Month: April 2011

Because of You (Us)

Ok. Sometimes, the world really gets things right. I’m a single mom, but I sure don’t feel like I’m going it alone. I’m talking about the stakeholders in my daughter’s world. You know, I try to be a ‘good enough’ teacher. And if I come anywhere close, it’s because of the other teachers around me who allow me to be a good enough educator and an amazing mom. Now, I know what you’re thinking, “She sure hasn’t been doing this bit for too long.” Yah, I’m the first to admit that I’m still really green under the gills, but I’m also the first to state that I have buckets of back-up. Huge bins of it.

I spend so much time lovin’ up other people’s kids that I often wonder how it is that my kid knows she is so loved. Let me introduce you to the people who make it so:

Mr. C, my daughter Jessy Lee’s, math and science teacher is the personification of patient. Mr. C is the teacher who always takes the time to go out of his way to say hi to Jess at soccer tournaments, to sit through her games if his son isn’t playing, to attend her extra-curricular volley ball and basketball games, and who allows Jess to design her own science projects.

Mrs. R, Jess’s homeroom teacher, gets her kids what they need; she listens. The comment box on Jess’s first report card this year began, “Once upon a time there was an independence brilliant princess whose nameth was Jessy Lee.” 

And then there is Mrs. S, the junior Basketball Coach.  Jess plays b-ball only because it is her grandpa’s and my favour sport. Soccer is Jess’s game.  She almost didn’t want to move up to the A team because Mrs. S wasn’t coaching.  But Jess did move up with all the self-confidence and goofy antics and love of sport that Mrs. S had given her.

But mostly, there’s Mrs. K. My mom says when Jess leaves in June to move up to high-school my mom will buy Mrs. K a dozen roses and will write her a grandmother thank you letter. Here is the kind of note Mrs. K sends home, one I received about a month ago:

I want you lovely moms to know what lovely daughters you have, and how I had the privilege of sharing them today. As you know, Ivy, Jessy, Sasha and McKayla  are all members of our very informal S & S Club…as we read Jane Austen’s Sense & Sensibility to celebrate the 200th anniversary of its publication. We try to meet weekly to share reading responses and…just as important: food!!

Anyway, because of Jessy’s huge admiration for author Heather Vogel Frederick, she initiated a skyping meeting with her, and today was the big day. Heather chatted to us as we ate, and then the girls and I had an opportunity to ask questions. As well, Jessy, Sasha and McKayla shared some of their personal writing with Heather, and she was wonderfully responsive, encouraging and sometimes teary! [By the way, the 3 writers made sure that Heather knew that Ivy , though not a writer, is an incredible singer.] Heather spoke with the girls with such respect: as if they were keen university students taking a credit course with her! I later emailed her, and thanked her for her time and input. Below is the response I got back from her, and I just had to share it with you:

~[Mrs. K], my husband came home for lunch shortly after our call, and I just gushed to him about how wonderful “your” girls were! Truly outstanding young women — articulate and smart and funny and adorable.  And oh my, Jessie’s poem about her dad… Wow.

I told Heather that I would really miss these four young ladies when they leave me next year to head to high school. I think she likely completely understands why I feel that way.

So , thanks for raising such great kids. We do appreciate them at our end!

What amazes me so much is Mrs. K’s gift of time. Teaching is not a 9-4:00 gig. I leave the house every day to pull up to school at ten to eight so I’ll be there for my kids and I stay after school every day to ‘prep’ so my students will have a safe place to hang out. I try to give my students that same gift of time. 

Last week, one of my grade 10 students broke up with one of my grade 9 students. For my students, the break up was devastating. One of my students remarked, “I just can’t talk to you right now, in front of him.” I suggested to both my students that they take their journals home and reflect. As I walked one of my students to the bus, I reminded her that she can always text me. She hugged me. Before the bus had left town, we were chatting. It’s her language; it’s what she needs. We didn’t chat long, but long enough for her to know that there was someone on the other end who had heard her and who cared.

That same night I came home and I sank into the sofa. It had been a big day. Jess had had a devastating day too. She had started a new class and the new teacher had teased her about her desire to write, and worse, Mrs. K was away ill. Afterwards, her classmates had teased her for her reaction. In tears, Jess had called me at school needing her mom (first call in 9 years from daughter). I spent the afternoon reciting the serenity prayer to keep from verbally ripping someone’s face off as my mother-bear instincts begged to react. As I sunk into the sofa, Jess typed away at her computer. “Mom, I’m reading an email from Mrs. K. She just commented on my post. She just said I’m the same thing you sometimes say about some of your kids.”

