Taking care of ourselves

She playfully bats at the little ball of fluff, her baby. Tousling, grooming, cuddling, nursing. But when she sees the need, setting the little kitten free to explore without the ever-present eye of Mama to govern and oversee. Sometimes, she completely appears to abandon, lazing in the sun while her tiny kitten sits alone on the top stair of our steps, wary and uncertain. Is Mama neglectful? I think not.

When mama cat lovingly stretches out languidly on our top step with baby nearby, her tiny offspring responds to her in love. There is no doubt that there is a relationship between the two. But it is one designed to set free so that the younger can one day take care of herself. To never allow for the certainty that the baby will one day be on its own would be a tragedy. True. Everyone needs love- even barn cats. But you rarely see amongst animals any form of helicopter parenting as one often sees in human parenting. Animals seem to know instinctively the balance needed so as to nurture and prepare their offspring for life after the nursery.

Care requires that we respond within a relationship. Within relationships of care, there is always a two-way exchange happening at any given time- a process which can reverse and rearrange at seemingly a moment’s notice. And all because relationships of care are responsive. A caregiver in relationship to another acknowledges a need or a requirement, responds to that need and then allows for caring to occur. This process can be reversed almost immediately, depending on the relationship. The cared-for- in response to the care emitted, can then responsively give care to the other almost immediately.

In thinking about care so much and so often, I am realizing that there are elements of care that we have forgotten. I feel we have forgotten at times how to take care. A local radio personality whom I have listened to over the years often signs off with the phrase, ‘take care of one another today’; from the moment I first heard this phrase, it has stuck with me. How does one take care? And where does care-taking begin?

I would suggest that there are dimensions of caretaking that we must heed. That we have overlooked. The first being our need to take care of ourselves.

There is an underlying assumption that we need to take care of one another in life, but in order to do this, we first need to learn the secret of taking care of ourselves. In taking care of ourselves, we need to learn to listen to our bodies, listen to our hearts. We have all heard of the spoken rule, given by flight attendants on airlines, to put on your own mask on first prior to helping your children or other dependents. I am convinced in my own life that the growth and development of care woven throughout my life experiences has been a direct result of my learned ability to care for myself, self-care guided for me by faith through the direction of a loving Father. For years, I looked to others to care for me. Why weren’t they doing what I thought was the basic of all human responses- caring? Why were people not responding to my needs? And why wasn’t I feeling loved and looked after? Why was I feeling so bereft? These feelings of a deficit in care followed me into my marriage, leaving me looking to a husband to fulfil the role of caretaker, a tremendous responsibility considering he was not even the one who had left me feeling unloved and uncared for in the first place. That was baggage I had brought into our marriage- a composite of my difficult years of schooling, my years in the public eye as a pastor’s kid and the other personal experiences of my life that directly impacted me in very private ways. We cannot first expect others to care for us if we have not learned how to care for ourselves. And I am convinced that many, many problems in marriages could be avoided if we first were able to redirect our need for care back to ourselves- as well as if we could start to see that the ways people express care, initiate care, offer care, interpret care and understand care: are different. Different. Not bad, worse, inferior or poorer: just different. Maybe we need to start by seeing the best in what another human being is offering us, starting with our partners.

I would never, ever wish the message I am conveying to be one in which we reduce the responsibility we have toward others. My life is rich because I have learned to care for others. I believe that the transformation in my life has been one in which, with God’s guiding hand, I was able to take something that was painful and difficult and see the good in it. I think this is the reason I am now able to responsively express care to others: there has been a miracle in my life. But I would never want to overstep the responsibility I have been given to care for myself in all of this. That was a first step in this process- understanding the needs in my life and slowly taking measures to meet those needs one by one through loving myself. Through accepting myself. Unconditionally. I had to learn to love myself so as to love others. And I cannot personally underestimate my faith in Jesus and my Abbba Father in this process- as I have come to understand I have a Father who loves me intimately and expressly, I can now love myself as an expression of His love. I am free to love the others in my life as I now know how much I am loved myself.

And this is the very essence of care: freedom to love and responsively give to oneself and the others in one’s life. Freely, wholly, purely.

All because of love.

Why I care

We talk a lot about white privilege, but it is a little more discomforting to broach a discussion on white poverty. Somehow it hits closer to home.

I grew up in the heart of the Annapolis Valley, a small rural farming community known for its potatoes and apple orchards. My community was aptly named Melvern Square, as it was a squared off corridor firmly anchored by three pillars: family, community and faith. My father was one of two pastors called to minister in this area, ensuring that I lived my life firmly fixed within the public’s eye- on first name basis with most everyone I’d meet.

It was an idyllic life in ways. We were poor but we got by. I remember trips to the country store- a one room building with wide wooden clapboards filling in the floor space, glass candy jars containing five cent goodies lining the back wall. When the front door was cracked even so much as an inch, an old-fashioned bell signalled both your appearance and your exit, ensuring you would never peruse the ice cream freezer or chip rack anonymously. Our house was sandwiched between the community center on the right and my father’s little brown country church on the left. Behind our property was the community pond for skating on in the winter and avoiding in the summer- as we all speculated that alligators or other forms of creepy-crawlies might live in there. Across the street was the consolidated school housing grades 1-6- a school which I never had the privilege of attending.

