To those who’ve been shamed, let me be the one to say…

“You’ll never amount to anything. You’ll never be much. You’re a problem child.”

So he was told.

I had forgotten, but she reminded me yet again as we were talking: about the cruelty of  words and how shattering they can be when ill-spoken. When hastily proffered. When handed over without any thought or consideration to the receiver.

And how excruciating when those words are held out to a child, a teenager: as evidence of their failings, flaws and weaknesses. As evidence of their shortcomings. When spoken as a statement to their individual worth. A testimony, if you will: to their person-hood. And when these words of shame are spoken by a teacher, no less: the damage they inflict is often irreparable.

“You’ll never amount to anything. You’ll never be much. You’re a problem child.”

Those words- they have still, at times, been spoken.

And he’ll never forget those words, no matter how much time and space come between. She’ll always remember. For they are there. Forever imprinted in his memory. In her memory. Impressed on his subconscious and thus filtered in and out through his more aware consciousness in the here and now. She’s trouble- or so she thinks; and so she’ll spend the rest of her days either seeking to live up to that reputation or finding a way to prove them wrong.

It’s how the story goes.

And to those students dealing with their own insecurities, anxieties and fears about who they are and what they might become, this is either a death sentence or a fire lit beneath them. A motivation or a deterrent.  It’s pivotal.

This piece of writing I’ve composed: it is not a reprimand to students- goodness knows there are enough of those out there to fill a book. This is a reminder to those of us as teachers to choose our words carefully before we speak them. We can never get those words back again. This is a memo to those of us who educate: to watch our collective tongues. Carefully. To form our opinions with awareness to those around us. To say what needs to be said, but to do so respectfully. With dignity. In honor of the life that stands before us.  For all life is worth that at the very least. Is worth a semblance of regard, out of respect, if nothing else, to the person and all those others they represent. The parents, family and friends. A person is not an island. And words have a ripple effect. Do not think they will fall like a stone to the bottom of the ocean. They will be carried away on the waters and they will oft be repeated. And never forgotten. Do not offer words without thought to what message those words are truly conveying. Words can have more than one meaning. And what we think we are saying lightly can be taken heavily by the hearer.  And buried deep within.

This is a message to we who are adults- we are the forerunners. We have been there before. We know the pain of derision, the wound that is a sarcastic comment spoken in scorn. We remember. And so, we who know better must live better. We must watch what we say and say it with care. There are others listening. Believing what we say. Taking it to heart.  Living up to it, those words.

“You’ll never amount to anything. You’ll never be much. You’re a problem child.”

To that one who has had these words flung in your direction, let me be one to stand up and boldly say:

You are more than the sum of one man or woman’s opinion. You are more than one person’s point of view. You are capable. You are able. You are competent. You don’t have to live down, stoop low to anyone’s minimal expectations of who they think you’ve been destined to be. Prove them wrong. Be more. Do more. Live for more. Aim higher, reach farther. Be inspired to make the change you need to make so as to become the person you were born to be. It’s in you.
You can do this. Be the person you were made to be. The sky’s the limit. And you’re full of potential and possibility.

You’re amazing, I know you are.

Believe it.

I do.

Thank you

Over the years, I have had moments as a teacher so memorable they have left a significant, lasting impression. Imprinting forever in my long-term memory the emotions that were felt when that experience occurred.

I remember a particularly difficult teaching assignment in which I took over a short-term social studies position at the high school level for a teacher with long-term illness. Who actually passed away during my time in his classroom. I was seven months pregnant with our third child, taking on three new-to-me high school courses, mid-way through the term. Not only that, there were special circumstances surrounding my hiring, along with some very special students in the classes I would be teaching. Students who were not easily persuaded or motivated to tow the line. To say it was a challenge would have been an understatement.  Overwhelmed was more suitable a word in describing how I felt about my assignment at the time.

Towards the end of June, after exams finished and marks had been submitted, I was helping the school’s graduation committee one day with various tasks associated with the graduation ceremony.  At some point, and truthfully- I can’t remember exactly how it happened,  a Grade 12 student arrived at my classroom door with a note in hand. After he left, I opened the card, and this is what I read:

Ms. Gard,
Thank you for everything you taught me. I know it was not easy to step in and take over the class, and we had to deal with a lot of unfortunate things. All things considered, you did an excellent job. Thank you for being there and seeing that we learned all that we needed.
Thank you.

Two little words. So simple, yet so powerful. So meaningful. And oh! how motivating to me as the teacher.

The whole of that message was really condensed into two little words of gratitude.  Of thankfulness.  Words that we  use at times without realizing their incredible importance in the life of another.   Have we ever stopped to consider them? For there are times when those two little words are the only ones necessary, all that needs to be spoken.  For truly, those two little words have all the power to change and impact like no two other little words in the English language. They are influential.

Game changers of the best variety.

They can melt a heart of stone. Can break a cycle of apathy. Can mend a broken fence. Build a bridge. Heal a wound. Make everything worthwhile. Those two words have sway. Gentle authority. And while there are many ways in which these two little words can be spoken. Many ways in which they can be used to convey the full sense of gratitude of which they speak, there really isn’t anything more powerful than the simplicity of those two little words.

Thank you.

Tonight, I want to say thank you.

Thank you to all those students who have crossed my path in years gone by and in these present days.
Thank you to the girl who recognized me at the drugstore two weeks ago as her music teacher back in Grade 1.
Thank you to the young man at Walmart a while back who remembered me from his junior high days.
Thank you to my neighbour’s son who walked with me the other evening and shared his heart as well as happenings of his day with me.
Thank you to my little friend from Grade3 whom I see at the pool twice a week now. Whom I love to chat with and sometimes like to tease.
Thank you to my own seven little ones in kindergarten who have taught me how to love unconditionally.
Thank you to the little boy who met me at the door today and confided to me a heartfelt sorrow. I treasure that trust.
Thank you to the boys and girls of Bloomfield- every one of them. The ones who ask me to supervise hockey games, the ones who chat with me in the halls, the ones whom I work with in extra-curricular activities, the ones who keep me company on duty.
Thank you to the little one who always writes me love letters.
Thank you.

You have blessed me in ways I could never express. My life is fuller, more beautiful. Because of all of you.

