Every year, we are honoured to recognize members of the SMUS community as they retire and take on new adventures. Read the 2020 Retirees series to learn more about their outstanding contributions to the school. In this story, we recognize Senior School teacher Janice McCachen.
Resolutions and starting anew have no place in January, the dead of winter, according to Janice McCachen. She observes there’s “a light note of solemnity in the autumn that brings focus – to settle into yourself.” As such, that’s when she’ll have the time and headspace to go through the reams of research and material for a novel that has been “composting” for years. It’s time to concentrate on just one thing. For the last 15 years, this published author taught English, English literature and creative writing at the Senior School.
Before SMUS, Janice spent 15 years teaching English at Claremont Secondary School. There, she worked with past SMUS faculty member Terence Young where they, along with teacher/writers Susan and Bill Stenson co-edited The Claremont Review, an established literary review. Terence moved to SMUS in 1998 to spearhead a creative writing program, and Janice followed in 2005. She was struck by the warmth of the staff and ”the beauty of the late summer grounds: fields and flowers and beautiful brick buildings.”
Throughout Janice’s years with the school, the creative writing program flourished, with many students winning awards and being published. Nearly every year, a SMUS student placed for the Jessamy Stursberg Poetry Prize, Canada’s largest and most esteemed youth poetry prize. She was also thrilled to share that one year the school’s VOICES spoken word club, founded by fellow creative writing teacher Susan MacDonald, took top honours at Hullabaloo, BC’s Youth Spoken Word Festival in Vancouver, where teams of youth poets aged 13 to 18 compete in slams. Janice is proud of the SMUS legacy of success and hopes the English program continues to thrive.
She reveals that creative writing is a fantastic way to teach English, especially for non-native speakers, because they get to explore and share their voices. It’s validating, and many students feel heard through creative writing and “that’s really important.” Many students from China, Korea, Europe and Mexico ended up reading their work at live performances. She witnessed the growing confidence of ELL students as they developed friendships and also a “sense of personal identity and integrity through the exploration of literature, film, theatre, media and philosophy.”
In 2017, Janice became Head of English, and creative writing started being offered as a specific English course option, first in Grade 11, and the following year, in Grade 10. She taught writing and modern literature at the time of her retirement.
Of many highlights from her time at SMUS, Janice prizes her relationships with colleagues and friends. She also sincerely enjoyed her son’s time with the school, especially watching his band Leisure Suit perform their original compositions and an Arcade Fire set at an Alumni Weekend concert. She learned much from her in-depth, animated discussions with students and colleagues about books, articles, media, language and ideas, and is grateful for her access to the excellent resources of the school’s library. She is also grateful for the school’s support of professional development activities such as attendance at writer’s festivals and conferences. Janice appreciated the freedom and resources to teach new and contemporary texts as well as the two Head of School’s Professional Development Awards she received for her creative writing projects: two novels and a collection of short stories.
Pre-COVID, Janice had considered writing and studying Italian in Rome or spending a winter in Montreal where one of her daughters lives. But now, she and her husband have bought a home on Gabriola Island with friends. Much of the summer was spent painting, gardening and hiking. She looks forward to continuing her relationships with past students and colleagues, to spending more time on her writing, and to reading more. An eclectic reader, Janice enjoys reading poetry daily, but her tastes embrace every genre. One of the things Janice says she has to learn in retirement is how to read just for herself. As an English teacher for more than 30 years, there has always been an extra lens of examining how to make something teachable, whether it be a poem, a novel, an article or an essay.
Of all her years in teaching, Janice asserts this past school year was her favourite. She smiles and says, “You know, ‘retire when you still love it’ may sound cliché, but I think there is a lot of wisdom in that.”