The school I attended was a private institution located in a neighboring community. When I entered the educational milieu, I quickly realized that my life was not what it had seemed to be. I became the “other”- teased for my different religious affiliation, tortured for my family connection, belittled for my appearance. Separated for my difference. I was disconnected in many ways. And I soon came to understand the term “white trash” and its unflattering connotations, as that is what I began to feel I was while in this school. Trash. Unloved and undesirable.

My schooling experience was thus one in which oppression was very visible. This same private school I attended later came to be exposed regarding “issues” of a very serious, abusive nature. These privately held secrets of the upper echelon came to be outed in a very visible way via news media when I was in high school. When I now see images of residential schools, it brings to mind sordid mental pictures of what that time of life was like for both me and my classmates. That experience has forever changed the way I look at education.

So then. As long as I have been a student, I have been interested in ethics of care in classrooms. As I did not have the privilege of being exposed to ethics of care in most of my formative years of schooling, I now spend my life advocating for these pedagogies of love and care along with the foundational rights that I believe all people- young and old- are worthy of receiving and deserve to experience as a basic human right. By virtue of their humanity.

One of the specific memories I have as a student took place when I was in Grade 7, attending this same school mentioned above. A young man in Grade 10, who had been having a particularly difficult time in his life, went around one day after school saying good-bye to everyone he could see in the hallway. It struck me as strange that he would seek me out, as I was quite a bit younger than him and outside his social circle. That night, as I would come to discover, he drove his car into a wooded area and shot himself in the head. This was my first exposure to suicide.

Rather than taking time to counsel us in our grief and confusion, the teachers at this school used this opportunity to tell us how this boy, and thus his classmates, had been and were heading down the wrong path and needed to get things straightened out. It was one of the most poignant memories of my schooling. I can still hear the judgemental voice of the female teacher who told me and my classmates that Donnie* had obviously been in the wrong, and I will never forget that mental picture of him the day before he died, his face resolute: epitomized by soft spoken words and a calm demeanor. Although there are many layers to this story that I could pursue at length, my experiences as a student living through a deficit of care in my schooling, along with the many, many others of my classmates who echo this sentiment, has convinced me that care is the absolute number one priority of educators in the classroom. We are educating students for academic learning, yes. But I trust we are first and foremost developing caring, compassionate human beings in the form of both students and teachers who will live empathically in an interconnected, interdependent world. As an educator, this is fundamental to my practice.

I believe that when people learn to care, their learning is enhanced and their growth is furthered. Students and teachers are all the better for the care that they have cultivated, and I am not alone in holding this belief. Miller (2010) cites Nel Noddings’ work as being premiere in the encouragement of educators in fostering this care ethic. She suggests that educators pursue caring as one of their main goals in schooling and education, teaching students to learn to care for themselves, others and the environment as well as to care for ideas and learning (Miller, 2010, p. 63). Noddings has laid out a very systematic, comprehensive approach to caring that entails teachers be clear and unapologetic in their goal: “the main aim of education should be to produce competent, caring, loving and lovable people” (Noddings in Miller, 2010, p.64). I can attest to the fact that many, many others hold this belief as I have heard from people writing in response to my blog on what students remember most about teachers. They almost unanimously stated the same: students remember that their teachers care.

We are a culmination of our past and present experiences- and the breadth and depth of these same experiences will hopefully lead to a brighter, more positive future as we learn and grow.  When we know better, we do better.  I trust that this statement will always be true of my life and that my legacy will be one of care and love.

Rage against the dying of the light

We tread side-by-side at dusk, rain still shimmering on summer leaves while sun fades fast behind heavy clouds. He divulges to me the secrets we both keep hidden away through daylight hours from Little Ears, sacred documents of the heart that must be locked away. As I walk the inside track, closest to the gully that leads down to the prolific birch trees spreading helter-skelter towards the field, he tells me this. Doctors have given very little hope, very little promise.

“What about that treatment?” I ask.

“It won’t prolong life,” the resigned response. And then he says to me, “I keep thinking of that Dylan Thomas poem:

Do not go gentle into that good night, Old age should burn and rage at close of day; Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”

“I am resigned to the fact that the doctors know best,” he then offers uncertainly.

I cannot think of anything profound to say to that. But I think to myself: I would rage.

I would rage.

If radical pedagogy must insist that everyone’s presence is acknowledged (hooks, 1994, p. 8), then radical care vows no sacred Presence goes uncared for. Radical care upholds the individual’s right to love, compassion, empathy, concern and kindness. And when the need necessitates, the individual’s right to be cared for in radical ways.

I think of my little Sianna* of the just-finished kindergarten class from this past year. I think of the fears expressed to me by her parents and my inner vow to fight for this child. To be that advocate for her parents that they seemed to need. I remember the ways I fought for her right to be medically cared for- how I contacted the public health nurse numerous times to arrange for the appointments with an Audiologist. How I advocated for her parents’ right to a second chance at such an opportunity.

