Tuesday, 26 February 2013

The Private Lives of Teachers

Aerial photo of Slave Lake on fire, May 15 2011.
The last couple of months have been kind of weird for me.

Since the Slave Lake fires of 2011, my husband and I and our local newspaper editor and a local forestry educator have been writing a book.

The Sky was on Fire: Slave Lake's Story of Disaster, Exodus and New Beginnings was self published in December.  We've sold close to 3000 copies so far and the book has been either number one or number two on the Edmonton non-fiction best seller list for each of the four weeks it has been for sale in that city at Audrey's Books and the Royal Alberta Museum.

Writing the book was an amazing amount of work- every evening, hours out of each weekend, vacation days.  All of it volunteer labour. Selling has been easier, but time-consuming- late afternoons, evenings and weekends delivering, packing and shipping orders, making bank deposits, and promoting sales.

It's hard to say why we worked so hard on this book.  Seeing your whole community on fire, realizing that your own house and all your worldly goods could be gone, and wondering how many of your friends and neighbours must surely have perished is life altering. Hearing the stories of escape, near-death experiences, and unthinking acts of selflessness performed by average people is something that changes your worldview.   The book was our way of paying tribute to those who lost so much and carried on with their lives.  It is a testament to the unsung heroes to whom the book is dedicated. But beyond being a piece of Alberta history, we think the book tells a universal story of resilience and community-our way of saying, "Look at what happened to us! Look at the strength of the human spirit!"

It does not surprise me that the book is a best seller.  People tell us it's well written and beautifully produced. Thanks to a grant from Alberta Culture, it's affordable.  The strange thing is the almost complete lack of interest from the media.  Apart from one interview with CTV, a network that seems invested in our Slave Lake story, and a short piece in metronews, no one in the media seems to care. Is the Slave Lake story too old to be news? Is it too local?  Is the fact we self published the book part of the problem?  These are questions this social studies teacher cannot answer.

Students, teachers, and support staff feature prominently in our book of stories, although they are not named by their occupation. Teachers helped fight the fire, school employees "stole" the school buses that evacuated seniors from town, a custodian assisted with checking basements for bodies. Dozens of teachers and teaching assistants lost their homes, and yet in the face of their own losses, worked to restore a sense of normalcy for their students in the days and weeks following the fire. "Lost and Found in the Fire" - the first thing I wrote about the event- was published in the A.T.A. News in late May of 2011. The English Language Arts teachers of Alberta did a fundraiser for our book. And the A.T.A. News most graciously agreed to help promote the book in their next issue. Proceeds from the book will go towards a scholarship for students pursuing an education in the arts.

The Sky was on Fire can be purchased online at www.stagenorth.org