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.

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.

Mothers Also Need to Be Inspirational

We all know that motherhood is a balancing act. A fine art of juggling many breakable plates whilst appearing like everything is under control. As was the case recently when I was on my way to Charlottetown, P.E.I. for a radio interview related to my day job.

I am driving when I remember that my kiddos are heading on a field trip this particular morning and I haven’t paid for the park pass they need to get into the attraction of the day. I haven’t got the pass, paid for the pass- haven’t even made an attempt to call about the pass. It’s not that I haven’t thought about it. The pass, that is. It’s just that I have been thinking about too many other things. Things like, whether or not I can get myself to an interview and my three children to school on time (probably nope). Or even more pressing things like ‘Did I remember to take my lunch/carafe of coffee/grocery bag of stuff with me when I left the house mere minutes ago?’ (nope again) Which is the problem (of my life/reality within which I live) most of my waking moments.

Thoughts of ‘passing out‘ with all this last minute pressure on me to perform ‘pass‘ through my mind.

With that in mind, the count down is on. T minus 30 minutes and counting. I tell my childrens’ teachers when I drop them off that I will text them the pass number, which I proceed to do later on that same morning with one hand as I pay for the pass using a debit card with the other. This Mama might be absent-minded, but she can multi-task like nobody’s business. I turn and make a lame excuse to the cashier and then the person behind me- something about being a mother with lots to do. I get a few nods of sympathy from the curious onlookers witness to my desperation. Or maybe they are just glad that they were more organized than me. Smiles of pity- the worst kind to receive.

I do eventually get the pass. But as I am driving, I remember that our three cats at home have no cat food (because we also have a family of racoons living in the barn which eat us out of house and home). So I slip in to pick that item up en route. And while there in the grocery store, I also realize that my three children are going on said class outing without ready access to a water fountain. As I have a sinking feeling that Husband forgot to pack water bottles, today it is going to be blue Gatorade juice bottles to the rescue. All the better in the unfortunate event that my children happen to approach dehydration from the scorching hot sun. In which case, I will be the mother who is ahead of the game. Ready and prepared. Never mind the fact that Kiddos will probably all come home with only a cap full of the stuff drank and I will therefore have to pour the whole thing down the drain. It’s worth it.

And so it goes. Just another day in a mother’s life.

If I was to sit down and contemplate my life right now with all of its busy moments and crazy ups and downs, there is no doubt in my mind that this parenting gig is one of the hardest jobs I’ll ever have to do. It’s grueling being a mother. No words can adequately describe the simply hard, exhausting physical (yes) and mental work mothers do. And the above is just the tip of the iceberg.

It’s not that I don’t love my kids — I would die for them. I would. And I would drive to the ends of the earth for my children, if not for a park pass — certainly if it was a matter of life or death. Not that I don’t enjoy being a mother either, because really (most of the time) I certainly do. But I do have to say that being a mom is HARD for many reasons that are not always visibly apparent. Not only am I tending to the physicalities of the daily grind like laundry, bed-making, hair brushing and the like, but I also care- and care deeply about what’s going on inside my children’s hearts and minds. I care that my multi-tasking creates anxiety for both my Youngest and Oldest and I wish there was an easier way to do large-family living up in a more effective way. (I think I would start by hiring a live-in nanny.) I care that my children sometimes feel sad and alone. I care that they have important questions to which they are searching for answers. I care about the little and big things that affect their life.

I care.

Peter McKay has made recent comments about the day-to-day essential tasks associated with being a mother which would very much be in line with the first part of my little diatribe above, the part about what moms naturally are known for. But what he forgets to make note of is that moms also care deeply about “the immense and life-long influence we have over our children” every bit as much as do the dads. We certainly are in the business of shaping minds and futures alongside the other important adults in our children’s lives, namely fathers, grandparents, guardians, teachers and coaches to name a few. Although I am not a woman applying for a judicial position, I am a woman who cares deeply about her career and where it is heading, even as I ponder the ways in which I can influence my children to reach higher and probe further themselves — all things I think about while I cook up pork chops for supper or type out a blog post on the computer.

What I wish Peter MacKay could understand is this: a mother’s work is not just about bonding and balance, it is about inspiration. While we do have a lot on our plates and many of those plates to juggle, our children are watching us. They are inspired by the choices we make. And it is up to mothers and fathers both to provide good role models for children to follow and pattern their lives after. Parents with decidedly different roles at times but both important for the function of encouraging the next generation to be all that they can be. And that missive includes clearly showing that men and woman both have contributions to make both inside and outside of the home.

