Tag: messy stories

Keeping Talking

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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.

“Hug them.”

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.

Needed.

Talk openly. Talk hard. Talk hope. Start now.

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Piano Stories

“I tell stories not to play on your sympathies but to suggest how stories can control our lives, for there is a part of me that has never been able to move past these stories, a part of me that will be chained to these stories as long as I live,” (King, 2003.)

~

Mid-morning Saturday, a friend sat at the graffiti-covered piano in the classroom and tapped out a melancholy tune, “I am afraid of your past.” The words weren’t meant for me; they were sung in response to the tensions that live in attending to stories.

He shared stories of his childhood mentor and shared stories of his summers at the lake. What resonated were his messy stories.

Long ago a student had sat at that same piano and shared similar stories, his hands too lingering over the piano’s out-of tune keys…

This is a story I know.

piano photo

~

Several years ago as part of an identity project a student, James, painted a piano with graffiti. His father wanted him to study classical piano. James wanted to compose his own music. More than that, James wanted to write poetry. The piano is covered with James’s story and his poetry. The piano’s wooden shell is pulled off to reveal its keys. The piano was one way James found to give voice to his story, to come to honour his own story. When he graduated he entrusted me to continue to care for the piano.

This week I’ve been feeling the messiness of my own piano stories.

Saturday night, while my grade-eleven daughter, Jess, and I relaxed at my Mom’s and Dad’s home, I received a message from James; he was having a difficult weekend. For many folks around here, last weekend was Thanksgiving, a time of gratitude and of being with family.

Though James has left home, his stories linger. Though James has spent a great deal time thinking deeply about his messy stories, coming to honour his stories, he is still learning to retell them.

Saturday he messaged, asking for the second time since I’ve known him, “Don’t give up on me.”

I am beginning to learn that coming to retell our stories into stories to live by takes time.

I remember when I first began to learn the depth of the messiness of James’s story. I can still see him standing in the doorway, a big kid aching to live a story of confidence, asking me to do more than hear, to do more than listen. James was asking me to attend to his messy stories.

James was asking me to honour him. And he asked me not to give up on him.

This was a request for trust.

What I learned as I came to attend to James’s stories, I learned that I was at the same time, learning how to honour my own stories. “The curious thing about these stories was I had heard them all before, knew them, in fact, by heart.” (King, 2003). For so long I had forgotten to listen to my own stories.

Together, James and I were life making.

~

Friday I sat alone in a car dealer’s office. I was about to purchase a new-to-me car and I was wiping away tears. Six week previously, my car had been stolen. Weeks afterwards I had settled with insurance. The day before the car dealer, on my way to an educational conference, I stopped at the salvage yard to gather my personal items from the retrieved car.

The person at the gate warned me about what I’d find, “Honey you’re gonna drive down there and I’m gonna turn off the security cameras ’cause you’re gonna have a little cry.”

“I’m not going to cry.”

I drove through the compound. Two days before my car was stolen it was my best friend’s wedding. I had given her a ride to the church. When the car was stolen I told the officer that the police could identify my car from the wedding dress glitter in the front seat. There was no visible damage to the car, inside or out, yet it took me more than a minute to get out of the rental car. Grasshopper remains coated the vehicle. I was not prepared for what I’d find inside, rubble: bottle-caps of used dark maple coloured adventure, baggies dusted and discarded.  Sour scent and earth comfort and sweat stank clung to the fabric; attacking the closed doors of my memories like sealed papers locked in safety deposit boxes and packaged away perfectly in 12 step programs. Angrily, with some sort of misplaced power, I began to gather strewn paperclips. I pulled them from under seats, between cushions, under mats. Then I found the seven beads from the discarded key chain a student had made for me during my under-graduate degree, the first student with behaviour challenges that I had taught. Seven beads. Strewn. The security guard had warned me.

“I don’t tell this story out loud because it’s not much of a story. No plot. No neat ending. No clever turns of phrase. And because I always end up weeping… But for myself,” (King, 2003).

In my fancy teaching garb I crawled over remnants, lifting my shovel and my soccer chairs from the trunk.

My thesis advisor recently asked, “Why this work? Why now?”

Stories matter.

Okay, maybe I am afraid.

Tears came that afternoon. They were not the ones I’d expected. Life is messy. The prairie wind danced raw across my face. A salvage yard tow truck in the distance dredged up steel and more steel like stories. Inside that car lived the messy stories from which I had walked away. The experiences that had led me to pick up my daughter and to retell our narrative into a story to live by. Standing in that compound I know I am still learning to live with the messy tellings. Standing in the salvage compound, I ached to share my story. I ached to have my story honoured.

Stories matter. I am beginning to wonder if it is the messy ones that need the most attending.

All those years ago a scared grade ten student stood in my doorway and asked me to attend to his stories.

Wiping away tears in the car dealer’s office, I heard over and over the comfortable, common story of trying to be like steel. It is a difficult story to live by. Sometimes… It is messy.

~

When I think about James standing in the doorway and asking me to attend to his story, it was James who was courageous. I am beginning to realize that it takes so much faith to trust another person with our stories.

Stories matter.

 I am beginning to understand that attending to stories takes time…

Strong in Mess

Lately, I’ve been thinking about how much I like staying connected with kids. It’s a messy topic.

Here’s what I know. And it’s not much.

About every month or so, my daughter goes out for coffee and a muffin with her former grade six resource teacher. My daughter is in grade ten. Actually, she’s almost in grade eleven. Their suppers are at Tim’s and sometimes they run close to five hours. They talk and talk. The teacher is incredibly dear to my daughter, Jess.

I joyfully support their relationship. The more positive supports in Jess’ life the more likely she is to make positive choices, or so I believe. Sure, Jess shares the messy business of our life with this teacher. Life is messy. Sometimes, it was extraordinarily messy. It still can be at times. Sometimes, Jess needs to share with someone other than me.

I get this.

I’m not so closed that I believe my family or myself can be or will always be everything for Jess. She needs safe people. I don’t know about you, but I’d rather ‘safe people’ be like that amazing grade six teacher who told Jess that her stutter just didn’t matter rather than someone who only listened to Jess’ common story.

See, that teacher and I are a team.

About four weeks ago, right out of the blue, on a Sunday morning, she called me. We are a team. She’d heard some things about some kids in Jess’s world and she felt she needed to check in, sort of a mom-to-mom. I was so moved, so honoured to have someone love my kid that much. She’s a mom too, after all. And let me tell you, she’s a teacher too; she was nervous as heck calling me. The truth is, she loves my kid more than our friendship; Jess’ safety came first – and I sure do like that!

She didn’t tell me anything I didn’t already know, that Jess and hadn’t discussed at the end of the day, sitting perched on the bed talking into the wee hours. ‘Cause we share, we story, all the time.

Still, I did share with Jess what the teacher had shared. It is good to be so profoundly loved and looked after. Around here, in August, my Dad begins worrying about the snow that might begin to fall and for my safety on the highway; being loved is good.

As I shared this story some folks asked if I was offended.

It takes a community to raise a child; this isn’t a line, it the messy resonance of truth. Long ago, I understood that our stories, messy as they may seem, need safe harbors. The grade six teacher is one. I like that Jess has other moms. This list just grows and grows. As it does, it makes the two us so strong.

I don’t know if I have a point. I know I have a student whom I taught six years ago that I speak with every week, without fail. He is like family to me. I know he’s not my son, though at times, he feels like it.

Sometimes I don’t understand this notion of family or community while at other times, I sense it in my bones.

Love is messy. Life is too. Positive connections make everything more beautiful.