And for that and so much more, I am forever grateful

Addictions and taking baby steps

When I was a little girl, I remember this so clearly. I was perhaps eight years old or there abouts, and at the time of this memory, I was standing in the bathroom beside a cupboard used for storing towels. I asked my mother this question: “Am I good?”

My mother answered me as best she knew how, telling me that I was good as I could be. She knew me well- I could also be stubborn and strong-willed. As any child can be. But in light of her response, I remained unconvinced. I wanted more than a ‘pat’ answer. I wanted truth. And I wanted the truth to be what I believed: that she knew me as being someone kind and good. Someone inherently upright. I wanted her to say of me- that who I was, the person I was becoming, was someone worth affixing the label “good” to.

I have never forgotten that moment, although there are other moments in my life of which I still wonder about now as an adult. Times when I was bullied in my middle school years and taunted for all manner of reasons, not the least of which being that I wasn’t pretty enough, classy enough or mature enough. I remember those moments as survival, moments in which one couldn’t care less about being good. One just wished to live through it with one’s dignity intact.

I remember too, not living up to certain expectations others had of me and rebelling against the desired good in me. The little girl who strived to please became rebellious against the golden standard of ‘good’. Because it just wasn’t worth it to work so hard. Who needed good when they could be ‘bad’ and get the same attention?

I am approaching my fortieth birthday next month, but there is still a little girl inside me that cries out to anyone who will listen, “Am I good? Good enough? Am I worth noticing? Do you see me?”

I hear that little girl’s voice in my writing, when she hits “post” on a Facebook status, blog or article.

I hear her in my conversations with colleagues, friends and family.

I hear her talking in the staff room, in the classroom and in graduate level discussions with her own classmates.

I hear her at the supper table when she is talking to her children and Husband.

I hear her relentlessly ask the same question over and over and over: “Am I good?”

And interwoven throughout every conversation, every thought, every nuance of language both spoken or otherwise, she asks of those around her, “Am I worth something? Am I good?”

It is a need- an addiction, if you will. Yet one so subtle you might never even notice it (were she not to write out the truthful words of it all here). It seems so harmless, really.

We often think of addictions as being those outwardly noticeable compulsions that lead one to dependence, obsessions and habits. I admire those who are able to talk of their addictions, who are able to share their experiences. I see great courage and strength in those who tell their stories of addiction. But I have never really thought of myself as having an addiction. Never really seen such in me. Strangely, addictions can show up in the form of needs so seemingly benign- needs that we all innately crave- that these same innocent of all addictions can compel one to want something so deeply, they are willing to go to great extremes to get it. I should know- I have one of these seemingly innocent addictions. I crave positive affirmation. I just want to be good, and I always have.

I have always wanted people to think I am good. Think I am quality. As someone with value. And there is a little part of me that curls up inside when I feel disregarded. Cast off. When I feel as though I were invisible. There is still a little girl inside that feels darkness settle over her like a cloud at times. Because in truth, she has always wanted to be noticed. She has always wanted to be considered by those she holds in high esteem and even otherwise, to be enough. That girl- I know her well, she has always wanted to feel special. Always wanted to be seen. She has always wanted to be ‘enough’.

Good enough.

And at times, this obsession has become a singular preoccupation in my life, at the expense of all other priorities. That’s how it is with addictions. They take over. The first step is admission. And here I am. Telling you, my friends, that I struggle with this. I have an addiction to approval and it is at times insatiable.

For me, in living with myself and my idosyncracies, the best way of acknowledging this messy part of who I am is through my writing. I have started to live my life out loud and in the open because I love being able to share my thoughts and musings with others. I love connecting to people. Love the relationships that develop. I love creating community with my confessions, so that we can share our lived experiences together. But there is also another reason for which I have often held shame and that is this: I need people. Deeply. For many different purposes, some of which are noble. But some of which are not.

I must confess.

In connecting with other people in both private and public spaces, I am able to feed the addiction for approval. For I want it very, very much. I am able to feed the hunger for confirmation that I am ‘enough’- enough in every way, in everything I do, not the least of which is my writing. And I am able to meet this need through the encouragement I garner from things so minute as an opinion to concerns of utmost importance. Affirmation is an addiction. And it can consume a person’s thoughts. It can drive a person crazy. And there can also be shame. Shame in admitting all of this messiness about my truthful self ‘out loud’; for who wants to be seen as needy and weak?

I am nearing middle age and yet, I still want to be perceived as admirable. I still desire to please others so as to hear them tell me how good I am. And all this, even though I know I am loved. Even though I know that I am cherished by a Father. Even though I know. My head admits it, yet my heart still needs some convincing by times. I still have that need for approval even though I know that who I am is who I have always been meant to be.

Even though I know.

So I take comfort tonight: that confession is a baby step toward healing. Believing in myself and my inherent worth is a close second. Knowing I am loved and cherished and teaching this to my heart, the underlying foundation.

I press on. Tonight I walk forward, making progress with baby steps.

One little footstep at a time.

Trigger warnings and Play

Warning: the contents of this article might be offensive to some. In that, it might make you conjure up images of snot, mucous, throw-up, broken arms and the like. Consider yourself trigger warned.

Last weekend’s Globe and Mail had an article in its Focus section about trigger alerts. Essentially, trigger alerts are advance warnings that might alert one to potentially harmful, anxiety-inducing, adverse information found in course material, books, public and private settings and environments, writing and other venues of transmitting influential stuff that might need censoring.

In other words, someone could be bothered at the very least- offended at the most, by what they encounter.

According to the article, university professors are being asked to provide trigger warnings in advance of their course readings- to the extreme that any sort of ill-affect, including panic attacks and anxiety disorders, might be provoked by the influence of the potential literature, and could thus be avoided through use of such an advance cautioning system. That is, through using a trigger warning so as to alert.

Essentially, trigger warnings are kind of like car horns: they jar you so that you pay close attention. Or kind of like the jarring bellow of a teacher just before her student runs in front of the swing-set. You get the idea.

