Tag Archives: classroom family

Language of Hope


A few days ago while scrolling through a social media site, I noticed that a student I teach had posted a photo with, what I consider to be, an offensive word. It is not uncommon for me to connect with students on some social networking sites. I am as selective about who I connect with as I hope and try to instil students to be. What made me pause when viewing the post was the word ‘retarded.’

My finger hovered over the unfollow button. I fumed.

I have known the student, Mack, for many years. We have navigated many, many difficult conversations. We have navigated many moments of crisis. We trust each other.

Maybe that’s why Mack’s comment, public or not, stung. I could not understand his cruelty. Or what I assumed to be his cruelty. 
It’s not that I simply don’t allow the word in our classroom, I explain its meanings and interpretations, and I have explained, why there is almost never a place, situation, event, or time suitable to use the word. And I share many stories of experience about how this language is harmful. 

That day, in my pause, I sat on the edge of the bathtub, paintbrush in hand, having taken a break, having checked the site, my finger continuing to hover over the unfollow tab.

But I genuinely care about this young person. And what, other than fuelling my own privileged sense of justice, does stepping away silently, and yes, fuming too, serve?

I continued painting, cutting-in around the ceiling, taking time, climbing up and down the step stool.

Hmm.

After a while I sent the student a private message and asked for clarification of the wording of his post. He replied simply, after offering a definition of the word, sharing that it means, “a bad person.”

I replied “No it does not.”

~

I set my phone down again and sat on the edge of the tub again.

And so far, all of this journey was too simple. I understood I was telling, not attending to his stories of experience. Too, I was not attending to my own stories of experience.

I sighed.

~

Last week I lunched with a colleague. We shared many stories of experience. Our sharing often returned to the mad-dash made by those within educational landscapes towards a singular social justice way of knowing. During lunch, my friend & I spoke of the importance of attending to all stories of experience. 

Yet, there I was. Sitting and fuming, tapping directives into my device. I had no desire to carry forward a singular way of knowing that would silence others, nor did I wish to lead in this space, when I had not entered through the opener of story, through trust.

I sighed again and reached again for my phone.

Years ago I was married. Those who stood up for me where an eclectic group of women I referred to as my sister people, each family in some lovely way. One sister person, a cognitively challenged woman, only a few years younger than I, was often mistaken for quite youthful. I have known her almost my entire life. Her mom is near to a second mom to me. Only once did her mom speak of the cruelty of living in a world where people are deliberately harmful with their words and more so lackadaisical with them too.

My beautiful sister people.

Truth: I was six months into my first teaching position before I truly allowed the depth and breath of being a language educator to resonate.

I began to ask myself the question I was posing to students. Does language always matter? I began to wonder, was the language fight my fight to fight, like it is and was, and in the same way, and remains to be for my sister person’s mom? Honestly, in the beginning I was foggy on the ownership of this life/issue.

I have lived alongside hundreds of young people. I have shared family stories with those I teach. Students have shared their experiences with me too. My Dad and daughter have often met the students I’ve known. We have journeyed together: cheering at ball tounaments, smiling at open mics, helping to paint classrooms, and hauling boxes into schools. 

I am no different with Dad & my daughter, than I am teaching a mini-lesson, or alone hiking a prairie hillside. In all landscapes of my life, I am fierce and I am kind. I am always me/mom/teacher. And I am reflective.

To all who have walked alongside me, they know that for me, others telling stories of me is a painful space.

I am thinking deeply about how others have told stories of me. I am thinking about my elementry and high school experiences, others telling stories of me through perceptions of my behaviours and my learning disabilities. 

I have spent a life reliving and retelling the stories others tell. 

~ Not stupid. Not busy. Not wrong. Not obstanant. Not rude. Not mean. Not loud. Not silent. Not. Not. Not. Not.

I returned to think deeply with the stories of Mack’s experience. I recalled when we had journeyed the Native Studies 10 course a few years ago, his worldview shifting as we inquired together. He would often send texts and screenshots of moments when he would address oppressive language/statememts made by his peers, even his family, as his own understandings grew.

I sighed. Tap. Tap. Tap….

“Mack, let’s talk about how, for you and others, that word might be understood and used.”

~

Honestly. I wanted to block Mack. I wanted to avoid a tough talk where I had no script. I had hoped Mack would simply learn that language is the most powerful force for change on the globe simply    by    reading       my    mind.

Language changes the world through our continuing reflection and discussion of its complex meanings and uses.

From those moments I came to teach English Language Arts courses all those years ago, I understood I must come as a Language educator.