And the circle of belonging found home…

Oh, girl…. You usually manage to avoid the girl-drama stuff, so I can only imagine that you got pulled in against your will and then couldn`t back out. I am not asking for divulging of secrets`…just want you to know that I cannot believe how mature and deep your lovely article is, and how, even as it`s all just falling apart around you, you pull up your boots and know it can get better, but with no blinders on as to reality.

Have I ever told you to research the term RESILIENCE…that it is you, and someday when we have lots of chatting time, I want to talk to you about a whole process of working with kids that is totally based on building resilient kids.  But we don’t have to build you: somehow, in your wise-beyond-your-years way, you have resilience, and I’d love to see you share that with others somehow.

And the negative winds vanished from my sails…

I believe resilience is bigger than brilliance too, more than beauty and greater than wisdom. And I shared this with Jess. I cried and cried.  And so did my girl.

The truth is that, as an educator with a child, I would never feel free to give so much time and so my much love to my students if there wasn’t an amazing school family giving so much time and so much love to my daughter. We sure do well caring for each other and raising great families.

I am so grateful for our school team.


When I Pause

A week ago I attended a silent retreat. The weekend marked 10 years of winter-silent-retreating. The first few years I brought my camera, my book, my sketchbook, my journal and, sometimes, my lap-top.  Today, these 48 hours of silence have become some of the best connected moments of my year, the connections becoming sacred spaces. Today, I listen.

“We can’t experience sacred in isolation. It is always an experience of connecting. It doesn’t have to be another person. It can be a connection with an idea, a feeling, an object, a tradition. The connection moves us outside ourselves into something greater. … We learn that we are larger than we thought.” Margaret Wheatley.

I’m always amazed at what I hear when I pause. 

The other day I forgot my phone at school. I live 37 km away from where I teach. As usual, I was in a rush so I didn’t return for my phone. The next day the kids teased me asking how I’d survived without my trusty appendage. “Fine,” and I meant it. I seek silence. Silence is a comfortable and welcomed- uncomfortableness, a beautiful connectedness. 

I remember an Education professor remarking about the need for a 20 second pause after asking for student feedback. I also remember another professor offering the beauty of silent reflection. In those silent spaces came the ideas to question the need to recap, allowing learning to simmer, allowing time for student reflection and offering plenty of opportunity for students to lead.

At the retreat a week ago I walked some. I hiked up into the Qu’Appelle Valley. I lay on my back and watched the sky roll by… I savoured the scent of sage, rolling it between my hands and on my cheek, and I wondered trails, wind pants squeaking. At night, I watched the lights across the valley twinkle and fade. And I thought about my mom. I’ve been wondering for a long time. I have my Nana’s hands, Wiens Women hands, hands that say I’m strong and bright and beautiful (my mom’s maiden name). I thought about my mom.

My senior Creative Writing students are busy sharing story slams. Our topic this week – Parent Traps. (Big in-take of breath) I thought about my mom and I thought about my daughter whose eyes are deep brown like my mom’s. Every women on my grandmother’s side has suffered from a form of dementia.

I’m irrationally crazy about kids with social/emotional and behavioural needs; I’ve always been excited by Alternative Education. Lately though, I’ve been thinking about advanced ELA. I am so excited about planning and teaching these enriched courses that my toenails tingle.  

My mom was a gifted consultant for the province long before she became a Director of Education.  She’s retired now. Though we chat everyday about my daughter and my students, I’ve never asked her about her work with gifted kids. After years of working to find our mom-daughter teaching-and-learning love language, mostly between us there remains silence. The hessitation is mine. Every woman. I have my Nana’s hands. So does mom. Every woman.  

In early October last year my Dad was rushed to emergency. My students had asked if I had been scared. “No, there’s nothing left unsaid.”

“There are many ways to sit and listen for the differences. Lately, I’ve been listening for what surprises me.” Margaret Wheatley.

some words

are so difficult

and i am more




aspen, willow and wind

“I experience sacred as a feeling. It’s how I feel when I am open to life. Or am opened by life... I know I belong here. I don’t think about it, I simply feel it. Without any work on my part, my heart opens and my sense of ‘me’ expands. I’m no longer locked inside a small self. I don’t feel alone or isolated. I feel here. I feel welcomed.”
Margaret Wheatley.

(Big in-take of breath)

My turn…