The thought of which gave me pause to consider the various trigger warnings that I should offer to all those incoming students of mine who are going to be attending my upcoming K classes in the fall. The four year-olds, that is. If I was to provide a trigger warning for them, here’s what it would look like:

Be aware, Prospective Clients of the Public School System. Entering the educational system and thus attending kindergarten classes might bring on the following adverse, unpleasant affects:

1. Sickness, after you come into contact with every cold and flu virus known to humankind, which incidentally must FIRST cross the threshold of the school doorways before filtering out into the world at large.
2. Dirty, filthy clothing, as you wear said ‘virus’ proudly like a badge (because I can guarantee: you will be wiping your nose all over those super-adorable little shirts and dresses that looked spick and span when you left home in the morning but look like a compost dispenser by the end of the day).
3. All manner of cuts and bruises, as you manage to find every dangerous corner, table, wall and other sharp object or the like inside every classroom, hallway, music room, gym and secretary’s office within the school. And yes, quite possibly even the bus.
4. All manner of broken body parts, (yes again, I said that right), as you experiment with gravity on the outdoor playground equipment. Or school banister railings.
5. Writer’s cramp, as you are reminded for the bazillionth time to hold your pencil with proper, standardized pencil grip.
6. Discriminating taste buds, as you realize halfway through the month of September that you still have twelve years ahead of you eating Flakes of Ham sandwiches.
7. Joy at discovering that mom has no idea what happens to said ‘sandwich’ when Teacher turns her head to read out the lunch menu. For that matter, neither does Teacher.
8. Cold, wet feet, upon discovering that playing soccer in mud puddles a foot deep causes one’s clothing from the hip down to become completely soaked. And then some.
9. A propensity to needing bandages, as you discover that sticky, adhesive substances are quite fun to apply to the body. And then rip off two seconds later.
10. A paranoid sense of personal space as your teacher patiently explains to you why standing one cm from a person’s mouth is not far enough away.

These are merely the top ten. I could write more. So much, much more.

The author of the Globe article goes on to cite a recent Atlantic Monthly critiqueon the topic of micromanaged kids and their helicopter parents. And he does so as to say the following: “Kids are no longer left alone to find their way, invent spontaneous and sometimes risky forms of play, to confront and overcome unknowns, to do things themselves, and to fall, fail and then get back up again.”

To which I say, au contraire. Where there is a will, there is always a way.

I was on outdoor duty Friday, and I can assure this good man: children are still testing the waters of safety, running towards the road, hiding beneath trees, escaping the confines of their boundaries, sitting on the top of the monkey bars, sliding down the slide backwards, hitting one another over the head with pinecones, branches and possibly rocks (oh my nerves) and banging into each other when playing and running.

Falling down. And then getting back up again.

And interestingly, some of these kids do have helicopter parents.

While I see that there is still a propensity towards anxiety in children of helicopter parents, by and large, most kids are running around full-tilt on the playground, as if their life depended on it. And loving every, single minute of it.

‘Cause that’s their job. It’s what they have to do.

At least, it is for the healthy, happy P.E. Island kids I know and teach.

Living Five Minutes at a Time: My Messy Beautiful

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It matters how you treat people.

It matters how you live your life, how you do your job, treat your friends, speak to your kids, care for your animals.  It matters. And it matters that you infuse love into what you do, through each and every seemingly small moment of the day.  Even if those moments are organized into minuscule, five minute increments.  As small and insignificant as that portion of time might seem.

And yet.  Five minutes can be long enough to make a mess of things.

I know.

Lately, I have been living my life either five minutes ahead or five minutes behind where I ought to be.  It’s like I am either rushing too fast or moving too slow.  In all, I am not thinking/living in the moment like I feel I should be. That is, if I was to be ‘living up to’ my best, ideal vision of myself.  That ideal I hold so dear.  And when I sat down to really contemplate this thought, I came up with eight random things I wished I had known about, five minutes before/after they happened.

1. That bag of dirty laundry that I left behind at my lovely friend’s house in N.J. (while traveling during Spring Break)- wish I had known it was sitting there in her man cave five minutes before we left (instead of ten hours later). #nicepartinggift

2. That curb that I sideswiped while backing out of my sister-in-law’s driveway (causing Husband to curl up into the fetal position)- wish I had thought about it five minutes before getting behind the wheel. #soyouthinkyoucandrive

3. Those three fish tacos I ate recently at the Ground Round- wish I had purused the menu five minutes longer before deciding what I was going to eat that particular night. #intestinalgrief

4. That one hour trampoline privilege (Sky High, N.C.) that I paid a left leg for- wish I could have traded it in for Twinkies five minutes after I started jumping (like my life depended on it).

5. And while on that thought… regarding the one hour trampoline privilege that I recently paid a left leg for- wish I had a catheter inserted because five minutes after I started jumping (like an Olympic gymnast on steroids), I was making like a crazed woman for the lady’s room.

6. That email that I was recently trying to save- and all those pictures and other important stuff that seemed so NECESSARY at the time- wish I had remembered that PURGE means GONE FOREVER about five minutes before cleaning up my email queue.

7. But then too. Those beautiful children that I mama-bear growl at, for various reasons or another, and whom I rush along and nag- sometimes I wish I could just remember- five minutes before those words and frustrations pour out of my mouth- that these are just moments in an otherwise beautiful life.  They are not worth getting in a blathering dither over.

8. And this one.  Ouch. This one hurts my ego a little. That conversation I had with my mom recently- that one during which I proceeded to unload all my petty little troubles- wish I had been able to go back five minutes in time to the moment before she proceeded to tell me about a very tragic loss that had occurred in her life when I was away on my trip.  While I was going on and on and on about my bladder troubles and other petty little worries.

Sometimes five minutes is all we need to put life into perspective. 

Five minutes is enough to show me how beautiful my life can truly be. How beautiful it truly is.  If only I am willing to stop and take the time to see the beauty in the moment.

Want to hear five of the best minutes of a day in my life recently? It was without a doubt, when I went to a small grocery store in the town of Cornwall, P.E.I., Canada. Not an event I would usually connect with morphing into daily high points, but that day it was. The cashier: she was friendly, pleasant, affable. I could hear in her voice, as she talked, that she just genuinely liked people. Liked her job. She called me ‘hun’ three times. And while that normally wouldn’t rub me the right way, that day those words seemed almost soothing.

“Anything else I can get you hun?” she said smiling.  Then later…
“Are you paying for that with debit or credit, hun?”
“Thanks, hun. Have a nice day!”