I think too of the assisted speech technology that I raced against time for- buying an i-pad for Jake* at a moment’s notice- literally. Then the race against the clock to meet a deadline with a man. A man who held the keys to open a door leading to a world of words for that same little boy, who had so few words at his disposal. I think of the sweat that broke as I ran, as I ran- just so as to obtain a program I could otherwise not afford installed on that same i-pad I had just bought: so that a little boy could somehow communicate with me. So that he could somehow find his voice therein. And I think of the tears that fell freely as I got there just in time. The sheer relief in knowing, this was really going to happen.

Radical care allows for the impossible to occur. But the challenge is first to initiate the care process, giving attention and acknowledgement to the presence of another human being. Through awareness of the people with whom we share our communities, be those groupings of a familial nature, a learning community or a neighborhood- we start by acknowledgement. And we move forward from there.

Husband and I head back, on the homestretch now. The sky is darkening and night time presses in, enveloping. But I do not go gentle into the thickening darkness.

I press on as one who sees the light.

******************************************************

Dylan Thomas’s Do not go gentle into that good night

 

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Taken from this URL: http://www.poets.org/poetsorg/poem/do-not-go-gentle-good-night

Let me be one who cares

It’s Friday. I am so weary. SO tired. Actually, my brain is fried. I feel like the cerebral part of my Members has turned to mush. But then again—it’s Friday. So there’s a light at the end of the tunnel.

Thank you, Jesus, for that. Gotta love the creation of the five-day work week.

I am in class all morning with my cohort- a mix of teachers from all over the country. We break for lunch on the last day of class ready for a diversion. I decide mine is going to be a short trip taken to a local restaurant with a couple of friends whom I have not had as much time for (as I would really have liked) over the past couple of months due to the crazy busy schedule I keep. Crazy schedules we all keep, for that matter. Time I have not had for the Others in my life due in part to the lack of number of hours in the day to ‘get it all done’. Something I am constantly dealing with in my desire to find work/life balance. At any rate, I am delighted to have the time to eat lunch with these lovely ladies and am so looking forward to catching up on missed time. To having actual real-life CONVERSATION.

Oh, the luxury.

We cram into an over-heated car and wait for the air-conditioning to kick in. And then we pull into the Wendy’s parking lot and make our way towards the lunch counter. We order lunch. I order a Summer-Fresh Strawberry Salad, a grilled chicken wrap and a strawberry milkshake. They have no milkshakes, so they replace the latter with a very miniscule chocolate milk. Not that it really matters. Later on- in the course of my eating, I discover something hard in my salad, of all things- like the bits of teeth that I have become accustomed to finding inside my mouth when breaking such while eating. This is a side note, but important to show that I am always under some stress while eating. And that fast food does not always mean good food. Funny about that.

But I digress.

We hoe into our lunches and start to converse right away about this, that and the other when the conversation takes on a more reflective nature. The question is posed: “How do people perceive me?” by one of my lunchmates. And so, thinking this might be a good thing to know about myself, I ask the same. “How do I come across to the people I interact with?” “What do people really think of me?”

I am really curious after all. How DO people perceive me? An honest question, to which I thought I was ready to hear an honest answer.

I have been writing this blog for a while now with the understanding that I am pursing a path that will lead to a more empathic, caring, loving Self- as a teacher, a mother and as a friend among the other hats I wear.   I am also pursuing this path as the direct result of my choosing to do so. In other words, in choosing this path of ethics of care and pedagogies of love- in choosing love as the focus of my life and writing- I then would hope that I exemplify it more and more in my day-to day life.

Interesting theory which I am working out in practical ways.

So I have to say, I was expecting a response something like the following: “Oh Lori, you are so caring and kind and sweet and empathic…” All the things I write about, in other words. I was waiting for my ego to be fed a little bit.

What was actually said surprised me. I don’t know why it did, but possibly because I was so prepared for the former to be spoken that I hadn’t quite readied myself for what was actually to be divulged.

So, with this in mind, I sat posed to hear some really sweet things spoken.

Never have expectations when asking deeply personal reflective responses to questions you have posed. WORD TO THE WISE. At any rate, what was told to me- about how I was perceived and how I come across was this: I often make people feel uncomfortable due to my verbosity or ‘wordiness’- but even more so than that, I am intimidating at times to people, possibly due to my own reflective nature and the questions I pose to myself and others.

But here’s the sting.

It came out in conversation that I am not always caring in my interactions toward others.

Ouch. That did really hurt and I could feel tears immediately welling up in my eyes. Because despite my lack, at times, of being aware of my nature, I am very sensitive and tender. I can cry when the bee stings, the dog bites. And believe me- I can cry for much less than that.

But let me explain.

This week, I have had almost a tunnel vision at times in my focus on the academics and work at hand. So much so that there were times someone would pose a question to me- to which I completely tuned out that question or ignored such in my focus and intent on getting things done. In other words, I was not aware of how I was making people feel all the time. And I was making people feel like I didn’t care merely by my intent on barrelling through and getting the work done.

