When I was young I learned that snow berry are sacred plants. I learned that their berries hold the spirits of our ancestors. I learned that to sit among snow … Continue reading Among Snow Berry
My school division recently launched a locally developed course, Mental Health Studies 20L. This course is designed specifically to meet the needs of learners’ in our division. The course addresses positive mental health, common mental health challenges, understanding stigma in relation to mental illness, and mental health and addictions. Teachers are nudged to take up the task of offering this course, helping students and school communities break down mental health stigma.
Hmm. I was in pre-start up meetings Monday with my two counterparts, the other ‘Grad Coaches’ in our division. Our mandate, or one of our mandates, is to help students at risk of not graduating to graduate on time.
Recently, I read Zac Chase’s thoughts about living educational mandates and the reality of living our work:
“I’m supposed to be talking about standards, though, right? Where’s my rhetoric around problems of practices, data-driven decision making, and instructional design?
What nerve do I have shunning my innovator’s mindset; deciding not to teach like a champion, a pirate, or my hair is on fire and focusing on something as ephemeral and un-quantifiable as joy.”
I want to talk about joy.
I need to talk about joy.
And while I do, we are also going to talk. About everything. And in this sharing space, talking is going to be ok.
We grad coaches sat together Monday mucking through the often hardwork of figuring the logistics of offering this new locally developed course with only two weeks to go before the start of classes, the often trickiness of the content, and the often tenderness of our students, and be certain, the pain of each of our own lived experiences.
The conversation was messy. We circled around and back to ideas, to plans, sifting through thoughts. And circled on. There were tears and smiles and harsh looks and gentle knowings.
By phone, we chatted with one of the course developers, clarifying the fundamental need to offer the course as an elective, allowing students the choice to engage with big ideas and potentially painful topics. This isn’t a core subject after all, it’s different.
Would we sit on it, spend the fall planning? Would we push through, bring in outside agencies, where possible and forge ahead, as an elective, having the tough talks, living vulnerable. Or would we pause, plan carefully and launch a well crafted, course next September?
See. This isn’t a core subject. It’s different.
~ Friday two of my former students were in a horrific altercation, one dying, illegibly, at the other’s hand. See. I am tired of losing kids.
That’s important. I want you to read that again.
I am tired of losing kids.
Many people have asked me if I knew the boys. And what they want is a storied telling. Stop. In all ways. Please.
One came to me years ago a gangly grade nine. I took him on his first outdoor education trip. He had very little. My dad scrounged together a sleeping bag, camping supplies. We were camped in a deep ravine, total backcountry kind of stuff. He ran free, like his smile was released from his belly and he was set to chase it. He smiled right through to the end of the year.
The other came to me years later. We wrote laters one summer while he was hoping to set his world on longed for path. The letters began after my dad’s stroke. He made a wooden cribbage board, and he gave it to me to share with my dad once dad was recovered. I shared stories of dad’s teachings, and of hope. The letters came written on long pieces of foolscap, remember that? Folded in half and then a third. Printed carefully.
Not a core class.
I am thinking about the ripple effect from the events Friday. The boys with partners, with babies of their own now. I am thinking deeply of the many, many, many lives so forever and unquestionably shifted.
I am thinking of my friends, my colleagues who live the pain of loosing kids
This is important.
Last year I did more than 15 suicide interventions. I am an Student Support teacher. There are six other SSTs at my school. How many kids did we talk with? Add the councillors? Now our caring and attentive staff. We are over 50. In Canada suicide is the second leading cause of death in youth ages 15-24 (Health Commissions of Canada, 2017). This statistic has not changed in 20 years. I learned this fact from the MHS20L curriculum. I feel it too.
This is important.
Tuesday my husband, Alan, asked how I am going to welcome my kids back the first day.
Wednesday, again. Again. Someone inquired about the boys.
Let me tell you. I love my kids. I can tell you something beautiful about each and every each student I have taught.
Talk openly. Talk hard. Talk hope. Start now.
(Red Shoes Series)
Saturday Afternoon at the Cabin
From the far room, Dad’s snore’s whistle. When I was young Dad’s snores rolled in swells through the house. Once, while camping with my cousins, Dad’s snores woke campers two sites over.
Dad’s snores are the sounds of home, the home of the youth where I turned over at night and snuggled deeper into the covers when there was an unknown thump on the back deck or the coyote howls were nearby; I am safe, Dad is downstairs.
His snores are different since the stroke, high pitched, and far away.
I am attending Festival of Words this week. Tomorrow is workshop day. The morning is poetry. The afternoon is passion. I have been instructed to arrive in the morning with a poem to work on in class. I wanted to write a performance piece about my deep loathing of homework. However, the following emerged:
Del was 81 when her grown daughter of five died.
Sipping tea, Del told me that people don’t bring casseroles to a divorce.
Del was wise. She told me when I had the world figured out I could buy a pair of red shoes.
My flats were red with a band of pink across the toe. They fit the width of my feet.
Del died years ago, long before I was ready for my shoes.
She never told me about strokes.
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…
Lately, our students and I have been reading non-fiction. Our main text offers a sad gritty and often shocking look into the dynamics of a family. The kids keep asking if the situations in the story are going to get worse; we are only 70 pages in. Yeah, the text is true, chances are…
Currently, in my academic research and in my personal reflection I am wondering about tensioned stories: the stories that are difficult to share, the stories that we do not (are told not to) share, and/or the stories that we spend many moments learning to or trying to live alongside.
I am wondering about the value of and the need for sharing these tensioned stories. What changes within us when we do share these stories? Who changes? Does sharing our tensioned stories mean others too might better understand us?
Often kids, heck, people, share snippets of these tensioned stories through body language, through reflection and even on social networking sites. What interests me is why there is shame in sharing? Why is there a need for public sharing? However, I’ve no desire to debate the ills of sharing our tensioned stories on a global stage. How about this: what if we did share our tensioned stories on a global stage?
What if we named our tensions? What if we listened to each other?
What if our tensioned stories were honoured? What if someday these retold tensioned stories became stories of love, of trust, of connection, and of faith.
I am learning to live alongside my tensioned stories. For me, loss continues to be an exhausting epic, a lived narrative that tells and retells itself. I am learning to live alongside my tensioned stories.
Stories, all stories, have value…
Saturday, I was unusually harsh, and I am seldom harsh.
I am learning to understand because I share my story.