And maybe it was her smile. Maybe it was the respectful way she talked to the meat manager as he brought up a box of seafood to be priced. Quite possibly it could have even been the combined effect of both she and her colleague in the cash right next to her, a woman whom the older gentleman in line after me greeted her warmly with, “Ah Lyndsay! This makes my day just to see you here!”

And with all that love, it isn’t too far-fetched to surmise that this little grocery store is a good place to work. A good place to BE.  It exudes an atmosphere in which love is valued.  In which small moments are valued. For you can feel love palpably. People in this store genuinely seem to like being here, and perhaps the reason is because they just feel like they’re with friends.

It’s that kind of store.

And I couldn’t help but think of that well-touted line, ‘whatever you’ve been given to do, do it well’, in reference to these two women and their ethic of care towards their customers. Because they weren’t just delivering a service that day: they were offering love. Five minutes at a time, and in the process, the whole ordeal had the effect of moving me in a very profound, emotional way. I really felt touched by the kindness I observed and experienced.  And I can only hope to live up to that high ideal as I also go about my life’s work, inside my own home, workplace and classroom, living with and teaching the little and big people I’ve been called to learn alongside.

What a great inspiration it is to watch people doing what they love to do and seeing them doing it well.

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Because really, when it comes down to it: we’re just people living our lives, five minutes at a time.

Five minutes: it’s all we need to put everything else in our messy, beautiful lives into perspective.  Because that’s what this is all about- the messy in our lives is really the beautiful.  And if I was really being honest, it’s not about five minutes before or five minutes later- it’s really about living out both the frustrating five and the pleasurable five in life- at one and the same time.  Does this mean we cannot talk about the small stuff- the random things we wish we could do-over?  Of course not. In talking about them, in VENTING at times, we realize that they are just small moments that comprise a bigger life.  In validating our small moments- and learning to laugh at them, we come to appreciate the bigger picture that much more.

And in the process, we realize- life is full of moments that we live.

Five at a time.

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This essay and I are part of the Messy, Beautiful Warrior Project — To learn more and join us, CLICK HERE! And to learn about the New York Times Bestselling Memoir Carry On Warrior: The Power of Embracing Your Messy, Beautiful Life, just released in paperback, CLICK HERE!

 

 

 

 

Is missing school a disaster?

“The loss of these last five days has been a disaster, with the loss of instructional time…and we need to gain back as much (of that time) as we can.” P.E.I. Minister of Education, Alan McIsaac, as quoted during a CBC radio interview which you can listen to here

 

We have accumulated thirteen storm days thus far this school year. Meaning, there have been thirteen non-consecutive days thus far in the school year here on P.E.I. for which school has been cancelled due to this unusually brutal winter we are having in Atlantic Canada (a winter which seems to be equally as brutal in much of the rest of North America as well, I might add). Last week, added to the mix a total of five consecutive days of cancelled classes, stimulating much talk in public and private circles which concern themselves with educational matters. Talk by people concerned with outcomes and expectations. People concerned with time off task and focused in-class instruction. People concerned that ‘students not learning within the four corners of the school walls must then not be learning’. People concerned with the matter that students need to be in school, not whittling their time away doing what kids like to be doing, whatever that might be.

Yes, there have been lots of missed classes. Extreme weather conditions being the reason for such. These weather conditions can and may include blowing snow (thus reducing visibility), snow accumulations exceeding 10 cm, blizzard conditions, freezing rain or poor road conditions (impassable laneways). Fortunately, we have not gone so far here on P.E.I. to sacrifice student safety for the almighty tax-dollar. Or should I say: we haven’t done so often (there was that one day, but that was back in February- we have moved on since then). Thankfully, there would not be too many people here in our parts who would fault the schools for cancelling classes, but there are always a few who believe that classes must be made up. In other words, compensated for. By way of a sacrifice of some sort on behalf of the teachers and the schools. Which is to say, that something has to give. For that money has been invested in student learning; there must be a way of making good on our students’ education. So as to not lose said valuable education to such an unpredictable winter.

It has even been said, as evidenced in the above quote, that missing school is a disaster.

Thus, when school is cancelled to this excessive extent, there are often calls from the public that the School Board and government examine the school year thus giving consideration to whether or not the days allotted to instruction should be extended. Or at the very least, giving heed to the preservation of such instructional time via cancellation of any upcoming scheduled professional development days or other holidays in light of the missed class time. Class time deemed suitably important in that missing such time which would have been spent achieving curricular outcomes and meeting grade level expectations is too great a trade off. Thus, the reason for extending school years, decreasing P.D. days or cancelling holidays.

The debate for me is not the loss of professional development so as to preserve instructional time. If there is a benefit for students and a way to show good will to the public, I am all for that. What bothers me about all the debate and hullabaloo are comments like the Minister’s above which infer that missing school is a disaster (of epic proportions). Which, I would submit, it is not.

What is worthwhile? Knowing? Doing? Learning? And where?*

If you live here on P.E.I., there are a few things worth knowing. One of which is how to survive an ice storm (in which there is a pretty good chance that the power will be lost). Here’s what my kids learned last week about that worthy topic:

  • Board games are just as fun as video games
  • Snow forts are fun and challenging to make
  • Homemade donuts are just as good as Tim Horton’s donuts
  • Reading a book is both challenging and rewarding
  • Charades is a fun way to spend time with your family
  • Fireplaces are both cosy and warm
  • Melted snow can allow one to flush a toilet

 

And low and behold, my kids were not the only students learning last week. I met up with a friend in the grocery store the other day and inquired about a Facebook photo she had posted in which her daughter had rigged up a warming rack and candles so as to cook a can of beans during their family’s foray into powerless living. Her daughter played around with her design until it was just right and she eventually cooked a warm meal for her family using flame and metal. Ingenious. Did a teacher stand hovering over her micro-managing her design? Did someone grab a textbook so as to show her what to do? Was she told she needed to read the theory behind such a contraption first so as to make it work?

 

No. She just did it.  All by herself.  Fueled by her own desire to solve a real world problem related to her lived experience.

 

I do not mean to undermine our elected government officials and their priority placed on schooling. However, I do not share the same alarm with them that missing schooling is a disaster. If innovative, creative thinking is the result of a few missed days, then I say that was time well spent.

 

*Reference:  The questions you found me asking have also been asked by William Schubert (University of Chicago at Illinois)  in his article What is Worthwhile: From Knowing and Needing to Being and Sharing.