Hearing this feedback, I won’t lie- hurt me. I felt, as I have already suggested- stung. It is not easy hearing that you’ve been uncaring in your dealings with others- that you’ve been so focused on your own work that you’ve failed to take into account other’s work and questions. Other’s feelings and concerns. But hearing this feedback was also extremely beneficial. I needed to hear this. Because I am now more aware of myself as a friend and a colleague than I otherwise would have been had the question not been posed and answered.

I know more because I asked. Even if it hurt a bit in the hearing.

In doing a thesis on caring and love, I think the most revealing findings I will uncover are that we are not always what we perceive ourselves to be. The challenge is to improve and then rise above our failings and overcome. I would never assume that I have an interest in love and caring because I am an expert in such- I would want people to know that I have an interest in love and caring and all that encompasses because I want to BECOME this. And that act of becoming is a process. One can become something because they have a natural inclination toward being thus or one can become something because they have deliberately, intentionally chosen to be that. I am daily- moment by moment- choosing intentionally to BE what it is I write: a more caring, more understanding, more empathic, more loving person than I was yesterday. Each and every day I live my life as a human being.

It is the act of choosing to be caring that I would hope defines me.

After the conversation, I reflected on what had been said quite a bit and in doing so, I realized a few things about myself:

I am not doomed to be the focused, intense person I was born being- I can evolve into what I want to be by my awareness and consciousness to CHOOSE to be otherwise. I am also not left to feel inadequate by my obvious deficiencies in this aspect of my life because I see my life as a journey. I am moving forward. I would hope that I am more aware today than I was yesterday. And further, I see that my caring has come out even in my questioning: because I truly cared enough to ask the question: How DO people perceive me?

I hope they still might perceive me as one who wants to care. Who cares to care.

As one who cares.

On Boredom and Wonder

It’s a day to be filled with wonder and gratitude.

The water is absolutely crystal clear- so clear I can see the lines along the sandy floor of the ocean bed where little hermit crabs have dragged their hard-shelled home along for the ride. It is one of those blissful summer days and we are spending it, more or less, here at a little piece of P.E.I. paradise called Canoe Cove. My daughter remarks, “I don’t know why they call it Canoe Cove- nobody canoes there.” No, but they do search for bar clams, and skim board, and throw Frisbees and build sand castles and make fairy forts and carve out time for seal sightings. Oh, and swim. The swimming here is glorious. If you catch it at low or high tide- any time at all really, it is worth a swim. The pools of water just perfect for families with young children. Later in the summer, we’ll be back to swim again in warm August waters and then we’ll climb out dripping wet, ready for a rest on shore before combing through low-lying blueberry bushes just for a taste of that juicy summer sweetness on our eager tongues.

One summer, the daisies grew so plentifully, I plaited them into winding crowns and placed them on my daughter’s heads before posing them (safely) along the edge of a cliff so as to take their picture.  They obliged- as long as I promised to have a swim with them as soon as our photo-shoot had ended. We have had family reunions here in this place: birthday parties and rehearsal suppers the night before the wedding day. This place is home to me and my family.

It is a little bit of God’s glorious heaven here on earth.

Later on, we change out of sandy bathing suits and pack up our faded sheet and books and all the other beach trappings we’ve brought with us to whittle away the day. We pack it all in, and then we bid a wistful fond adieu to those we’ve left behind. Two grandparents, an aunt and a family friend. Beaches are the best places to re-connect. And then we drive the winding dirt lane, past the country church with noble steeple reaching high to the sky, so as to cross the bridge over waters lined with bulrushes. We then turn down towards farm country.

As we drive past the first field green with summer grasses, I notice a whole herd of Brown Swiss and Angus moving quickly towards the corner of one fence. It is the fence closest to the road, thus why I noticed this strange convoy. I can’t imagine what the commotion is all about as this is not milking nor feeding time, nor is this the well-worn path to the barn. What I do catch lying there on the ground, something I just happen to notice out of the corner of my eye as we drive quickly by, is a bright, red balloon sitting motionless on the grass at that particular corner of the fence- wayward remnant from a birthday party next door. The cows move toward it in frenzied furore. Their sole focus- the object of their intent driving this processional is the perplexing thing which has landed just inside the perimeter of their territory, an area they know is clearly marked for them. They stand back a distance, but every one of their soft muzzles points expectantly toward that bright colored, mysterious object.

They appear transfixed. With wonder, and awe and curiosity.

If animals can exhibit this beautiful combination of attributes and character, how much more then should we too be in wondrous awe at the beauty and miracle of the life we are living. And yet, twice this past week, I have heard school-aged children speak the ill-fated words: “I’m bored.” I wonder myself, what dis-service are we doing to our children that this little word has even become part of their vocabulary?

There is so much to wonder in, gaze at, fix our attention upon.

Life is too interesting to be boring.

William Ayers had this to say about teaching:

“Teaching is hard work, tougher than learning, because you must find an infinite number of ways to let students learn. And teaching is all that much tougher when you retreat from the spotlight, redirect the focus of attention to the students themselves, now at center stage. You place yourself to the side and become something new: the guide and the mentor, the coach and the conductor. You notice modes of energy everywhere, life and effort in a thousand directions. You need to summon new courage to teach in this place, a keener attentiveness, a more responsive style. One new challenge will be to create an environment for learning and living that is rich enough, deep enough, and wide enough to embrace and challenge the students who actually walk through the door (Ayers, 2003, p. 27-28)

The challenge: to summon the courage to teach in this way and to be ready to rise to the occasion for learning that is deep and soul-changing.