One thing Peter and I would agree on I think is this: being a parent, while exhausting and challenging, is worth ever little second of worry and exhaustion and tears that comes with it as part of the package. It’s exciting to see growth in our children and it’s important that they in turn see growth in us. When we give our children a picture of the possibilities they have, they are always the better for it.

And just for the record: a sense of humor never hurts either for all those crazy in-between moments when we are just hanging on by a single thin thread. At least that’s how I roll.

A Gift Worth Giving

I am sitting Row G, Seat 2. It is intermission, half way through the musical we’ve been enjoying when from midway up the theatre comes a call ringing out through the auditorium. “Is there a doctor in the house?” The noise reverberates. The acoustics are of course meant for this kind of sound.

It takes a minute for the crowd to register what has just been said, for we are still in shock at someone standing up and bellowing. Usually, people try not to draw attention to themselves in public venues such as this is. It is unusual to hear someone yelling frantically. But all this takes but a moment to process, for very soon, we can see that someone is performing chest compressions on another lying prostrate. And very faintly, you can hear a woman crying. The cries begin to sound louder as the noise in the theatre falls to a hush. And we are left transfixed as we gaze upon the scene.

Why is it when someone is in the midst of their most vulnerable moments in life that we as people find it hard to turn away? We cannot shift our gaze? We are drawn to tragedy like moths to a lantern.

Mesmerized.

Quite soon, two ladies begin to make their way towards the commotion. They are nurses. They do what needs to be done while waiting for the defibrillator to arrive. And when the latter does come, there is a audible sound of relief that seems to ripple from the epicentre of all the action. The trouble has not yet passed, but it appears that there is some hopeful signs indicating that things will work out after all.

However. I for one cannot seem to shake that unsettled feeling. A wishfulness, a wanting: to have something of worth to offer.

I turn to my seatmate and say how helpless I feel to be there and not have anything of worth to put forward. I find myself regretting my lack of life-saving skills, something I could offer up in a time like this. But as I have none, I come up shorthanded.

I am neither a doctor, a nurse or a paramedic. I am a teacher. What good is that in an emergency?

After the gentleman in scrutiny is taken by ambulance, the audience is then told by the director of the show that he is on his way to the hospital. The director then thanks the two women who have assisted in the incident and announces the beginning of the second half of the show. We settle in, but if I am any kind of representative for the others there in that theatre, I am sure we are all watching with a little more heaviness and somber tone than when we had begun the first half. One never knows what might happen in the course of an evening. This event just reminds us of that sobering fact once again.

As I watch the remainder of the show, I am struck with a thought. The actors, singers and dancers who entertain this theatre full of people are also unable to help this gentleman’s need for medical attention. As much as they have exhibited their many talents and accomplishments, lifesaving is apparently not among them. Along with the audience, they were helpless to assist in what this man needed most: someone to rescue him in his time of distress.

The more I think about it, though; the more I realize that while this fact is true, the gifts the members of the theatre company had to offer the rest of us were certainly worthwhile and welcome. The gift of a diversion, a welcome offering from this poignant real-life scene we had just been witness to is a worthy gift to bestow. And that we the audience were able to carry on and enjoy the music and dance was testament to the great gifts and talents that this troupe had to offer. Grace under pressure at its best.

It is a gift to be able to distract those who are privy to sorrowful incidents. A gift that doctors and nurses and paramedics are at times unable to deliver due to their primary concerns with matters of a more serious nature. A gift that entertainers were made for. And it’s okay that the gifts which were offered last night were different. Because each person involved last night had gifts to bear. That those gifts were not the same in value and contribution was not necessary for them to be worthwhile, for them to be worth using. That the gifts were used and given over to help in the benefit of others is what really matters.

A couple days ago, I was doing an activity with my young kindergarten students that required some assistance from older leadership students in the Grade 6 class. An Educational Assistant offered to accompany me, but asked if I could also add two of the older students she worked with who have some exceptional needs to my mix. I was delighted.

When I observed the two special students as they interacted with my kindergarten students, I was struck by the gifts these two had to offer: gifts of patience, kindness, and wonder. They didn’t make any of my students feel “less than” when they were unable to perform a particular task, they didn’t ask them to “hurry up” when they lagged behind, and they had immeasurable wonder and excitement in completing the various stations we were involved in.

It was a joy to watch them using their gifts.