Living love- it’s harder than it sounds on paper

It is much easier to write about love than to practice it. Much, much easier.
I want to be very real with you tonight. Intimate in my transparency, if possible. I want to talk about what love put into practice looks like in my life. Right now.

But to preface this revelation, I must say at the outset: when we preach the loudest and proclaim the most vocally our thoughts, beliefs and feelings, words that are written down or easily spoken have a funny way of coming back to you and challenging you to live up to what you believe.

Isn’t life funny that way.

Today was a challenging one in terms of love for me. I really had a hard time living up to the standard of love of which I preach. Of which I write. For I write often about love- it seems so easy to say it. But living it? That’s another story. But I press on. I continue to seek love, in spite of myself. And all because- although I aspire to love, I am still an amateur. I am a work in progress (as are we all). When I say I believe in love- I truly do. When I say it is the reason for everything, I really mean that this is my life conviction. But would I go so far as to say I have arrived? That I personify love?

Heavens, no. Hardly.

I had a headache all day today. I knew from the get-go, it was going to be a tough one. Pressure seemed to be rising from the minute I placed my cold feet on the bare boards of our bedroom floor.

I felt that pressure- that responsibility: to live out what I believe. I am accountable for my words.

There were so many times today that I just wanted to pack it all in. To say, ‘look, it ain’t worth it.’ To curl up and say, ‘its too hard- too demanding to love.’ Love is too hard. It is. There were so many times today that I just wanted to do what I naturally feel. My nature is one that is not naturally prone to love. I would rather criticize. Would rather find fault. I would rather complain or point fingers. Or take offence and protest.

By nature, I am prone to rigidity. To exactness. I am a perfectionist. I am not naturally loving and patient and kind. I was not born empathic. Not born to be understanding. Those qualities have come to me through supernatural intervention. And I do mean that. Anything I am or hope to be is through the grace of God. The work of Jesus- His love and light shining out through cracks and crevices in my broken life. And I promise you that if there is any evidence in my life of love, it is the love of God shining through me. I am not naturally this way.

Baby, I really wasn’t born this way. And I would never have you to believe otherwise: that I have this all wrapped up. This handle on the power of love. I am love in progress, as evidenced in a broken life.

Yes, today- I was faced with challenge after challenge. I wanted to react to each of these challenges- retaliate with words that were cutting. Because that is naturally who I am. I am not kind by nature. Not caring by birth. I am actually critical, if I were to be really honest. Judgemental. I am no saint.

But I have felt compelled toward love of late. I have felt drawn. And although my nature is one that would lead away from love, I have felt the power of transforming love in my life to such a degree that I have chosen love over what comes naturally.

And the fact that I am so drawn by Love is enabling it to become more natural as the days go by.

When I feel pulled toward a critical spirit, what I am faced with is a choice. And I am learning- as hard as it might be, that love is a choice. Love is one of an array of options that I am faced with daily. I can choose criticality, or I can choose kindness. I can choose impatience, or I can choose tolerance. I can choose frustration or understanding. Anger or empathy and gentleness. And although it is not my natural bent to do such, to choose the latter of that array of choices, it is who I want to be. It is who I am becoming, this person who loves. A lover: of people. Of imperfect, broken people, just as I am. So I choose love, over and over and over again.

I willingly choose love.

I chose love today when all I really felt was frustration. Frustration with circumstances. With people. With the ways in which I am interpreted. Frustration with not being heard. Frustration with not being listened to- I chose love as a response . And rather than react to those things in my life that get my ire up- that work against me, causing me to feel annoyed or inconvenienced, with the grace of God, I chose love. I continue to do so.
It is only by the grace of God that I can.

I do not share this intimate look into my inner self so as to self-denigrate my being or to paint a pitiful picture of myself for good wishes. To disparage the person I was born to. I love this person I am. She is me- I am her. I am coming to love the person I have been and hope for the person I will be in the process of my becoming loving.

No, I don’t write all this so as to garner support and accolades. I tell you all this so as to say: it is through weakness that we are humbled. Through loss that we experience gratitude. Through pain that we overcome, so as to know the heights of joy. It is through self-denial that at times we come to understand the power of love.

So when I feel frustrated that my students aren’t listening as best they should. When my own four children fight and argue. When my spouse takes an opposing view. When I run into a professional obstacle or hurdle . When I find myself disagreeing with another human being. When people just plain rub me the wrong way. This I know- I am a person too: and I am humbly both the irritator and the irritated at one and the same time. Imperfect as I may be.

I am so very aware of my imperfection- of my own personal need of grace. As are we all. Every single one of the human beings we encounter in this life are needing of grace. So, there is no other choice but to love. It is truly the best option.

Nevertheless, I am faced with a choice. Love or intolerance. It’s mine for the choosing. And with the grace enabled me through transforming Love Himself, I choose love. By the grace of which I stand complete, I choose love. Because Love chose me, I make the effort to choose love as well. Because it is the better way, I choose love.

Because it is the only way in which I can transform the person I am into the person I want to be, I choose love.

And through the power of love, I continue to make that choice.

Daily, I choose love.

A challenge and response: Must we choose between Love and Academics?

I really appreciate my friend for challenging my thinking, as you will come to read below.  I am providing her challenge to my thinking and perspective along with my response to her.  This welcome challenge was issued to my last blog post regarding What is Worthwhile Knowing: A Teacher’s Perspective.  I would readily open any feedback you might have to offer by way of challenge or rebuttal.  Thanks to everyone who reads my writing.  I welcome all your views.  Iron sharpens iron.

To me:

I get where you are coming from- and I agree- students learn more effectively when they know that their teachers care about them. But as a parent I don’t send my child to school to primarily feel loved, he has that from me, from everyone in his life etc- what I send him to school for is to learn and to reach his full potential. That to me is the priority. Sometimes I feel that we are moving too far away from that since there are so many children who aren’t getting the love that they need from their families. But I really feel that we have moved too far. Our academic standards have greatly decreased…students reaching university in 2013 are not as prepared as they were in 2005. We need more focus on the academics….not less. I see it at the university level- our students are not as prepared for higher learning as they were 10 years ago. This is what we should be talking about- because the education system is failing their future learning potential. Sure they feel loved….but they can’t perform simple math or spell….by grade 12….this is a major problem! This is the reality that we need to correct. You may be on a different end of the spectrum being in kindergarten where feeling secure and loved is extremely important….but I don’t think that it is the universal focus of sending kids to school…at some point we have to shift more towards the academic side. I am sad for students who I meet in my class who are very intelligent, but have not been academically prepared to fully access all that they could from university. The education system is failing those kids. My favourite teachers from school are not the ones who made me feel loved….but who stretched my mind and expanded my knowledge beyond what I thought I could know- they pushed me to be who I am today and to them I am grateful.

