas stalking.”

I was rather proud of that one.

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Lost in Translation – Part 2

Lost in Translation – Part 2

……….. continued

I took Ji-hu aside and explained to him the significance of saying, Jesus. I told him that many would find it offensive and suggested that he not say it. His jaw dropped. He apologized several times.

You know, Ji-hu, there is another expression that kind of means the same thing but is not offensive.”

Ah, what is that?”

In a circumstance like this, many might say Jeepers Creepers.’”

Ah, Jeepers Creepers.”

As soon as he spoke the words I realized that I made a mistake going down this road. I don’t know what I was thinking.

Actually, Ji-hu, the more I think about it, that is more of a little boy expression. It is probably not a good choice. Please forget I said that.”

Several weeks later arrangements were made to take the grade 11 and 12 students to a post-secondary symposium in the city. Students would board buses after home-room and would be gone for most of the day. The day before the symposium Ji-hu approached me and asked if he could take his mother’s car and drive directly from home to the symposium. His home was significantly closer to the symposium site than the school. He was of the impression that the event was for the entire day.

I asked, “If you were to do that, would you drive back here for period 5?”

Is it not for the entire day?”, he asked.

No. The intention is to have everyone back here for their last class.”

This obviously caught him off-guard. His hope was to simply return home after the symposium was over. He looked down at the symposium schedule he was holding in his hands. It confirmed that its duration was not for the entire school day.

He looked up at me, “Ah, Jeepers Creepers.”

Oh no, I thought to myself. What had I created?

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Lost in Translation – Part 1

Lost in Translation – Part 1

Opening Night for our December theatrical performance was drawing near and we were in the early stages of the technical rehearsal. We were in the process of fine-tuning the sound cues and we had two students on the sound board. One was a grade 12 student who was well familiar with how long and drawn out the day was going to be. The other student was relatively new to the school. He was from Asia, and English was not his first language. Ji-hu also happened to in my homeroom class. He would be in my top-10 list of all-time for students who were polite, respectful, cooperative and keen.

We were going through each cue in order, and the director was deciding exactly what he wanted. It was my job to interpret his wishes for the guys on the board which was located at the back of the theatre. Some changes were called back from the middle of the theatre. In this instance I walked back to be nearer the two students.

OK, fellows, for cue 7 bring the volume up 10% and for a total time of 8 seconds. Start the fade after 2 seconds.”

OK. Shay’s-us”, said Ji-hu.

I looked at him, uncertain what it was he had said, but it sounded more like an acknowledgement than a question. I carried on.

A short while after I said to the guys, “For sound cue 8 let’s trying shortening it by 2 seconds and see how that works.”

The change was made and the director listened. He decided he wanted something different.

Let’s try taking off another 2 seconds but bring the volume up about 5%.”

The director listened then made another decision. I walked back to the board, “Guys, let’s go with that but leave the volume as it was.”

OK. Shay’s-us”, said Ji-hu. He then made the change under the watchful eye of the other student.

I looked at him. “Ji-hu, did you just say Jesus?”

In a heavy accent he replied, “Yes. It’s what you say when you make a change.”

It took me a moment to figure out what was going on. Each time the director changed his mind and the cue needed to be reprogrammed, the grade 12 student would mutter, Jay-sus. Ji-hu thought that this was a working expression and an acknowledgement that the message was understood. Rather than say Roger, Wilco or Message Received he would nod and say Shay’s-us.

to be continued …………………………………

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Cheaper by the Dozen

Cheaper By the Dozen

During the year I spent at the District Office I had the good fortune of driving by a newly opened bagel store each day. I knew the owner, he was actually the principal of one of the nearby high schools. I would often stop in on my way home to pick up fresh bagels.

On this particular day I made an unscheduled stop. There was a new face behind the counter. She told me that she was a high school student and that this was her part-time job.

I didn’t have a lot of cash with me. After I looked in my wallet I counted my change. I didn’t see any prices displayed. I looked up at the young lady.

How much would half a dozen be?”

Six”, she answered without any hesitation.

