Blast From the Past, High School Nostalgia at Coffee

Out this morning for my walk, grabbing my "Shot in the Dark" at my friend Ben's cafe From the Grind Up, when I ran into a teacher from my high school days.

I first encountered Frank Maraj in grade 11. I had practically failed all my advanced english courses to that point in my high school career and vowed not to have any worse marks. So I dropped to the general level courses. This is where I first met Mr Maraj.

Frank was obviously a very different kind of teacher, as was apparent very early in his classes. His demeanor right off the bat was not like any other teacher I've ever had. He came to us, not as an authority but also not as an equal. He seemed to me more like a mentor that had knowledge to share and a passion for the material, the sharing and his students.

At the time, I'd not realized how rare this was.

He told us where he was from and how this was his first time teaching in Canada, how excited he was to be able to share his insights and help shape our minds. Shape our minds he did.

One of the highlights of the class was when we started analyzing the movie Soilent Green. I think halfway through the first classes viewing with 50% of us screwing around or asleep, Mr Maraj realized that it was folly to continue with that movie. So instead of getting angry, he said look, you guys need to learn what it is that I'm trying to teach (critical analysis), so if you will not watch this movie, which one will you watch and work on?

I think as a joke it was suggested that we do Rambo II, then the bell went and there we were, gone! Much to our surprise, the next class had Rambo II in the player and there wasn't anymore screwing around or sleeping.

The biggest thing he taught me, the one thing that's stuck with and served me my whole life, even now, is how to think critically about any subject and understand that subject deeper than just a glance at the surface. I guess Frank and Mr Stalone had a bigger impact in my life than I ever gave them credit for. LOL

Frank showed us how to ask the right questions so that any complex subject could be broken down into it's parts to be probed and prodded and thereby understood at its core level.

Mr Maraj made learning fun and he rewarded us for excellent thinking and not just counting up errors to subtract from 100%. Sometimes a student's understanding was so profoundly ahead of the curve that any mistakes were overshadowed by it. Frank understood this. Other teachers had their specific answer and if you failed to perfectly regurgitate it, you ended up failing like I did. If you could justify your position and back it up, you got full marks, even if Frank didn't agree with you.

Thank you Frank, to your dedication to us, your first Canadian class and I'm sure many other classes to follow.

A very personal thank you for giving me a tool with which to break apart the complexity of any subject and understand how to question to look for answers. I am now passing this on to my daughter, I only hope I can do as good a job as you.

Frank has written 3 books about his life, stories that he's collected through the years. Recounted from Frank's unique perspective of the world they cover everything he's experienced on his journey from where he started to where he ended up.

Snapshots - A Life Revisited - From Amazon:

A reflection on a young Trinidadian's life ­ full of heartache, regret, and hope. By chronicling Snapshots of his life, Maraj allows readers to gain some understanding of a very different culture ­ growing up poor in Trinidad. He struggles with balancing his responsibilities to the family after his father's premature death, with his compelling desire to go abroad to study.

The joys, delights, trials and tribulations are laid bare as Maraj reveals stories that help to share notions of family, education, friendship, ambition, politics, religion, and humour with a new generation. How does a young Hindu boy who is berated continually go from "stupid" and "hopeless" to "respected teacher"?

As you read some of the comical mishaps (cutting upholstery out of a neighbour's car without permission, weeding out a prized vegetable garden) you might wonder how he ever "made it." This story is a must read for every teacher, parent and student who has ever felt that hope was dim.

The story of young Frankie Boodram is proof that every child is worth it! Snapshots is an honest, transparent examination of the insecurities of a young Hindu boy attending Catholic school and the complications that arise from such a mix. It examines his struggles to overcome feelings of inferiority and unworthiness because of race, religion, and social status and his search to find his place in the world.

Snapshots II - Navigating the University Years - From Amazon:

In 1967, Frank lands in Canada, alone, ready to begin university. Fate seems to be against him from the outset; trials plague him at every turn. Even when he is at his lowest ebb, however, he does not fold; his spirit rises.

Frank shares stories of his early days in Canada that are both entertaining and thought-provoking, providing an uplifting story of determination. He captures the humour and the horror of his first encounters with the foreign concepts of cooking, snow, and driving. Snapshots II: Navigating the University Years chronicles the very real difficulties Frank faces while adjusting to cultural and social differences and contradictions.

The dream to remain true to his homeland remains staunch to the fore of Frank’s every move. He wants nothing more than to return to Trinidad. Despite the fact that financial difficulties continually plague his life, nothing proves insurmountable—until he seeks to realize one of his biggest childhood dreams, returning to Trinidad to teach. Frank leaves his wife and young son in Canada and ventures home with high hopes of assuming a position that he thinks was designed especially for him. But then, disaster strikes, forcing him to abandon his dream and return to his family in Canada.

Join Frank on this journey through his young adulthood, with all its ups and downs.

Snapshots III - Unveiling: The Classroom of Life - From Amazon:

In Snapshots 3, Maraj carries the reader into the recesses of his mind in his search for identity. Trapped between two worlds, both physically (Canada and Trinidad) and ideologically (Hinduism and Catholicism), Maraj attempts to reconcile the conflicts.

Not only is Snapshots 3 an excellent read, but it could also be a philosophical teaching "textbook" for teachers. It reminds teachers how important words and attitudes are-teachers can speak life into students and inspire them, or they can destroy them with one small slip of the tongue.

In Snapshots 3, we see Frank Maraj, the professional teacher, from the first days of his teaching career to the last days. His anecdotes highlight the joys and trials of teaching with reflective insights that challenge the philosophical underpinnings of the educational system.

What are some of your memories of Frank's classes? What did you learn?