Although I can be prone to feeling inadequate when presented with a situation for which I feel I am less than skilled for, less than capable of assisting with. Feeling like my gifts are not as worthwhile, at times, when I see the skill sets/gifts that others have. It is a good reminder to myself that in giving over to these feelings of insecurity, I am allowing myself to be sucked into the lie that tells me ‘some gifts are better’. That tells me some gifts are worth more.

Our gifts were meant for us, designed especially for us. We were meant for the gifts- meant for the life we’ve been given, whatever that life and those accompanying gifts might be. And it doesn’t matter how important or distinguished or notable the gifts of our life are- it matters that we use the gifts. And use them lavishly. And when we do, the gift goes on, used for a higher purpose. Used as part of a bigger plan. Worthy and highly regarded no matter how that gift happens to come packaged.

The gift of being ourselves- it’s a gift worth giving.  Each and every time we offer it up.

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.

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

On secrets and toppling walls…

I watch him build the wooden walls of his tower, painstakingly. One by one.  They stand in solidarity for mere moments, only to topple before even I can add another brick. This is child’s play, and it is fascinating to watch him. These walls are made for crashing, in his view. In his mind’s eye. This is amusement and discovery and cause-and-effect. This is pure delight. His sole reason for creating is to therefore demolish. To knock down, tear down- flatten. He is happiest when things fall over. When walls come down.

And so am I.

These walls we’ve built up to protect us- they are false protection. We build them high and bolster them with whatever is at our disposal. We claim we haven’t enough time to explain the reasons for their existence- we’re too busy. And no one would even understand their purpose anyway. That’s what we say. We say they’re necessary- we need these walls. They are protection. It’s a cruel world out there- someone is always trying to attack. To assault. And we’re always on the defensive. We need these walls, or so we think- we’d be devastated without them. We’d be naked. Wide open for onslaught.

Our walls. Built to shut the world out. To keep the world from knowing. Knowing our little secrets, that is.

Those shameful, little secrets.

Secrets…that we are trying to keep hidden.

About marriages which are failing.

About struggles we’re having with anger. With doubt. With depression. With disappointment. Fear. Anxiety. Disillusionment.

Secrets about our struggle with abuse.

Secrets about our addictions.

We keep these secrets because we are afraid. We’re scared.

Petrified that someone will find out.

Because if anyone ever knew our secrets, they might come to discover our frailty. Our weaknesses. Our imperfections. We’d be exposed and heaven help us- what could happen then?

No one ever enjoyed feeling bare and exposed.

Wide open for humiliation.

But what if in toppling those walls, we were known. Truly known.

Known for our humanity. For our beauty. For our uniqueness.

What if we were known and loved for our imperfections. Known and loved in spite of our flaws and failings?

What if telling- what if sharing secrets brought us freedom? What if speaking our truths allowed us to breathe again?

What if we were lovingly held, even in our brokenness? And rebuilt anew?

Again and again and again.

Because that’s what living sometimes entails: a process of starting over. A renewal. A chance to have a new beginning. A chance to say, “I’m not hiding anymore.”

What if beauty were to come from ashes.

Sometimes it takes feeling scared to bring us closer to the Sacred. And while we might falter, while we might fall- we are held. In Arms of Love.

May we never forget: Our secrets are merely precious stories waiting to be told.  And walls are meant for toppling so those stories can be re-written. Retold.  Time and time again.

Where We Are Headed… Thoughts on Teaching in the 21st Century

“To educate as the practice of freedom is a way of teaching that anyone can learn. That learning process comes easiest to those of us who teach who also believe that there is an aspect of our vocation that is sacred; who believe that our work is not merely to share information but to share in the intellectual and spiritual growth of our students. To teach in a manner that respects and cares for the souls of our students is essential if we are to provide the necessary conditions where learning can most deeply and intimately begin.” (bell hooks, Teaching to Transgress, p.13)

 

I am swabbing spots all over his chest with a Polysporin-covered Q-tip. Just moments before, he had come to me complaining of itchiness. His chest- sweltered with raw, open infected sores instigated by mosquito bites. A day prior, I had sent him home. The itchiness had been getting to him by mid-afternoon, and without anything to treat the infected spots, the two of us were at an impasse. So, his mother had come to retrieve her boy and mend his angst. As they were leaving, I looked at her and said, “Send along some ointment tomorrow, and I will do this for you.” I realized that this was a minor inconvenience for a busy mother- to pick up an otherwise well-child and take him home simply to apply medication. So, I offered to do it for her, so long as I had her permission and the medicated cream.

