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September 1999

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wpe19.jpg (5213 bytes) Pamela Wallin’s
Remarkable Teacher

"It really is interesting how many of the people who achieve, who have really accomplished something," Pamela Wallin remarks, "relate it back to some crucial moment when they were in Grade 4, or Grade 9, or Grade 12 when a teacher said something and the penny dropped."

 Wallin ought to know. She’s interviewed thousands of people over her 20-year career as a journalist.

She, too, had a remarkable teacher. The difference is that Wallin’s teacher is also her mother. Leone Wallin taught high school in Wadena, Saskatchewan – population 1,600 – for about 35 years.

"In a small community, a teacher is everything, a teacher is a role model," comments Wallin. "There was no discussion of what the work hours would be or whether there

was overtime. She taught English, she taught drama, she did counselling for the kids. I think what she really taught was that you have to do, you have to give, you have to be a participant."

Wallin wasn’t alone in thinking her mother remarkable. "People will call me and say, ‘You won’t know who I am but I went to school in the 1950s in Wadena and your mother was my teacher and she changed my life’."

She saw it when, as a kid, she used to tag along and "help" her mother after school when she was putting a play together. "I think I understood the fuller definition of the word teacher because all the while that she was putting on a play with the kids you could see her pulling out of them talents and abilities they didn’t know they had."

By the mid-60s, Wallin was in a Grade 9 English classroom with her mother, having to call her Mrs. Wallin, although she tried to find ways to avoid having to call her mother anything.

Wallin says her teacher was different in that she expected participation. "She would take things out of the newspaper and bring them in and say, ‘Where are the parallels here to Hamlet?’ She kept trying to find a way in for people, trying to give some kind of contemporary setting. The idea that kids could sit around a classroom and talk was novel. You were to be quiet."

What was frustrating for Wallin was that, "If you were a good student and your mother was the teacher, everyone assumed you had seen the test. I used to spend a lot of time running around saying, ‘It’s not true, my mother would never do that.’"

Wallin says that experience taught her how to separate her professional and personal life, how to keep her objectivity as a journalist while maintaining friendships with people who might be part of a story. "I always used to think back to dealing with Mom and how you could have two sides to the coin."

Wallin considers journalism another form of teaching. "It is all about exploring and exchanging ideas. She did it at the front of a classroom, and I do it in front of a camera."

Leone Wallin still phones her daughter occasionally to correct her grammar. "She will just give me a nudge," says Wallin, "and sometimes it is sort of a circuitous route, which is, ‘Oh, I just hear things on the radio and television that just make me shake my head’ and then I think okay, it’s coming ..."

Leone Wallin may have retired from the classroom, but she’s still teaching.