 

To my friend: I appreciate that you wrote me with your perspective. And I appreciate that we both have different perspectives- unique to our own understandings, backgrounds and situations. It is good for me to be challenged in my thinking- to push myself to understand the ‘why’ behind my writing, of late, about love and care. About curriculum of the heart. It is something I feel so deeply about that at times I need to step away from it- step outside of my own thinking- and examine it with new eyes. New perspectacles, if you will (to use our favorite blogger’s analogy).

You mentioned that you “get” where I am coming from, but I wonder if we can truly ever get something like this. I think we have to believe it. You state that “as a parent I don’t send my child to school to primarily feel loved, he has that from me, from everyone in his life etc.” I am glad that your son has that. Many do not. In fact, it is not the norm to have what your children and my children have for experience. Two parents in the home who are university educated, double incomes, every opportunity. A comfortable lifestyle. Values that support life-long learning and ambitious achievement. These things are not the norm, as you well know.

That being said, I agree that even for those parents sending their children to school who are not in your or my position, those parents still might echo your sentiments: that they aren’t sending their children to school primarily for love. They might even agree that they are sending their children to school for the very same reasons that you state: to further their academics. Widen their possibilities. Further their potential. Whether or not parents are sending their children to school for reasons that reflect your stance or reflect mine, the fact of the matter is this: children and students learn best when their learning is cushioned in an atmosphere of love, care and compassion.

What is love? Am I talking about warm, fuzzy, sweet-talking love that always pleases? Am I talking about feel-good, low-pressure therapeutic love that focuses solely on self at the expense of all else? What is love, anyway- it means so many different things to so many different people. What I am talking when I refer to love in my writing is that which is the deepest emotion known to humankind: something so over-arching, all-encompassing and profound that it permeates our very being. When I speak of love, I am talking about everything that is good in this world which could be then funnelled into our being. So as to inspire, motivate, compel, arouse, encourage, stimulate, provoke and stir up whatever might lie dormant within us. Whatever might lie fallow. Whatever is ready for awakening.

Love as an emotion is often highly undervalued in education. Sure, we embrace it in its place: but it is always put into its box and asked to sit there until it might be of use. It is not always on top of everyone’s list of priorities when it comes to academics.   In fact, love might very well be at the bottom of the list for some, as you have expressed. It is so often undervalued through statements that contend that it is a poor reason for a teacher’s purpose in offering an education to their child. After all, and you are right here: our job as teachers is to deliver curriculum. Teach the standards. Expound the outcomes. We are expected to deliver on the core fundamentals of a solid education: the arts and the sciences. And in doing so, prepare our students for the workforce.

But what if love was the standard by which everything else was measured? What if love made me a better teacher? What if love made my students better students? What if love made people better, just through experiencing it?

What if the love I showed in my care and concern for students then allowed me to, in love, inspire them to have a passion for language, for prose? For nuances in language? For poetry, literature and classical writing?

What if love opened a door to enable me to share with my students a passion for mathematics? For precision and exactness? For reasoning and rationalizing? What if love paved that way?

What if love gave me the inch that could buy a mile? What if love was what every foundation I built upon? What if love was everything? In everything, through everything about everything?

What if love was everything?

Can we ever really know for sure if it was what really made the difference- or not-when we who have always known love are the ones calling for less of it? We who have always had love at our fingertips saying it is unnecessary? When we who are deeply loved, who have always had love at our disposal, are saying it is the drain on academics and learning? Keeping us from excelling? And by what standards, I might ask? Are we really in any position of saying that love isn’t necessary, in such sweeping statements, when we’ve always had enough ourselves? What if your call for less love was the unravelling of that one student who could have been destined for great things. But because love was removed, then became a hardened, bitter being?

Who are we to say?

You are right- love isn’t everything. There is also pain and sorrow. There is hatred. There is always an equal opposing force to everything we know. And I could say that we can teach without love, but then the door is wide open for anything else to move in. Anything else but love. And while you claim you didn’t need love, and I am assuming that you are implying here that some teachers might have adopted stances that were quite the opposite to love: for some students, this would close the door to learning. And quite possibly forever. I am glad this was not the case for you. This wouldn’t apply across the board, however. What works for one scenario might not work for another. But we all need love. We certainly don’t need hatred or ill-will. Nor do we need hardness and rigidity. While learning might still transpire, it does in spite of these qualities. Not because of them. Unlike with love which paves the way.

As for taking that chance- of doing away with love in favour of dry, rigid adherence to the standards: I am not willing to take that chance. So I continue to offer love. And offer learning and opportunity to my students in as passionate a way as I know how.

So, what about academics. We are in the business of learning. How can I the teacher find balance between my call to love and my job to teach? When I offer love, I find that my passion for learning is that much easier to transmit. When I show care, I have won my students’ confidences so that I can then offer instruction. When I value their opinions and thoughts, I find they are stimulated to think above and beyond what I ever dreamed possible. When I open the door, and I know they trust me, I also know they will follow. And sometimes they even lead the way.

Why are students not ready for university, as you have so aptly pointed out? One cannot argue with statistics. But maybe they can offer some plausible reasons for such. My belief is this: I feel that quite possibly we have not offered enough in the way of love. Perhaps students haven’t known the freedom to explore, to climb to lofty heights and ambitions. Perhaps love never paved the way. Maybe students do not know the grace that is compassion-perhaps if they did we would see more students moved towards social justice and outward thinking. Perhaps students have not been shown the generosity that is passion and joy for learning. There might not have been allowances made for outside the box thinking. There are a multitude of reasons for why the stats are what they are.

Perhaps schools have failed our students in not preparing them for university. And perhaps we have also failed in not offering them a curriculum for life in stressing the importance for love to underlie their very existence.

Perhaps if we focused more on love, we might see changes that surpass even our own expectations: for learning, life and love itself.