Later that evening, the mother wrote me a short message, and in a few simple lines, she conveyed to me her appreciation for my offer to act as nurse for her son. It was apparent that this was not something she would have expected from me, his teacher.

I thought to myself, as I read her short note: “I wouldn’t do anything less than care for this boy’s needs in the ways that he requires caring for: I love this child. I am his teacher. That’s what I do.”

But I wonder: even as my heart is calling me to care for my students in the very ways I care for my own four dear ones at home, is this what I can do realistically? As more and more of my time is being eaten up by demands that are outside my control?

A day later, I sat beside a dear friend in the front seat of her SUV, and I looked her in the eye when I lamented, “Perhaps I would renew my joy in teaching if I was able to simply care for my students, and worry less about all the other junk.”

The junk. That’s what is getting to me. Which is to say, the stuff that is weighing me down.

Junk/ Stuff. The stress over meeting outcomes and curricular goals. The stress over covering the curriculum. The stress over benchmarks. Stress in keeping records, both formal and otherwise. The stress in dealing with other stressed colleagues and students. The stress in planning and readying my classroom after hours, late into the night. The stress by way of new systems of monitoring and assessment brought on by our school boards. The stress in dealing with behaviours. The stress in dealing with unknowns: unknown diagnoses, unknown future job placements, unknown situations, unknown variables. The stress in participating in meetings and in realizing deadlines and living up to expectations. The stress of being all things to all people. The stress. All combined, these stressors have the effect of making us as teachers feel smothered and disabled in doing what we really want to do: care for the little and big people who face us day in and day out inside the four walls of our schools.

Because teaching is primarily about caring for people. Or it should be.

My work feels less and less sacred all the time. More and more rote and routine. More constrictive and prescriptive. More stressful and demanding than ever before. More top-down controlled. Which is not to say that it was ever easy- it’s just getting harder.

Teaching is a challenging career- and it’s not because of the kids.

It’s challenging because of all the other stuff we teachers have to deal with. And it’s challenging because we have neither the time nor the expertise to be dealing with some of the situations we are dealing with. What we really want to do is get back to basics. Teaching for life-long learning and then cushioning all that educating inside a generous portion of simple, genuine caring. Caring deeply for our students’ minds and the learning that takes place there, even as we care for their tender, fragile hearts and souls. Where the real living takes place.

The other day, I was finishing up my lunch when a colleague offered to take my class for a few minutes so as to allow me a couple extra minutes to eat my lunch. I took him up on his suggestion. As I was going back to my own classroom, I had stopped in the office to collect my mail when I noticed a line of children waiting for the secretary to take them into the staff room and heat up their lunch. Added to this group were others: waiting to use the phone and waiting to see the principal. I could see the anxiety building on the secretary’s face. It is a busy enough job to look after the administration of the day-to-day runnings of an office and school to add to that the role of nurse, cafeteria worker and counselor. I offered to take the students and teach them how to buddy up with a Grade 6 student who knew how to operate the microwave, thus alleviating the secretary of the taxing job of heating up lunches. That I was able to take the time to do this was thanks to my dear colleague who offered to take my own students for a few precious minutes during his own prep time. So that I could then be free to help the secretary.

As I again made my way back to my own classroom, the custodian abruptly stopped me while I was walking by the downstairs girls’ washroom: “Would you look at this!” she exclaimed rather brusquely. I peered into the stall where she was positioned over the toilet. There, floating inside the bowl, was a wrapped sandwich, a granola bar and a juice box. Fully intact.

“This has been happening almost daily,” she grimaced.

“I’ll report it to the principal,” I countered. “We’ll get to the bottom if it all.”

As I again started out, this time to find the principal, I started thinking that this was a problem, with a little time, that could be nipped in the bud. Just by way of a good old-fashioned detective eye.

I started into a classroom, asking if anyone was missing a lunch. Everyone was happily eating away. But the next room I happened upon, the teacher met me at the door and immediately communicated to me that she had a hunch it might be someone in her room. A certain person who had been missing their lunch for the last couple of days.

Sure enough, it was that certain person.

And this discovery made all because I had the time to pursue a problem and find a solution for it.

Time is really of essence. But so is love. When teachers have both time and love, powerful things happen.

Students are cared for in ways that they would otherwise not be cared for.

Students learn things they would otherwise not learn.

Problems are solved which would otherwise not be solved.

Answers are found which would otherwise go unresolved.

