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From the Archives: A perfect gem

April 24, 2018 Maggie Shane, ATA Archivist
This diary provides insight into the teaching experience of the early 1900s. (CORY HARE)

Small booklet carries huge archival significance

Leading up to its official 100th anniversary in
June 2018, the Alberta Teachers’ Association is celebrating its history through a number of initiatives, one of which is this column, entitled From the Archives. Curated by archivist Maggie Shane and appearing in each issue of the
ATA News this year, this column will feature significant moments and individuals in the Association’s history, as well as interesting artifacts or documents from the Association’s archives.

To pursue archival work is to be in a perpetual state of readiness to encounter the antique, unusual and entirely splendid. On days when the stars align, and the Fates allow, the archivist will uncover a gem — not a rough stone hewn from the bedrock — no, a true sparkling, faceted gem so wonderful you want to set it in gold and show it off.

This week brought such a moment to the ATA archives. Let me explain. At the end of an archivist’s career, there are many things left undone despite one’s best intentions. The new practitioner inherits boxes and projects and will, in their turn, leave the same for their successor. Today the archives came across such an unassuming little box.

It was entirely ordinary, without ornament, embellishment or label. Inside was the most perfect little book, The Canadian Teacher’s Pocket Diary 1916. All of 2.5 inches by 5.5 inches, the silver-embossed, cloth-bound little diary predates the ATA itself by two years. Nevertheless, it is a beautiful example of a teacher’s experience from that era. We have no idea (yet) of the identity of the owner, but we do know a great deal about their dedication to their students, and to their profession, through the handwritten notes appearing on the well-preserved pages — notes to themselves, ideas for the classroom, reminders and events.

Among my favourite entries is this one: “April 17 — planted Nasturtium at school.”

Another of my favourites outlines how students may remember the difference between the words lay and lie: “If you heard a hen cackling and you found an egg in the nest, she layed [sic]. If you don’t find the egg, she lied.”

The diary is replete with the spontaneous thoughts of the owner that reveal a persistent curiosity about new books, music, art, history, classics and geography. This was a little book carried hither and yon by a dedicated and joyful teacher who took constant care to be mindful of pedagogy. It is a voice from the past, a slice of the life of a teacher fully engaged in their chosen profession, and a privilege to read, to cherish and to preserve. ❚

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