During our dissucussion Mack remembered that the ‘r’ word is a word that I don’t allow in our learning space. I am thinking deeply too with the unfolding of that July day. I was painting my bathroom and dripping sweat. I am as fiercely blunt out of school as I am with students every day of our ten month year. My Mom says kids always know when teachers are fake. I think there’s a teaching there. This work is living work. Deeply meaningful, unscripted, and in the moment. Julys’s work too.

Maybe this is why I messaged. Because I trust my student. Because I know he trusts me. Because I already knew he was in a tractor somewhere and he already knew I was eyeball deep in blue paint, tackling a bathroom renovation. Because, we two, we trust the space between us.

Maybe that pause, is the trust that is the rootedness of our language of hope.

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The Importance of Crossing Thresholds

Supporting each other is really important. When I was a pre-service teacher, I spent one of two of my shorter-internships at a school that did this well. At this school, when kids were more successful in some spaces or with different teachers than with other teachers in other spaces, the staff encouraged kids to be where they were most successful. Often, this meant that students moved between teachers to bond with individuals with whom they felt most connected. One of the most amazing stories that remained with me long after I left my teaching block is that the teachers at the school celebrated when kids were successful elsewhere. The teachers where so unselfish! It was the students’ joy and success that mattered most, not teacher happiness or prestige. This lesson has remained one of the most profound of my career.  

I used to think this special gift of allowing students to find spaces and connections where they are most successful only existed at that school. True, then I was only brining my own years of school-stories to this understanding. I had so much yet to unlearn…

More than a month ago I shared with kids and staff at my school that I’d be moving schools next fall. The last few weeks have been a sort of a finding-our-way towards transition. For some, the upcoming change is fine. For others, the upcoming change is uncomfortable. In our school, we are a family; we are more than people in a group. We know, or at least try to remember, that what we have together is meaningful. We understand sadness and joy are part of our life-story; we are a family.

The students understand too that they are more connected with some teachers than with others, and that none of us are the same. The staff members at my current school are great at supporting kids: helping them to find a key adult within the school with which to connect, and a space where kids feel connected.

And yet, change happens. For one of our high school students the upcoming change sits before us consuming joy from every moment. For her, the looming is real. We are a family, the real kind. The kind one chooses, creates, and keeps. We have strategies and back up plans for such things as loomings,

Shouldn’t we rely on one another? After all, isn’t that what schools ought to be?

“An’ I got you. We got each other, that’s what, that gives a hoot in hell about us,” (Steinbeck, 1937, p. 104).

Last week this high school student was feeling the loom. There were many tearful chats with our high school student, she knows that when I go in June we can still message and chat, and of course I will read her writing, and see her at Open Mic nights. However, we are a family so I shared something more. I shared how amazing I know the teacher down the hall to be when I venture into her room to share my stories. I shared that I visit her room often, just as I had done that day. I shared that the teacher down the hall -and and the teachers down the other hall the other direction too, also listen. They just look different. Often, knowing someone will listen is about permission, reminding, teaching, approval, modeling, and most importantly, the crossing of thresholds.

I’ve been wondering if maybe change wouldn’t be so hard if we had help, if others listened to our stories, and held our hands while we tiptoed through the process. I’ve been crossing the threshold into the room down the hall myself. I’ve shared. I’ve cried a bit. She listens beautifully. Wow, these people here sure remind me of that school from long ago.

Late last week, this message arrived to my inbox:Miranda

I want to share something beautiful with you. Jane (pseudonym) stayed in my room this recess and chatted, and chatted, and chatted. I really think she took your words to heart and is trying to make an effort. I had supervision but I just skipped out on it and hung out with her.

Thank-you for doing that for me, for her, for us. I am worried about her and I really want her to know I will be there for her. Hopefully the seed has been planted and we can care for it and watch it grow (is that lame?) I don’t care.

Let this warm your heart.

Love, respect, and kindness.

M. (The teacher down the hall)

Next fall I return to teach at the school that I once thought of as magical. And perhaps it still is. However, I know the treasures I saw there I often also see here every day, living in the kindness of those with whom I teach. Listening isn’t such an anomaly as I once believed it to be. I think this is because I too have gotten better at crossing thresholds myself, sitting down and allowing others in.

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She is Probably Right

On a Friday about three weeks ago, just after drama/choir practice while I was post-conferencing with a student, I received an email stating that my transfer was confirmed. Next year I will be teaching at John Chisholm Alternate School in Moose Jaw.

