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Conference organization is pretty much the same the world over.

 

Choose a city. Find a venue. Invite speakers. Notify prospective delegates. And so on.

 

Most conferences will have a number of keynote speakers: Well-known figures from the field, acknowledged experts, leading-edge movers and shakers.

 

Other speakers will be less well-known: Newbies, fringe thinkers, toe-dippers, less magnetic luminaries.

 

At some point, rooms will be allocated to speakers. As a rule, keynote speakers are obviously given bigger rooms to accommodate larger audiences. Fairly basic logistics.

 

You’d think.

 

Here’s where Canada may verge from the norm.

 

At a certain conference in the Atlantic provinces this past week, a different mindset prevailed.

 

Industry gurus were assigned closet-sized spaces. Complete unknowns, however, presenting on less than compelling topics, found themselves in huge auditoriums – amphitheatres of proclamatory vastness.

 

Upshot 1: Hundreds of delegates from far-flung corners of the second largest country on the planet were unable to hear the keynote speakers. Speakers who were their sole reason for attendance in the first place.

 

Upshot 2: Keynote speakers delivered presentations in intemperate claustrophobic closets. Vowing never to return.

 

Upshot 3: Unknown speakers stuttered through sparsely-attended rambles and workshops in silent amphitheatres. One speaker found herself facing eight individuals scattered about the benches like a scale model of the solar system.

 

Upshot 4: Angry mobs of ordinarily civil Canadians demanded some semblance of an explanation.

 

The official explanation was that the committee felt that, in the interests of equality, B-list toe-dippers should have the monster rooms. This way the crowds would be more evenly spread and

lesser lights would not feel embarrassed beside the enormous halls granted to the stars of the show.

 

So they mixed it up a bit.

 

No doubt those poor soporific souls in huge halls facing a dwindling audience of six people were comforted in the knowledge that the committee was doing all it could to minimize their shame.

 

Striving not to cause offence can sadly provide ample incendiary matter for a gleeful offence-taking frenzy.

 

“There’s enough material there for an entire conference.”

 

 

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Fighting a blizzard as you forge a pioneering passage from the driveway to the front door is what being Canadian is all about. Partly, anyhow.

After your fumbling mittens have chipped the key into the ice-encrusted lock, you shoulder the front door inwards,  beating back the swirling white gale.

The door is vaccuumed shut behind you. Warmth is all around. But you’re not home and dry just yet.

In winter, our entrance gives onto an obstacle course of mats and boot trays.

If you fail to arrive home first of an evening, the mats will be soaked with melted snow, presenting a hazard to over eager socks, newly released from boot captivity. To the unwary, a carefree step to the right can sink you sock-deep in the icy water of a gaping boot tray.

In January, the cheery Hi Honey, I’m home! is replaced by Aw %$(*#! – I’ve been socked!

Uncharacteristically, blame is never apportioned. It is a truth domestically acknowledged that we all share the burden of sodden guilt.

Having negotiated the maze of boot trays and other sock perils, your next trial is to divest yourself of your winterwear and seek heated sanctuary for your outergarments: hat, gloves, boots, scarf.

Here, a primitive mist descends. Vent. Must have vent.

Sadly, all the vents in prime heated areas will have been seized long ago, so the downstairs bathroom is out of the question. Likewise, vents in the proximity of first floor entrances are all doubtless occupied.

There is a small chance that careless children have failed to leave mittens directly atop a vent, leaving the potential for sneak-in-ability by more deserving adult garments.

If all exit vents have been bagged, you must venture deeper into the house in search of vacant grilles.

This is a dangerous strategy.

Finding an inner vent, say in a second floor bedroom in the north wing of one’s abode, may seem like the logical approach.

Next morning, however, when the thrills of the vent hunt have abated, you will be clueless as to where your beloved bobble-hat is steaming in silence.

Despite the nagging voice in your head, you will doggedly begin your search in the downstairs bathroom, moving on to other vents in areas of prime real estate.

Fifteen minutes behind schedule, having risked a besocked morning by venturing close to key exits, you will stumble into the north wing, a faint memory of recognition pawing at your outer brain.

There, with joy within grasp, you will see the woolly scamp of a hat over in a far corner.

Chances are it will be sitting in a small puddle of its own making, glistening several feet to the left of the newly available grille.

Brimming with warlike fury, you look around for a handy child to admonish. You catch sight only of a cat, looking oddly sheepish, rolling around with its favourite scrag end of fabric. The cat is purring happily, a warm, blow-dried look about its well-vented coat.

Warm cat. Shifted hat. Vacant vent. Lightbulb of truth pings above head.

At the end of your own bit of rag, a chilling vow aimed at the cat comes forth unbidden – It’s the wicwoc for you tonight, pal. That’s right, the wicwoc.

But you’re just venting. You’ll get over it.

