By: Michelle Li (Grade 11)
From “heckling” neighbours to giving advice to students, let’s get to know how this quirky art teacher has been getting through quarantine.
Ms. Harms— Some know her as the fearless leader of both Arts Council and her afterschool spin class. While others recognize her as the beloved art teacher with an infectious laugh who will get to you even if you’re 6 feet apart from each other. Having heard snippets of wondrous weekend bike rides and other daily adventures in my art class, I was intrigued. So I decided to sit down and chat with her over Zoom to try and answer the question: what has Ms. Harms really been up to? And so, my investigation began.
The adjustment to social isolation has been hard for many people. Some cope by promenading in nature and others do so by plopping on a face mask. For Ms. Harms, being active has definitely helped her keep her mental health afloat. But, seeking out real-life social interaction (while respecting guidelines of course) has also helped her. Every Friday, for dinner she has a “porch party” with her sister-in-law and neighbours. Sitting about 20 feet apart, they enjoy the start of the weekend together with takeout and “heckling anybody that walks by.” Upon hearing this, I laughed with a skeptical smile. Although apparently, this method actually works to make new friends. She chuckled as she recounted, “For instance, one neighbour introduced himself to us. And we’re like – we talk to you and say hi to you every week! But he never says hi back. [Laughter]… But now he says hello to us….So that was quite funny.”
As of late, Ms. Harms has been very busy with marking, but even with this said, she has still enjoyed having the time to tend to her garden. The past few months have really allowed her to “stop and smell the roses” per se. This is a sentiment that’s also been shared between myself and my peers. Ms. Harms also highlights the importance of finding things to look forward to.The uncertainty and dreary nature of everyday life lately tends to blur all the days and weeks together. Planning events such as renting out a house boat or the upcoming Visual Arts Celebration as well as seeing students in the flesh again have helped to keep her spirits up.
In fact, in preparation for the celebration, many students have been dropping their art off over the past few weeks. Ms. Harms shared that actually seeing her students again in person has been very emotional. “The first time [a student dropped off work] was with Leilany and it was really heart-wrenching,” she said. Going on to explain that, “Not being able to hug my Grade 12s and say goodbye properly— that’s pretty tough. That’s tough for them and you know, with everybody else we’ll say ‘oh, see you next year.’ But to say goodbye to them in this way feels odd and unfortunate.” Having seen all the time and effort she put into her annual Grade 12 Farewell Lunch this year, it’s evident how much she truly cares about her students.
Passing on some advice she states, “We’ll go through this and we’ll make it as good as we can make it.” Ms. Harms encouraged students to just try and relax even though things are new and intimidating. She also shared how it’s about taking things one step at a time.
Coming to the conclusion of our chat, I had a very special question for Ms. Harms. At the end of each art class, she has been asking a different question as the ‘hall pass’ in order to leave. Questions vary from which Joker actor was better to who’s prettier— her or Billie Eilish? With my power as the host of our Zoom meeting running through my veins, I concluded my interrogation with one final, pressing question:
“Last class, you asked us if we were an animal, which animal would we really be? With the context being that in your mind, if you could choose which animal, you’d want to be a cool black panther. However, you said that in reality, you’d actually be a duck. So, tell me Ms. Harms: why do you envision yourself as a duck?” I asked.
“Oh! Well, that totally makes sense to me. Cause I’m kind of… [laughter] Well for one thing, I speak duck.”
“Y-you speak duck?!”
“[Laughter] Yeah, I speak duck. So that’s one thing. But I think it really encapsulates me alot. I think I’m just walking around, and ‘mleh, mleh, mleh’ [imitating quacking with hand] ”
“[Laughter] Wait so you’re telling me that when you go to say, Granville Island, or to the beach, and you see a duck, you just have a little conversation with them?”
“Yeah, I will very frequently talk duck to a duck. And they talk back to me. See, I had a pet duck too and his name was Festus… And so, I think I’m not to be taken totally seriously and that’s why the duck is very appropriate. I think I’m a bit silly.”
As we both signed off, I smiled with my heart full. Regardless of if she’d be a silly duck or a strong black panther, for us, Ms. Harms will always be the great teacher and friend we know and love.