Children are happier.

Teachers are less stressed.

It’s a win-win for everyone. An absolute no-brainer.

Unless we allow teachers to get back to the business of doing their sacred work of caring for children and students, in ways that their teacher fore-bearers did back in the day, we will be set on a collision course to derailment.

Derailment of our teachers’ sanity.

Derailment of our students’ achievement, in more ways than just standardized performance testing.

Derailment of our classrooms, which will look less and less like learning environments and more and more like sterile testing laboratories.

Derailment of our very educational system.

We are on a collision course and what is set to collide are the expectations that the Powers to Be have for our schools with the health and well being of our teachers and educators. Something’s got to give.

It always does.

And if I were to surmise what that might be, what’s going to give: from personal experience, I’d have to say it’s going to be our teachers.

Heaven help us. That’s about the only hope we have left.

The Art of Appreciation

I was reading a blog the other day that gave kudos to teachers, in support of Teacher Appreciation Week. It talked about the work that teachers do and acknowledged teachers and educational assistants as doing important, worthwhile things, in both academic and other areas, so as to support children and young people in their growth, learning and development. It talked a lot about the little unnoticed things that teachers do, things that often fall below the radar as far as visibility. It was a nice article- it made you feel good to read it.

Particularly if you were a teacher.

And then I scrolled through the comments.

And as I did, I came across some negative feedback- as there so often is- to counter the opinions of the author. Comments placed there so as to undermine the author’s attempts at acknowledging her intended audience: teachers. Comments placed there to whine about why other groups of people hadn’t been thanked. Comments placed there to diminish the efforts of individuals committed to their calling and willing to make sacrifices so as to continue doing so. They were rather hurtful comments to read, whether one was a teacher or not.

I am a teacher. But these comments didn’t irk me because I am a teacher. They irked me because I am a human being. A person with a desire to continually acknowledge the best in people and thus see and commend the value of other human beings in service, whomever those individuals might be. And I do this, quite often, through the art of appreciation. Which is to say: I try to watch others. And whatever they might be doing or saying or being matters to me. So much so, that I try to extend to them, as often as I can, a word of appreciation. Thanks and gratitude. It’s not rocket science- but it is pretty important stuff: actually, it’s how I was taught to be by my own gracious mother. So I continue to do so as often as I can. And it is what I now teach the next generation to do as well- my students and four children as well.

It’s quite easy really. Appreciate people. Tell them once in a while what they mean to you. Carry on and repeat.

Couldn’t be simpler.

But I am finding, at times, that this ability of ours as people, to appreciate others: it is passed over in favor of the all-important critique. It is more trendy to critique someone on their performance, abilities or job and less favorable to find the best about them instead. It is more interesting to find fault. Less interesting to build up. More interesting to point fingers rather than to join hands.

As a result, we are losing much, not the least of which is a dying art. That is, the art of appreciating people and things and ideas. The ability to recognize possibility. Particularly, the potential in another human being and then acknowledge that same person for their endeavours. I think that we as people can never do enough appreciating in this life. And it certainly should never come at the expense of a lost opportunity taken instead to undermine another human being’s worthy attempts at celebrating other human beings for their efforts.

Appreciation matters.

My students had a tea party for their mother’s today. It is my third annual tea party for mothers. I once also threw a pizza party for fathers. It is possibly in the works again for this year. The point of me telling this is because the whole event is organized so that my students can take time to think about and reflect on their parents and the hard work they do at raising them. The important work they do in loving them. And thus come to appreciate them a little more. We spend time thinking about what parents do. How they look after us. How they provide for us. We take time to thank them. We sing songs in praise of them. We prepare things that we know they will like and then we serve them. We let them eat and drink first, for a change. In short, we take time to honor their legacy.

It’s very important work- and not just for five and six years olds. It just might be some of the most significant work I do with my students all year. I take it very seriously.

What I am trying to say here is this: we need to instill in our children, our young people and thus in adults as well, the value of appreciation. The worth of acknowledgment. The importance of telling people what they mean to us. The art of appreciation.

Not because we as receivers of this praise need it so as to shore up our self esteem.
Not because we are needy of accolades.
Not because we can’t function unless we have a set number of compliments.
Not for our egos.

But for our souls. Because quite simply, we matter.

No matter what we do we matter. That’s because people matter.

And because our person matters: our contributions thus matter, our influence matters and our legacy matters.

