Just consider Rosemary Canney’s first book her final grades for today’s educational system.
Canney, 63, taught English at Old Town High School for 32 years, retiring after the 2006-2007 school year. She put much that she had learned over that more than three decades into her new fictionalized memoir, “In the Parking Lot of Grady High” (Bickmore Books, 2009), which comes out this week.
Most former co-workers or students of Canney’s looking for themselves in the pages of “In the Parking Lot” would be sorely disappointed.
“There’s very little that’s factual,” she explained. “There’s five characters that are written as themselves, others that are composites and still others that come entirely from my imagination. For example, the principal, the vice principal and the guidance counselor aren’t based on anybody that I know.”
The strongest element in the book (the title is based on Canney’s assertion that all the action in high school happens in the parking lot) is her sense of humor, which shines through.
“I love to make people laugh,” she said. “As the sixth child out of six, humor was the only way I was heard.”
Canney taught juniors and seniors, an age group with which she felt comfortable.
“I love teenagers,” she said. “I love listening to them, I love hearing their take on things. I’d walk into class and I’d feel right at home.”
The biggest change from when she started is how students treat teachers today, Canney said.
“When I started, there was always respect for teachers,” she said. “There used to be a line that kids didn’t cross, but now somebody has erased the line.”
She cautioned that it’s a small minority of the students that are disruptive.
“Ninety-five percent of these kids are such wonderful people that I would invite them into my home,” Canney said. “It’s the other 5 percent that take your time and energy. It’s that 5 percent that I’m talking about.”
“In the Parking Lot of Grady High” (the school is named after former Old Town superintendent of schools John Grady) also is bittersweet and thought provoking.
Asked the biggest obstacle faced by education today, Canney said, “We are in desperate need of strong, intelligent leadership. When I was writing this, Bush was in office. ‘No Child Left Behind’ was a joke. Did he think we could change genetics and environment?”
The idea for the book came out of a phone conservation between Canney and her daughter Crystal.
“I told her that it was going to be hard to walk away, because there were so many memories there,” she recalled. “She told me that I should write a journal.”
After retiring, Canney set aside the journal for a year, then took it out again, writing the book over six months.
“I can’t write when anybody else is in the house, so it was kind of hit or miss,” she said.
Canney has two events this week linked to her book’s publication. She has a reading and signing planned at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday at Old Town Public Library and another at 2 p.m. Thursday at Bangor Public Library.
Did working on the book cause Canney to miss teaching?
“It was like a catharsis,” she said. “It kind of purged me of the whole educational thing. The more I did this, the more I liked it. It helped me to deal with this big change in my life.”
“In the Parking Lot at Grady High” can be purchased by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org or at Birminghams Family Market, 10 Gilman Falls Ave., Old Town.