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A stroll down verdant cliffs above the English Channel, a ten-minute drive around a headland topped with a twelfth-century castle, a misty amble through the medieval alleyways of a sleepy Auvergne town – I’ve enjoyed some decent commutes.

scarborough castle

My current daily trek pretty much props up the pile: A 40-minute drive through suburban blight along 18 kilometres of eyelid-drooping roads. Head north, lurch west, and jolt north again, trapped in the aural hell of Radio WNKR.

I could take the bus, of course. Even Mississauga has a bus service. Door to door, including the walk to the bus stop, I’d  be looking at 90 minutes each way. That’s right, 180 minutes a day to travel a total of 36 kilometres.

Average speed: 12 km/h or, in olde English, 7.5 miles an hour. Which is more or less my running pace.

So, forget the bus.

Since this is merely the sixth largest city in Canada, with a smattering of just three quarters of a million people, naturally there is no mainline railway station in Mississauga.

Granted, there is a suburban train to Toronto (the optimistically titled GO train – is “non-eponymous” a word?).

There’s one train an hour. Plus a couple of one-offs at “peak times.”

I’d love to be able to cycle, but there are several reasons why I won’t consider this: winter roads, the survival instinct, and a healthy appreciation for the driving “inconsistencies” of many fellow residents.

Blissful memory flashback: I fondly recall my daily cycling commute in Tilburg, Holland. Here a network of cycle paths, largely independent of the road system, snakes in silence throughout the city.

Southern Ontario is flat like the majority of Holland. So why not here? Real winter only lasts a couple of months these days.

The Greater Toronto Area is finally waking up to how woefully inadequate its transit systems are.

As Steve Munro, Toronto transit activist, notes, “population growth vastly exceeds our plans for providing more and better transportation services, and the public is getting fed up with excuses for what we cannot do. ”

At the Mississauga Summit 2007, transit was at the heart of residents’ concerns. This report from The Toronto Star pointed out that:

“a majority of the Mississauga Summit 2007 focused on how to make transit a viable option for car-dependent Peel Region residents.”

There are even talks about talks about a feasibility study for a light-rail transit link running north-south through Mississauga.

Sadly, should this project along with the rest ever reach completion, I suspect the pull of verdant headlands, downtown cycling networks, and pedestrianized medieval town centres, will have proved all too strong.

issoire.jpg

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Moaning markers

Before I start this uncharitable rant, let me list a few of my personal commandments. They include the following:

1. I will not consume sugary snacks before lunch (reckless abandon thenceforth [sic] is freely permitted).

2. I refuse to accept that pants is an giggle-free synonym of trousers.

3. I will NOT complain about SPENDING TOO MUCH TIME MARKING STUDENTS’ WORK.

Followed by another hundred or so articles of similar gravity and moral rectitude.

Most tenets of my personal faith may be broken at will by the rest of the world’s population, with the exception of number three. Plus a few dozen others.

Having said that, transgressions of THE MARKING SIN by novice teachers are begrudgingly allowed. With experience enlightenment will come unbidden. One hopes.

For seasoned classroom practitioners, however, breaches of THE MARKING SIN are allowable only on rare occasions of extreme marking stress.

Such as when end-of-term exams clash with the World Cup. Hypocrite lectureur? [sic again] Moi?

At work, we currently have a wanton serial sinner in our midst.

I put her first two excessive marking mentions down to carelessness on her behalf – minor social gaffes that anyone could make.

I tarred and feathered forgave and blessed her accordingly.

But a worrying pattern emerged. The slightest effort at social pleasantries on my part would be met by graphic depictions of hardcore marking sessions.

For example, this Monday morning’s exchange went something like this:

Me: Morning, how are you?

Manic Marker: Surviving.

Me: How was your weekend?

Manic marker: Well, I just spent two whole days in this corner, marking essays and homework.

Me: May I point out that your comments are a flagrant contravention of Tenet Three as decreed by The Way I Reckon We Should Go About Doing Stuff?

My actual response (reaching in my locked drawer for my dolls and stick pins): That’s too bad.

After this episode, I wonder if I can trust myself to engage in social niceties with someone who sees the most inocuous social intercourse as an opportunity for flagrant oneupmanship (Oneuppersonship? Oneupism? Oneupness? Sanctimonious bollocks).

But in the spirit of pedagogic togetherness, I would like to offer this advice to any experienced teachers and professors who are teetering on the brink of casually mentioning how singularly burdened with marking they are:

* You probably are not.

* Other educators do not want to know.

* You need time management skills.

* You don’t fool me.

* You should give more focussed feedback.

* You are overburdening your students with excessive feedback.

* You are much missed by your friends and family.

* And your thirty six cats.

* You will not look back on your life wishing you had devoted more weekends to marking.

* On second thoughts, people like you just might.

* You may find yourself the target of one of my notorious Saturday blog rants.

It’s not too late to change. Career, even.

Think on.

Mark my words. 

Must go now. I have absolutely piles of, you know, stuff to do.


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