I was really happy for about 4 minutes – I looked towards the grade 12 student sitting across from me. He graduates at the end of this year, yet he wore the look like a four year, that look of certainty that I’d always be here, perched on the corner of the desk, on the counter, staying late after choir or basketball, here listening to or sharing stories. I watched his face. His features moved into a sort of contorted calm. The storying space he’s found these past few years lives now inside him. This space is no longer tied to the classroom, to the basketball court, to the short-stories, to the hours spent chatting after school or, really, sigh, even to me. It is his stories that matter. “It’s a good move for you. I’ll help the others on Monday.” He looked down then, and then, back up, and he was again the youthful-teary-eyed kid from moments before. And then he left. He said he’d stop in and say hi, even have coffee when he was in town on Saturdays to work on projects with my daughter. And then he left. As I watched him go, I wondered if it was my face I saw mirrored in his puffy cheeks. I am ready; I am just not always as brave as I seem.

~

That next Monday I had to tell my kids that I would be changing schools next year… At the urging of a dear friend and teacher on staff, I told the kids in first period. I know I’ve had more difficult teaching days. There are suicide-stories that are part of my teaching story. There are days when kids have walked out. There have been times when I’ve held kids as they’ve wept in pain because of situations beyond any of our control. There have been days when kids have been missing and we’ve driven around into the night looking for them. Those days have been tough. That Monday ranks among them.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve moved schools before. I’ve said goodbye to students before; three years ago when I left my previous school I thought the pain and ache of leaving there would never subside…

Kids are not names on an attendance list nor are they only faces in a room. These kids have been part of my family for three years. We listen to each other. We look out for each other. That first period we sat. That day we kept busy.

Though we cried, I don’t think we really wept until a few days later. I arrived for class then already in tears and was met by senior students who had questions, who wanted to spend time in our space to share stories, to push back. They wanted me to share the movie I’d made of our “storying” for my final course for my graduate thesis work. After all, this is the work that is ultimately pulling me away from our space.

I shared the video with the senior kids and by the afternoon, the 9s & 10s had caught wind of this sharing and insisted I share the video with them as well. But sharing is difficult. Leaving is difficult. One of my grade 10 students – a kind, gentle 18 year old – who watched the video earlier and who had come to our story space just this past September, who has had many school-stories filled with negativity (stories to leave by) and learned in our space to tell his own stories to live by, is struggling with my leaving. He went home.

After we watched the video, the rest of us walked and walked.

Over the next few days, many of the kids, in their own gentle way, stopped in. It was like they knew, like they had times slotted in, though, of course they didn’t. What they shared with me was that they believed this transition was a good one. They shared they were proud. They shared that they felt I would fit well at JC. The kids spoke of my needs – not theirs. The kids responded with kindness. They spoke of this transition in a way that said it was needed to continue the work of honouring stories.

They shared that stories matter.

~

You know, it has taken me weeks to write these few paragraphs. I just can’t seem to capture how much the past three years with these kids has meant to me. I am honoured to have had the opportunity to live in the midst of their stories. They are amazing human beings. They have taught me so much.

When I arrived here three years ago, I missed my old home. Now I know I have another home too; home is a storying space inside. My students have taught me how to listen, how to share, and when & why we share our stories. How will I ever honour that gift?

~

When you do not want me but need me, I must stay. When you want me but no longer need me, I must go. ~Nanny McPhee.

Late last week, one of the kids in grade 11, Sydnee, looked at me, smiled beautifully, slowly, came over and hugged me.

I said, “I’m not spending the next two months crying, Sydnee Marie!”

She smiled, “Yes, Yes you are.”

She’s probably right.

I love our kids. I will continue to know them.

They are my family

We have snooped abandoned houses, shared tea at four in the morning, played basketball all night, rubbed regurgitated fur on our cheeks. We have held each other while we shared our stories of death, illness, loss, suicide, abuse, addiction, fear, oppression, and indifference. And we have laughed. Oh, we have laughed. We have sat around our class tables pulled together, around campfires we made, atop snow piles we shoveled, in thickets filled with wood tics and we have laughed until our sides ached, until our cheeks hurt, our eyes blurred until our stories mattered; we have laughed.

We have shut our door and talked it through. We have hiked it out. And then, we have done it all again.

We have opened our journals; we have sent text messages, picked up the phone and just checked in because, “I know you’ll worry.” We have let each other find our own way – turned to story and just let be – because that is trust too.

We remember. We remember because we have storied.

We remember because we are family. Mostly, we remember because we love each other.

So, I’m changing schools next fall.

Leaving home is difficult. Sydnee was right, I’ll likely cry for the next two months. I’ll likely always be smiling-crying; I am so proud of my kids.

I like that all of us know that none of us have any intention of saying goodbye.

I love my family, yes, I’m crying…

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Nothing Left Unsaid

IMG_8126

I have been thinking about trust and loyalty. I have been thinking about my Dad.

I have been thinking about family spaces.

Snuggled on the sofa last night with Jess, my daughter, we shared about my Dad, Albert, and about family spaces.