What is worthwhile: A Teacher’s Perspective

Not long ago, I wrote an article called “What Students Remember Most About Teachers” to which I received a phenomenal response from my readership. I continue to hear daily from people with stories to share about the teachers who made an impact on their lives- hear from those as well who share about the teachers who have chosen worthwhile ways in which to interact and be with their students, in the day-to-day lives of their classrooms. Last week, I received this comment, a comment which stopped me abruptly in my tracks, causing me to consider to an even greater degree the message behind that article I had written. Here is the comment in its entirety:

I’m new to the world of teaching – just finished my internship in a lovely kindergarten classroom. However, at the end of my experience three months ago, one of my students unexpectedly passed away. It has had a profound effect on my view of a teacher, but it has been difficult to put into words how my priorities changed.

This letter explains it.

To me, it is of course important to cover curricular objectives and make sure students are learning and growing. That is what teaching is. However, at the end of the day, the most important thing to me is that my students enjoy themselves and know that they were cared about. Because if, god forbid, it is their last few weeks on earth, I want those weeks to hold as much joy as possible.

I know that’s not quite where you were going with this letter – but it rings true anyway. Thank you.

As I read this teaching colleague’s letter written personally to me, images immediately conjured up in my mind of the horrific days just a little over a year ago whereby I found myself to be in a very similar place as she finds herself now. Because at our school, a sweet little boy just down the hall from me, one grade level up- fell ill and later died on the heels of a busy school week. He was in school Friday, dead on Saturday. No warning. One last picture taken the day before, during Show and Tell, to hold a lifetime of memories. In fact, I sang and played the piano at his funeral. Jesus Loves Me, This I Know. How can one ever forget the image of a small casket holding one so precious, so full of potential and promise. It is a mother’s worst nightmare. And although I was not his mother- nor was I his classroom teacher, I am a mother to four other sweet children whom I held that much more tightly, that much closer because of this tragedy. And teacher to countless others I call my own. I hold these all a little closer, a little tighter, now that I know better. Now that I know more. Because one never comes through an event like that unscathed. Unbroken. It was heart-breaking- words fail to adequately sum up the emotions that were experienced at the time.  Experienced still, for many of us. It affected all of us in our school- and indeed in the surrounding communities as well. Such a profound and senseless loss.

And when one has experienced loss in such a way, I don’t think you ever look again at things in quite so casual a manner. No longer are you asking the same questions, going through the same rote motions. Habitually living your life. Rather, you ask yourself this: if this were my childrens’ or any one of my students’ last day here on earth, would it be a pleasant, happy, peaceful one for them? Would I in any way be a hindrance to them in living out their last moments here on earth with joy and hope? Would I actually be a help, offering them kindness, love, compassion and concern? Would their last day on earth be the best day imaginable, the most fulfilling one possible: and all because I stopped to consider what might be the most worthwhile way in which to spend that day with them? All because I chose to show care and concern over frustration and impatience? Important considerations for teachers to keep in mind. Because when it comes down to it, it really isn’t about the curriculum we teach: it is about the heart with which we teach that curriculum. It’s about the love we show in our words and in our actions.

It’s really about love, when all is said and done.

Donald S. Blumenfeld-Jones poses an important question in an article on curriculum as to what the right question must be for determining curricular studies. In order to get at what is important- what is CORE in terms of schooling and time spent “on task”, one must first ask “What knowledge is of most worth? Or even, “What knowledge can we not do without?” In other words, what is worth giving our time and attention to- our thoughts and intentions towards- in terms of learning.  In terms of mental, intellectual and physical growth?

William Schubert in his article “What is worthwhile: From Knowing and Needing to Being and Sharing” poses thoughts on what is worthwhile in terms of learning. In terms of needing. Experiencing. Doing and being. In terms of becoming. And he extends these thoughts to what’s worthwhile in terms of sharing. In terms of contributing. What is worthwhile in terms of wondering. In other words, what is worth spending our precious time on earth as we live life, from second to second. Minute to minute. Day to day. Year to year.

We only have this one opportunity: what is worthwhile doing and being while we’re at this job of living our lives? Or as teachers, we only ever have the day we are in RIGHT AT THAT MOMENT with our students: we are only ever guaranteed that one day in which we are living. Are we doing our utmost to make that one day the best one possible for our students? As if it could be their very last?

Today, we are on our thirteenth storm day. Meaning, there have been thirteen non-consecutive days thus far in the school year here on P.E.I. for which school has been cancelled due to this unusually brutal winter we are having in Atlantic Canada (a winter which seems to be brutal in much of the rest of North America as well, I might add). Currently, there have been five consecutive days of cancelled classes, stimulating much talk in public and private circles which concern themselves with educational matters. People concerned with outcomes and expectations. People concerned with time off task and focused in-class instruction. People concerned that students might not be absorbing information and skills within the four corners of the school walls, thus they must needs not be learning. People concerned with the matter that students need to be gaining knowledge in school rooms, not whittling their time away doing what kids like to be doing: whatever that might be. There will be calls that extra-curricular activities should be cancelled and that there must not be any wasted instructional time.

But what is really of most worth will never be discussed: that is,  that students need teachers for more than merely instruction. They need teachers because teachers care. Care about them. Care about their person. Care about who they’ve been, who they are now and who they will one day become. Care to listen and to offer advice. Care to empathize and offer compassion. Care in little and big ways. That’s because teachers are interested in students as people- not just as consumers of knowledge. Not just as sponges who must soak up information. Buckets to fill up with important knowledge and skills.  Teachers care about students because intrinsically we believe deep down that what is of worth knowing the most is this: our students.

We want to know our students.

And while we might be taken to task on matters of educational import, matters of the heart are really where it matters. And those matters are what teachers like myself will continue to spend their time on in spite of the call to “time on task”. Because what is of worth your last day of life should ever be in our minds: should be ever compelling us to stop and take heed. We have no idea how long- how much time anyone on this earth will be given. If this were the last day for anyone in my circle of influence, I should hope that the time they spent with me was worth their while.

Was worth spending it with me.

What a precious responsibility we have been given.  May we never take it lightly.

What is of most worth? Is it love or curriculum? Kindness or literacy? Compassion or numeracy? Empathy or time on task? Teaching to the test or teaching to the heart? The answer to each of these questions lies somewhere within us all. It is up to us to answer the questions wisely and carefully.