I looked at her. I was waiting for her to laugh and to actually answer my question, but she just stared back at me. She actually thought that I didn’t know what a half dozen was.

Really? Here I was wearing a jacket and tie and I easily had 25 years on her. For her to think that I had made it this far along not knowing that a half dozen was 6 seemed rather unbelievable. I then thought to myself, What makes for a better story?

I asked, “So then, a dozen would be 12?”

That’s right”, she answered.

A week later I saw the owner at a principals’ meeting. I told him the story, and after he finished laughing he told me that the young lady was actually a student at his high school. He was fairly certain that in her response she was not trying to be flippant at all.

That principal and I are both retired now but we occasionally run into each other. When we do there is a better than 50% chance that he will say, “Hey, how much is half a dozen?”

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How to Annotate – Close Reading

Is it enough for students to simply comprehend their school readings? While reading comprehension is necessary for doing well in school, in order to experience success in current and future schooling, students will be required to go beyond what they see on the surface and dig deeper into the text.

This is where the process of close reading can make all the difference.  Close reading is when we slow down and think about what we are reading.  An important step in close reading is to annotate, as this allows for greater focus and attention to detail. Keep reading to learn how to annotate when you are practicing the art of close reading.

Comprehension of Key Ideas and Details

Unfamiliar Vocabulary

To help yourself determine the meaning of the vocabulary word, find context clues.  If necessary use a dictionary.

Main Ideas

Take notes on the central themes, clues or details that back up the main idea and themes.

Confusing Parts

Find unfamiliar details that you might need to clarify through re-reading, summarizing, discussion or research.

Questions to Ask

Who are the main characters?

What is the setting?

What is the main conflict?



Analyze the Text for Craft and Structure

Repeated Themes or Ideas

Think about the genre of the work and the ideas, use of language, and any lesson or moral.

Character or Author’s Feelings

For fiction, take note of how the author uses dialogue, descriptions, things the character says, does, etc. to develop character.

When it comes to non-fiction, pay attention to how the author talks about the subject to determine his or her feelings about the topic.

Note the Narrator’s Point of View

Determine how the point of view contributes to the story.

Questions to Ask

Why do characters behave as they do?

How do their actions advance the plot?

How does the author’s word choice affect the story’s tone?



Integrate Your Knowledge


Compare and contrast this work with other works you have read, information you already know, and ways in which you can relate to the story.

Deeper Meaning

Find the important images and symbols to analyze their deeper meaning.

Effective Writing

Look for literary devices, figurative language, powerful sentences, etc.

 Questions to Ask

How has this work increased my knowledge of a subject or author?

What is surprising about the story’s outcome?

What did I appreciate about the author’s style?



Tools for Annotation

Make your annotation system your own, use colored pens, highlighters or symbols to annotate for the above list of items.

This process of annotation will help you read more closely and allow you to dig deeper to find more significance in the texts you are reading.  This will not only provide more depth to your schooling, but will also be an influence on your life. ­­­­­­

How to Annotate - Close Reading Icon.png

A Shirt by any Other Name

A Shirt by any Other Name

My brother Ron first introduced me to curling. I was 14 at the time. I was in my late 30’s before I started taking it seriously. When I was 43 my rugby team made it to the Maritime Championship which was played on the first Saturday in November. The following Wednesday was the first night of that winter’s curling season. That night I overheard someone say, “Who’s the young fella?” I looked around and then realized that he was referring to me. I went from being the oldest guy on the rugby pitch to the youngest guy in the curling rink. It was good for my self-esteem.

This story took place several years later. Our kids had moved out and my wife and I were empty-nesters. On this particular Wednesday night I was getting my curling gear together. I would always wear a sleeveless t-shirt under my golf shirt. I grabbed a t-shirt from the clean laundry basket. I put it on but found it to be really tight; however, I had recently finished rugby season and knew that my upper body was bulked up more than usual BUT this one was really tight. Oh well, it was getting late and I needed to get on the road.