This story is for you, for Jess, for me, for Alec & George, for my Dad, for the kids now and the kids who came before, and certainly, for the Snow Shoveling Five.

This is for us.

This is for our family. This is for our family-story. Please, share your family-story…

 

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Tangibles

A few weeks ago my Inclusive Education cohort at the University of Regina got into a passionate debated over the use of cell phones in the classroom.

Sigh

Part of me feels like this is such a tired and old discussion. Yet, at other times, I know, because the discussion was filled with confusion, and because of comment’s like, “Aren’t you afraid of kids having your cell number?” and, “It’s just too personal,” these discussions are still needed.

But the discussion only focused on kids and cell phones, and so often a whole other group other than the kids gets missed: families.

I also encourage my kids’ families to connect. And not only with their kids, but with me: stay in touch with your kids, stay in touch often with me and stay up-to-date with what and how we’re doing here in the class.

In fact, connecting with families, I think, is almost as important as connecting with our students. And I try my best to make certain this begins with face-to-face connections.

It’s how we begin to grow as a classroom family. 

We listen and we connect. We chat and we connect. We share and we connect. We  connect and we trust. It’s pretty amazing, really.

Many of the adults in my kids’ lives like to stay in contact with the school. For me, emails tend to be long, and like many of my teaching colleagues, I’m busy. 140 characters or so feels just about the perfect length.

Last Sunday, though, as I was busy working on a University paper, my cell phone lit up.

“We called you first.”

The key adults for one of my student’s were calling to share news that my student had decided to move. The student’s key adults were concerned and, to say the least, sad too. For the past ten months, for many hours a day, for this family, I’ve been another caring adult. Last Sunday, they needed someone with whom to share their concerns.

After all, aren’t we as teachers connecting too? Doesn’t that start with building a sense of classroom family? Are we or are we not then connected beyond the students in our rooms.

I listened while they shared the events that led to my student’s decision to move, and I agreed, yes, I’d love to come for supper and say good bye. And then, I set the phone down and cried. 

I cried for my student’s best friend who needs him. I cried for the basketball team who will miss him. I cried for the drum set in our homeroom that will stay silent next fall. I cried because my kid is leaving. I cried because I wonder if, as my student steps towards his teachers next fall, scared and lost, and asks for support, will he find it? Will he seek it? Has he learned well enough to use his words and ask for what he needs?

I cried for my boy.

Make no mistake, I am a teacher. I am not a counsellor or a social worker, but you bet, I am a community member and a friend, and just as I am with my own girl, I am always a mom. I cried because I used to think it was OK for my kids to leave, but I’m learning the ‘OK’ feels only ‘OK’ when they are in grade 12. It’s ‘OK’ when we’ve shared all the stories we need to share, when they are almost grown, and this sure doesn’t feel near to ‘OK’ to me. 

Like my student’s loving supportive caregivers, we all need more time.

Every day, my student was a gift galloping in the front doors, questioning, challenging, smiling, wondering, offering, encouraging.

So last Sunday, I answered my cell phone and listened while my student’s key adults here, shared about their boy who has spent the previous week walking around the house in his school jersey, set to step away…

They asked nothing from me, but to come for a meal. And I agreed.

For me, teaching and learning lives in personal connections. Always has, always will. If you share a story with me, spend a period in my room, hike with me, you’ll soon come to know, I’m irrationality crazy about my kid(s). My kids’ families know it and they value our classroom family.

Sherman Alexie states in my favourite middle-years book, “Nervous means you want to play. Scared means you don’t want to play.” I’m in this profession because giving voice to youth matters most to me. I am unable to separate educator from being a mom, a friend, a learner, a child or a woman. And sure, I am always nervous. And nervous is a good, good thing. It makes me cautious and caring, and better planned, and more passionate, and more fiercely resilient than I can possible express. Mostly, it keeps me focused on putting the needs of kids first.

So here is what I’ll share…

I’ll let my student know that he always has us, his team, and that our classroom door will always remain open. The family of our classroom is tangible, after all.

I’ll tell him how proud we are of him. And more importantly, that he has friends here, and a family here, that needs him and loves him very much. And that this family and this family love includes me too.

I’ll remind him how successful he has been here both in school and out of school, and that I believe he will find those same successes there, too. I’ll tell him to never forget the finale of the winter concert, the elaborate breakfasts on the field trip, the 33-year-old provincial track record that he shattered, the conference basketball finals his team played in for the first time in our school’s memory, and the beauty of the poem of the girl on the swing, because after all, all of that belongs to him.

And I’ll hug him and I’m sure I’ll cry. I’ll make certain that he knows I’m really here too, and then I’ll make certain he has my cell number. 

And then, I’ll let my boy go.

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