And the ways in which we answer these questions speak directly to where our heart is calling us.  That is, speak directly to whether our heart is calling us toward love or away from it.

What’s Love Got To Do With It?

What’s love got to do with it, anyway? Got to do with education? Got to do with teaching?
What’s love got to do with it?

Everything. It’s got everything to do with it.

I am delivering a dynamic lesson on adding detail to writing. It has spanned two days of teaching, and I have covered the gamut. I have used mentored text. I have used my own illustrations. I have allowed more than enough time for the students to think through, talk through and share ideas. I have all the bells and whistles- anchor charts; word walls; alphabet and number charts; soft music. Nice sharp pencils, which I just barely finished sharpening this morning. In spite of the rush. The classroom has even been designed so as to be conducive to writing. We have a writing centre and various writing stations, but there are of course other spots in the room that a writer could settle down for a productive writing session. I can’t imagine what stone I have left unturned.

“Okay, everyone!” I urge. “Let’s get writing!”

And with that send-off, I see the students scatter into all four corners of the room, ready to write. And I think to myself…”what a wonderful—”

…wait a minute.

All but one has settled down for that intended writing session. There is always one.

In a matter of minutes, I can see that the best laid plans are still only plans. For this little writer has not been inspired to write today much more than a scribble. And when I approach and ask why, I am met with a bit of defiance. A little bit of defensiveness.

And some little feet propped up on the table.

This was not what I envisioned the writing session to be.

No not at all.  Rather, I had pictures in my mind of children, heads bent low over papers, hands moving furiously. But never did I conjure up images of students sitting back, smug looks on their faces. Telling me “I’m done” after three minutes have barely passed since the send-off.
This is not what my ideal vision would be under any circumstance.

I approach the student quickly and ask how the story is unfolding, as we have spent considerable time developing the idea for this book that he is making. He points to a circle on the page. I ask what it represents. “A circle,” he says smugly.  I am not ready to admit defeat, so I probe further.

“What is it suppose to be?” I ask.

He looks at me and shrugs.

“A circle,” he repeats.

I know and he knows- that the story he had told me he would working on today was about a movie he had seen over March Break. He had left our gathering place on the blue rug with ‘next steps’ already in place. But here we are- with circles that look more like scribbles than they do circles. And these ‘circles’ are covering his page.

It’s easy to forget that teaching, like all of life, is not about us. It’s not always a rejection of what we hold near and dear to our hearts when plans fail to follow through. Sometimes, it’s just that people are different. Some of us enjoy writing. And some of us do not.

I later talk to this student’s mom about our writing session, and in the process I realize a few things.

I really like this boy. A lot. And the more I try to understand him, the more I realize I can accept him: just as he is.
• I need to work harder at helping this student see the value in writing. If what we are doing is not connecting, there needs to be another way. Another approach taken.
• This student is more than just a would-be writer. He is a comedian, a reader, a brother, a son. He is a strong personality with the ability to stand his ground. He isn’t easily persuaded. He has resolve. This child is going to be fine- so what if he decided this week to just draw circles? Next week might be a whole different ball game.

Which brings me back to my first question: what’s love got to do with it all?

There are many aspects of my job that I am required to do. I am required to deliver curriculum. I am required to teach certain skills and knowledges. I am required to prepare my students to enter the next grade- the next level. The next unit. I am required to look after my students in their parents’ absence. Overall, I am required to begin preparing them for life. Real life.

But in all the descriptors that I have been given, no one has ever required of me to love them. Interesting, really. Their parents have much the same job as mine, but love is always underlying the relationship. Why is this so? And why is it not something we think that we as educators should be compelled to feel as well?

In spite of this fact, I find that love happens anyway. We come to love our students, in spite of ourselves. In spite of the odds. They wrap themselves around our hearts and we are not easily able to let them go. We think about them after the buses pull out of the parking lot. We consider their needs as we prepare lessons for the next day. We care about their lives as we make after-hours phone calls. We enjoy when we run into them at Wal-mart on the weekend.

We end up loving them. We really do.

Because in the midst of teaching and facilitating and preparing and instructing, I find myself caring about the students I teach. In the midst of guiding and disciplining and leading my students in key areas of fundamental learning areas, I find myself empathizing with them. In offering to assist them during writing workshops, I find myself coming to understand them better. In watching them discover key math principles, I find myself delighting in their learning- appreciating the young wonder that is a five-year old mind. In listening to their stories- as told by them and by their families, by their parents: I find myself coming to love these children. As if they were my very own.

I can’t get them out of my heart. It’s about love, really.

And even though I am passionate about writing and reading and math and science- and passionate about learning in general: I am more passionate about people. And I have come to believe that my calling is relationship, not teaching. The teaching is secondary to my calling to connect and relate and commune with those little people who show up in my room every day. It’s about reaching my students through relationship so that I might later on influence them to use their learning to develop their own relationships with people they trust. So that they might come to see that getting an education is about finding ways to connect with people in the world around them. So that they can thrive and flourish in this wild and beautiful life we have been blessed to live.

It’s about using the learning of writing so that they can then encourage, persuade, inspire, motivate and compel.
It’s about using the learning of math so that they can then reason, problem solve, analyze and explain.
It’s about using science to wonder, imagine, discover, uncover, explore and investigate.
It’s about using social studies to remember, consider, understand, appreciate and recollect.
It’s about making school a place that we learn the art of relating to people so that we can use the knowledge and skills we learn there in that place we call school- so that we can then go out into the big, wide world we live in with other people, and use those skills to better the world around us.

So that we can transform the world through love.

Through LOVE.

So you see, love has everything to do with it. Without love as the basis for learning, how are students to then know that love underlies everything we do? Everything we learn? Everything in life?  Love is everything.

And love has everything to do with it. For without love, writing is just a subject. It’s just writing.  So is reading and math.  They are just a skeleton.  Love makes them whole.  Breathes life into them and makes them come alive.

We will have more writing sessions much like the one I have described above. I realize this. I am no naïve fool.
But what else I understand- what I know for sure about our future sessions is this: I teach people, not subjects.  I teach boys and girls, not writing.  I teach human beings full of potential and wonder and possibility.

So when we have those kinds of days, we’re going to get through them. Together.  And always through the power of love.