After my team took the ice, I got down in the hack to prepare my first stone. As I did so, I could feel my t-shirt moving up the small of my back. It was rather uncomfortable. I tried tucking it back down but it kept riding up. Oh well, I would have to ignore it. When I returned home later that night I tossed my curling gear in with the dirty laundry.

Several days later my wife met me in the hallway outside the laundry room. She was holding the same white, sleeveless t-shirt out for me to see.

Whose shirt is this?”

Isn’t that one of my undershirts?”

This is a ladies tank-top.”

Really? How can you tell?

Just look at it.”

It still looked like a regular t-shirt to me. “Then it must be yours.”

No. It’s … not … mine.”

Huh. I don’t know what to say. I don’t think I own any ladies tank-tops.”

The mystery was solved shortly thereafter. We had been away a few weeks earlier and our daughter had been house/dog sitting for us. She left one of her tank-tops behind and it was the one I had worn. I returned it to her but she made some reference to it being stretched out of shape. I apologized.

I realized that this made for a funny story so I started telling it. Teachers at work had a good laugh, and a few days later I overheard a colleague retelling the tale. When she did she used the word camisole rather than tank-top. Without thinking I just assumed that camisole and tank-top meant the same thing, so I would often use the term when sharing the story.

Several retellings later a fellow teacher asked me how it was that I couldn’t tell the difference between a camisole and a t-shirt.

Well, they look identical”, I answered.

No they don’t. A camisole has decorative trim; you know, frilly stuff. Are you sure it wasn’t a tank-top.”

Yeah, that’s exactly what is was, a tank-top. Tank-top and camisole are not synonymous?”

No, they are not the same thing. If you tell people that it was a camisole then you appear to be an even bigger idiot.”

For the record, it was a tank-top.

Oh, and I now know what a camisole is.

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The Good, the Bad, the Not-so-Bad

The Good, the Bad, the Not-so-Bad

First a bit of background:

After I graduated with my science degree I spent six months with the Naval Reserve. After that, I accepted a six month job as a youth counselor (essentially a guard) at a youth detention facility. It was a casual position which meant that I would be laid off after completing 120 shifts. I was OK with that as I had already planned to go back to university to complete a BEd. The detention centre was not designed for violent offenders but there was no other facility in which to place boys awaiting trial. While I was there, two boys were detained and awaiting trial for murder. As they were both segrated from the rest of the population, I actually spent a lot of shifts supervising them, one-on-one. 

And now the story …..

While enrolled in the BEd programme my second student-teaching placement was at a junior high school. My cooperating teacher taught grade 8 and 9 math and science. There were two classes at each grade level. The two grade 8 classes were noticeably different, and among the staff they were referred to as the good grade 8’s and the bad grade 8’s. The students knew that they had been labelled.

During the first days of my first week, I simply observed the classes. By the end of the week I started teaching while being monitored by my cooperating teacher. At the end of each day he would offer feedback and suggestions. Midway through the second week, he told me that he was comfortable leaving me alone and that I would be taking over his classes. If I needed him he would be just down the hall. I was good with that.

Just prior to my first class alone with the bad grade 8’s a student approached my desk. He leaned ahead and spoke.

Do you know, Mr. Caines, that we are the bad grade 8’s? Do you think you can handle us?” His body language suggested that he was trying to increase my anxiety level.

Really?”, I answered. “What makes you bad?”

Well, we often don’t do what we are told, and we talk when we should be listening.”

Wow, really? Anything else?”

Ah … sometimes we throw things around the room.”

Hmmm … well thanks for the heads-up.” I leaned closer to him. “You know, I just finished working at the Youth Detention Centre. I worked with a 15-year-old boy who shot his parents. I worked with another young fellow who stabbed an 81-year-old woman to death during a botched break-and-enter. I worked with boys who, if they had the opportunity, could tear you apart. I have experienced bad and you’re not it. So why don’t you go back to your desk and get ready for class.”

He quietly turned and returned to his seat. He looked like he had been deflated.

Yeah, collectively they weren’t as cooperative as the other grade 8 class, but in the grand scheme of things, and on the bad-scale, they hardly registered.

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