Recently, I took my students on a listening walk. Run down emotionally from constantly asking them all to settle their inside voices and classroom energies to a dull roar, it was a move done initially in desperation.  Rather than sound like a broken record, we took that excitement and passion and channelled it into an exercise in concentration. We walked as a community of learners on a dusty dirt road with the sole purpose of noticing things- both with our eyes and ears. With our hands and feet. We saw so much that we came back and wrote about it as a class, compiling our findings in a classroom book about bugs, and birds and flowers. About a farmer driving his tractor as he ploughed a field in preparation for planting. About cars whizzing by. Things we’d otherwise have missed had we not taken the time to be present in those precious moments of learning and discovery.

I never heard the words, “I’m bored.”

On Being a Learner

Teacher. One who influences another in their growth and development as a multi-faceted person. That we can be influential in this endeavor is an amazing bonus. Those teachers with influence are said to be difference makers. And it doesn’t take a B.Ed to be one either.

I have been thinking about that word ‘teacher’ for a while now, wondering what a teacher really is. Who a teacher is. What they do. And how one goes about becoming one. How one becomes influential as one. How a teacher can really make a difference. And in thinking about such, I think I might have found a few answers to my many questions today. And by that I mean, I was taught a few things by a few students of mine today. They- that is MY STUDENTS: they are, and continue to be, some of my greatest teachers.

Here’s why.

It is our very last day of regular classes, and I am reviewing. I am trying to use the last moments of kindergarten to the maximum of my ability. We do our morning routine, three poems and two books. This, all accomplished before first snack of the day. And then, after recess I start in on the math lesson.

It’s going along terrifically.

When from out of nowhere, I hear the fateful words: “I’m bored.” As in, this math lesson you are teaching me, Mrs.G., it is boooooring. I am a little thrown off by this. This word: boring. I really haven’t heard this word a whole lot this year as we keep a pretty frantic pace here in KA all the live long day. There really is no time to be bored in kindergarten, tbh. In fact, I rarely hear those words. But today, they ring loud and clear.

Booooring.

“This is boring,” he says again, shrugging his shoulders meaningfully in my direction. I explain calmly that we are playing games- that this should be FUN. F.U.N. To no avail. He is not convinced, and he shows me with every fibre of his being. This is NOT fun.

So there.

Meanwhile, I focus my attention on another student who is struggling with these fun games I have planned. I patiently explain to her what I am looking for, but after several failed attempts at making myself clear- along with a bored student or two waiting in the wings and the one I am working with nearly in tears: I can feel frustration also rising in me. This isn’t working out as I planned it. As I thought it would.

This lesson isn’t flying. (The fun and games are now over…)

Sometimes, it is in humility that we learn our greatest lessons. It is when we are humbled to the point of being brought down low – taken down to a place where our ego can’t get the credit any longer. It is then that we find what we’ve been looking for. When we find answers to our bigger questions.

But sometimes it takes time to become aware of this important realization. It takes going through the waters to find dry land.

I wish I could say that I stopped the lesson immediately and switched gears- I didn’t. I kept plodding on. And I did so until something broke. And it was that moment of brokenness that made me realize- I am not here to fix problems, to make everything perfect. I am not here to help children reach perfection, to push them farther than they are ready to go: I am here to support them in their journey and walk beside them as they travel. I am here to learn from them- learn what it is to be a beginning learner. What that feels like to be a five-year old learner- what it feels like to be tired, frustrated, hungry and sad. What it feels like to be bored. And then, I am here to figure out how those emotions affect the person each of my students bring with them to class each and every day. So that they can learn better.

And so that I can learn better too.

That is, so that I can learn to be a better listener, a better empathizer, a better caregiver. So that I can learn when to nudge and when to pull back. So that I can learn when I need to support and when I need to release. So that I can learn how to accept and let go the things I cannot change. But also learn how to graciously and lovingly embrace the things I can.

This afternoon, I made a purposeful, intentional and deliberate decision: to be mindful of my students. To attend to them as they talked and played. To allow them to be themselves. And I found that in focusing my energy on my own learning, I was a happier teacher in that time frame then when I was trying so hard to accomplish my goals and outcomes. I was more at peace.

This isn’t to say that we can’t be focused and organized, doing what it is that needs to be done- but it is a cautionary warning. We must not let our individual agendas stand in the way of our all important learning. Learning which often happens when we are least expecting it to occur.

At least, that’s the way it has been for me today. Unexpected nuggets of wisdom from the little blessings in my life.

And I am still learning.

The Different Faces of Love

Should a teacher be like a parent in her role concerning her students? Some might say “yes”. In both parental and educational positions, we are called to care, compassion and empathy in our interactions toward the children with whom we are connected. We are both called to help children grow and develop. We are called to nurture and protect. To teach and discipline. I would even go so far as to say that teachers, like parents, come to love their students. But are teachers called to “parent” their students?

I know I would have answered that question in the affirmative until I did more thinking on it recently. That is, I would certainly agree that in as much as is possible, teachers should try to fill that parental role for students while they are in their care during the day. And truly, I have very much felt like a parent at times to the precious seven that I spend the majority of my day with- so much so that they often call me Mom. I gently correct them when this happens, but it doesn’t seem to matter. It’s June and I am still getting, “Mom.., I mean Mrs. Gard…”

But more and more, I am beginning to think that my role as teacher needs to have some boundaries. Not because I don’t love my students. Not because I don’t care. But because I do. And because their parents love them more. So,I need to protect the boundaries around private and public life for both my students and myself. In contemplating this question, I came up with a few reasons why I feel teachers and parents have distinctly different roles.

Parents are largely in charge of the personal stuff. That is, they are the ones grooming, clothing and feeding their youngsters. They are the ones that make the final decisions about what happens before students come to school- and they are the ones who follow through on what happens after school- where kids go, what they do, how they do it. Parents are in charge of what extra-curricular activities their children are involved in and how much homework gets done. They are responsible for bedtimes and hygiene. They are the ones who deal with fears and anxieties that arise when the quiet of evening settles in. When the night-time dark wakes them from their sleep. Parents are the ones who greet them in the morning. And they are the ones who have the knowledge of what truly makes their child tick. Parents are the experts in this area.

Teachers, on the other hand, are the ones who are primarily involved in the public life of the child. They are the ones teaching key literacy and numeracy components. They are concerned with social, physical and emotional development. Teachers are interested with cognition and fine and gross motor skills. We are the ones who educate for a deeper appreciation of music and the arts. The ones educating children for social justice and critical awareness. And yes, while we also are always on the lookout for ways to teach life to our students, we would never want to unjustly steal the gift of this opportunity away from parents. This is your birthright as long as you protect it. You are your child’s first and most important teacher.

Because the lines are drawn largely around the realms of private and public spheres, teachers’ and parents’ roles are different. This might seem like common sense, but often it becomes confusing to teachers who come to love the children in similar ways to that of the parents, as well as confusing for students. We develop very close relationships with our ‘kids’. And we care deeply for them. Teachers love their students. But we can never duplicate that love that comes from a father or mother. That love is special, it is unique. It is distinctly different from a teacher love. And although love cannot easily be quantified or defined, it is important to realize that there are different kinds of love for different situations. Love is ‘big enough’ to ‘be enough’ for the person bent on giving it away- no matter what kind of love that gift might be wrapped up as.

No matter how it is packaged. How it is offered.

That gift of love can be that which is the unconditional support and care of a father. The selfless love of a teacher. The protective adoration of a mother. The committed affection of an educational assistant. Love is expansive enough to take on many faces. Big enough to fill up many spaces. Love is broad enough and wide enough to fill up a child’s heart with however much love is given.

There is always room, always space for more.

And although we might do up love packages in different ways, depending on who we are and the relationship we have with the child: parents, your children know one thing for sure. When they come to school, they know they should be loved. They know they should be cared for in as compassionate a manner as is possible- as compassionate a manner as we who are teachers are capable of offering. And while students might not see their teacher as a day-time substitution for Mom or Dad, that’s okay. As long as kids know that they are safe, cared for and being challenged in both little and big ways, that’s love enough to carry them.

It’s love enough for every child.

On Practical Jokes and Spilt Milk

I was inside my classroom during afternoon centers recently when I heard a quiet knock on my door. I opened the door, looked around, and then seeing no one, turned and shut the door. This happened twice. The second time, I looked out and asked a class at the fountain if there had been anyone in that classroom knocking at my door. The teacher standing with her class assured me there had not been anyone in her class, but she knowingly looked at me and then another little guy from a different class standing at the back of the line-up, his face giving him away with the slightest formation of a guilty grin. I smiled, turned around and went back into my classroom, confident that the person who had knocked on my door would go on his merry way, feeling no further need to exercise his impulsive desires on my classroom door.

At the end of the day, the teacher who had observed this little exchange came up to me wearing a sheepish expression. “I hope you know that it was not one of my students who knocked on your door,” she said looking half apologetic. Surprised, I assured her I was most definitely not bothered by a little knock on the door- that it would take more than that to upset my emotions. But she still continued to assure me that she would be extra vigilant in making sure that none of her students would ever bother my teaching in such a way, all the while making sure I understood it wasn’t her student who had pulled the practical joke.

While I appreciated the sentiments and also realize that there are times when practical jokes such as this one can be disruptive to the flow of a lesson or instruction format, the two little knocks on my door were minor disruptions at the most. The entire exchange took about three minutes. Tops. If this student’s impulsive knocking at my door became enough to push my buttons enough to upset me, and seemingly cause anxiety for both myself and others around me, then the question begs to be asked: is it time to maybe chillax a bit and stop sweating the smallest of issues? Because truly there are worse things in the world to get upset over than a minor inconvenience in one’s day such as a couple knocks at the door while one makes their way to the fountain might be.

I wonder how much energy we could save ourselves if we only chose to resist getting upset about minor issues. Things that don’t really matter all that much. Like knocks on doors, small frustrations, little bumps in the road. Spilt milk. What might happen if we were to just let those things go- and not let them bother us quite so much?


Today, I was just about to plow into a beautiful plate of breakfast, compliments of our amazing breakfast program at Bloomfield, when a student in my room upset the contents of her chocolate milk, leaving it to spread out in a circle formation all over her desk and then subsequently drip onto the floor. My immediate reaction was to feel annoyed. It was an inconvenience. I was also in the midst of another interaction with a teacher at the time, so there were actually three things underway at once. My immediate reaction was also to internally blow steam through my ears. It’s frustrating when things like this happen. Instead, I began to calmly wipe up the milk, while finishing the exchange going on with my colleague after which, I then ate my coldish eggs and pancakes.

Was it inconvenient? Yes. Did I have to put myself on hold? Yes. Was my first reaction patient, calm repose? No. But that’s okay. I am working on it- and the first step is to understand the issue. And that issue is the need to step back, relax and breath. Let the negative emotions flow away and realize that this too will pass.

And it did. The feelings of frustration passed. They always do. And I am finding that the more I practice this fine art of letting go, the better I am at it. At least for today, anyway. But that’s all I am truly accountable for.

Right now.

Interrupting the Flow

I teach kindergarten. Which is to say I teach precious, innocent, lively four and five year olds. And you would not believe how much these children at this tender age KNEW about the horrific tragedy of the past few days in Moncton, N.B. They knew so much: the killer’s name, how many R.C.M.P. officers died, how many were wounded, where the killer had been, what he said when he’d been caught.

They also had a few facts that sounded a little strange as well; since our power was off at home this morning (and never came on prior to school), I was unable to verify whether these “other” stories were fact or fiction. But overall, I was actually blown away with what they knew. And with this new knowledge they’d acquired, there was definitely a feeling of heightened tension in the air: tension visible in spite of the fact that things are now considered safe for us all in light of the capture of the killer. Safe for us now in spite of our physical and emotional distant proximity from the actual scene of the horror.

Since the chatter started as soon as they came in the classroom, I began asking the children to save their questions until we could all be together on our communal gathering spot, our worn, blue rug. The less informal chitchat, the better in these situations. When we did finally broach the topic, there were equal expressions of relief and sadness for the fallout. These expressions came out when we talked about how we were feeling, something we always do at the start of a brand new school day, today’s routine being no different than any other morning. And as we talked, several children expressed deep grief for the fallen heroes, the three men who died in action two evenings ago.

I was so touched by their sensitivity.

And as I watched the concern wash across their faces, I was reminded yet again how important it is to create positive connections with those in authority beginning even at this very young age.  Especially at this critical point in their lives- the beginning of their formal education. The opinions we form of those in uniform who work for our benefit begin when we are young matter.  And they can be far-reaching. These days are both impressionable and significant. And as such, I use every opportunity I can find to make local police officers and firefighters visible to my young students. Thankfully, this has been made easier with the fact that for the last number of years, students in my class have had a parent who is a Member. Or at the very least, a close connection to one. The visibility of those in uniform to my students has been pivotal in making permanent positive associations with police officers and the like.

Like many young children their age, my students think R.C.M.P. are like superheroes.  Capable of preforming amazing feats that defy ordinary human capabilities.  I guess you could say they are not too far off the mark with that one.  The R.C.M.P. officers I know are pretty amazing people.  And the events of the past few days only confirm this fact for me.

But in spite of my students awe and wonder, it’s still hard to know what to say to young children when scary things happen so close to home. My students had family members and friends in the cordoned off area where the search had been conducted. I wanted to say something to counter the fear and paranoia. So that the lasting impression wasn’t “what if this ever happened again” but rather “how then, shall we now live?”.

In the split second in which I was trying to form my words, thinking on the spot with wondering little faces turned towards me , I remembered a blog article I had read recently by Glennon Melton at Momastery in which she talked about how we can counter the negativity and evil we come in contact with in our daily lives. This is what she said:

I’ve learned that we cannot change the fact that fear will be released into the world again and again- but we DO have the power to convert that fear into love. As it flows into us, we must CHANGE it before we allow it to flow back out to others. We must interrupt the flow. We have that power. And that’s my favorite kind of conversion – Fear to Love.

Isn’t that powerful?

We can reverse the flow.

And it can begin right now, even in the shadow of the past nights horrors. Even in the light of the coming sadness for families who will grieve their losses. Even in spite of the fact that innocence has been lost. In spite of great tragedy. We can reverse the flow.

So here’s what I said. I told the children we were no longer going to focus on the details of the event that would weigh us down. We were going to turn our sadness into appreciation. Into gratitude. We were going to reverse the flow of fear into an outpouring of love. And we would do this by first making sure that if we saw a police officer or R.C.M.P. member this weekend out and about, we would take the time to thank them. And tell them how much we appreciate their service.

Just a very simple, basic way to start the process of interrupting and reversing the flow.

Everywhere- from one tip of Canada to the other, I am hearing stories of people interrupting the flow. People who are reaching out to officers and thanking them in restaurants and other public places. People leaving flowers and chocolates and baked goods at police stations the Maritimes over. People covering social media and news print with thank-you ads and words of appreciation. One little guy somewhere apparently even drew a picture for an officer and handed it to him, bringing a wave of emotion to that officer who then shared it with staff members back at the station.

All this done in a concerted effort to interrupt the flow and set it on a new directional course, thus bringing good from evil. Making joy out of great sorrow. Incredible stuff.  So profound, yet so very simple and natural when it comes to actually doing it.

Although interruptions don’t always return us to where we began, they do ensure that someone SOMEWHERE will be changed because of them. Kindness has that power to influence perspectives. And if even one of the young children I learn alongside is positively affected towards greater appreciation and a lifetime of respect towards our men and women in uniform, then that one life was worth the work of initiating the INTERRUPTION process.

That one life, that one little soul: they were worth the time and effort it took to positively influence them. It’s the power of one. It starts small, but the ripple effect is tremendous and far-reaching.

May we never forget that we have the ability to interrupt the flow.

To The Teacher Who Is Considering Leaving…

Dear Teacher Who Wants to Quit:

I am sorry.

Sorry too that I must start first with regret. What a poor way to begin. But then. You are leaving teaching. And a void has already been left in the wake of this momentous decision. I feel that void. And sorrow too; for when decisions like this are to be made, it is grievous. It is hard. And it brings with the complication of the matter a complexity. Complemented by muddled thoughts and sincerest compassions.

I wish this were not so. But you must do this for you. I understand that. I respect that. I get it.

It’s still hard. For everyone. I hope you get that too.

You and I have never met. Our paths have never crossed. And oh!, but I desire they would. Would that they could. I felt the weight of the words I read tonight. Your words. You are done teaching now, after twenty-one years. Done. You say it’s over, even though doors have still been left ajar. Open in the event you change your mind. You won’t, you say. And so this decision (you so plainly express), it is thus a painful one. A pulling away, a separation. The full effect of which you have not yet felt, its raw intensity the afterglow.

You are leaving teaching.

Permit me to say this: what loss we as educators feel tonight. What collective pain we bear. You are a needless casualty. Sidelined. Left injured on the battle grounds. What other words to use but wounded, for we as teachers fight wars we’ve never bargained for.

Those left standing, one of which am I- we feel weak. Feel lacking without you. We do not know each other, you and I, but we joined forces when we stood united in our common desire to educate. Fellow comrades from different points across the globe. Teachers: called to inspire and educate and lift our students. We are fellow cohorts even though our life path lead us down different winding roads.

We have not met. But my heart aches. For your presence will be missed. You leave a void. Your spirit, soul and heart will forever carry forth your call.

You are leaving teaching.

As are so many, many others.

There are battles raging even now that we as teachers seemingly cannot fight. There are forces by which we feel overpowered. All around us, the pressure is to standardize, regulate, assess, quantify, qualify.   It seems teaching is currently more about data than it is about children. It is seemingly more about numbers than hearts. More about facts than about minds. More about records and statistics than about the big and little bodies which come to school as their very best selves, ready to face the giants day in and day out. Ready to climb mountains.

The children we teach are people. Not numbers to crunch. Figures to analyze. Data.

They are souls.

But so are we, dear friend. So are we.

So you are leaving teaching.

Could I ask you to humor one last request? Think back to the first day you knew- knew that you would one day be a teacher. Think back to that one, isolated moment. And ask yourself to stay in that moment. Rest there. Remember. Can you recall that reason you chose to teach? It’s meaning for you personally? That call to teach- it still matters. It does.

The why for what brought you here is still alive, buried though it might be.

Could you ever find it in you to reclaim it? Can you stir to life the embers of a dying dream?

You said you thought you’d be a teacher until you die. I wager a bet. You will be.

A teacher is less a profession and more a mindset. More an outlook than a physical position. Teachers teach because they are hope spreaders, love sharers, compassion spreaders, grace bringers. Teachers teach because they believe. Because they believe that there is something good in this world to know and be. Something good in this world to remember. And something good in this world to aspire to, to reach for. To hope for. Teachers must then teach for freedom and justice. For awareness and love. William Ayers has said it better than I in his writing on headaches in teaching:

The teacher in this way of thinking is one who challenges the taken-for-granted, problematizes solutions, and questions received reality. The teacher, like the writer, can be a philosopher, a scientist, an artist, a citizen, and even an activist, but only if he or she stays alive to the possibilities and attuned to what has yet to be achieved in terms of freedom, justice, understanding, and beauty.

My friend, do not forget that you are still a teacher. And wherever life leads you, whether away from the chaos of our schools or back into the fray, never stop believing in the hope of possibility.

You are a teacher. And you always will be.

Where there is life, there is potential. Wherever desire and stubborn resolve are found, there is a hope of achieving possibility.

Yes, you are leaving teaching. But dear friend, teaching will never quite be done for you. You will always be a teacher, it’s written on your heart. So go forward, do what your heart is calling you to do. Heal. Mend. Grow. Love.

And always keep alive the possibility that there is room for you here. There is a place for you. If you should ever feel the call within you rise up once more.

Sincerely,

The Teacher Who Has Been There Too