And when we are told as much, it causes us to want to do the same for another human being, starting a chain of appreciation to begin to form.
One can only imagine what ways this world could change with such a chain. Such a possibility for seeing worth in the world around us.
It is quite simply the power that is the art of appreciation.

And I believe that when we appreciate, there is no end to the possibilities for hope.

It’s just that influential.

For when I am needing a boost…(my own little internal cheerleader)

I am sitting in a rather dry business meeting, biding the time until that wonderful point of the day when the proverbial whistle blows for three o’clock- when a few words of insight, spoken in passing, grab my waning attention. Let’s just say this, to preface this little nugget of wisdom: it is the only complete sound bite I have stored in memory from that particular meeting, so it was quite influential in its impact and delivery.

“No one knows better than you what you do; so take the time to appreciate all you’ve achieved. You are your own greatest cheerleader.”

Interesting, and….yes. There just might be some truth to that statement. At least from a human standpoint.

So, to take this whole little anecdote to the practical, let’s just say that it’s been that kind of a week. I find as the week has been winding down, my positive spirits and vibes have been following suit. Gearing down. And getting jammed up in the process. So much so that by the time Friday afternoon rolled around, I was feeling like my chin was on the floor. I don’t understand how this happens- there have been many, many positives about the week in which to find joy. So very much to celebrate. But sometimes in the midst of great excitement and fervor, there is a depression of spirit. It’s odd how that happens. Really.

So by late Friday afternoon, I kind of felt like I needed a cheerleader in my corner. And I guessed that cheerleader was going to have to be ME, upon hearing those two short little statements.  And why not? Particularly after kind of having a relevatory moment there while sitting in my chair.

Those words were for me.

And as I took those words in and reflected on them there, while sitting only a few rows back and off to the side of where the speaker stood, I realized: how timely they were spoken and how intentionally were they offered. In fact, they were meant to be said. Even if they were spoken for no one else, but for me. Because like others in my same situation (particularly those of us who are semi-martyers for our families and the causes we support), I (we) need to know that I (we) can count on ourselves to cheer us up. In other words, I need to know that I can count on ME to tell me that it’s okay. To tell myself good things. Encouraging things- about my Self. Things said, so as to positively self-talk and thus bolster confidence and esteem for supporting the person I am becoming. For supporting ME.  So, with that being said, here are a few things I am allowing my confident inner self to say to my fragile public self, this week. Things I am planning to say so as to sustain and strengthen and support myself. And I do hope that these statements might also be used by others in need of a little self-pep talk!

1. You are doing a great job at parenting, teaching, working, volunteering, ‘whatever-ing’(feel free to fill in your own blank here): so keep on keeping on! You’re awesome at what you do! Even a little bit of awesome sauce is enough to spice up whatever you’re eating. A little bit of awesome can go a looooooooong way, baby! Dig it!

2. You are a hard worker- you put in 100 % of yourself into what you do. And I know this- because whatever we give is what we have to give that day. It’s our real deal. It’s what we are. We bring our best to the table, each and every day. So if your best today was just barely scraping your chin off the floor- so it is.  And that’s okay. Whatever you are doing is valuable and important. Own it!

3. You are a good mother, good ‘whatever-er’( again, feel free with this one as well). Don’t doubt yourself. The rest of us don’t- why should you?

4. You are a good teacher, worker, employee, et cetera. Stop comparing yourself to others. Comparisons just take valuable time away from you doing your good, important work. Stay focused and don’t let distractions get you down!  Don’t get involved in drama.

5. You are a beautiful person- don’t worry so much. Don’t sweat the small stuff. Beauty is messy, complicated and unique. Your beauty is exactly the right kind of beauty to suit the person you are becoming. Accept it! Embrace it! Enjoy it.

6. You are not the mistakes you make- you are the victories you win. Stop defining yourself by your failures. Besides, mistakes are just opportunities to grow. Lean into them! Let mistakes become moments of opportunity rather than holes that swallow you up.

7. While you are flawed and human, you are also beloved and wholly set apart for a purpose. Look for the sacred in life. Trust the One who holds you close.

8. You are a Child of God. A precious creation. What more can you be but this? What more do you need to be but this? What a position of privilege! What a place of prominence!

9. You do not need affirmation to confirm what you already know: there will never be another you. You are one of a kind! Undeniably, irrevocably special and unique. You are so loved.

10. And because you are loved, love back. Love yourself. And never stop.  And let love spill out so that others are able to be touched ny that love.  Love covers for a multitude of errors.  Love is everything.

And when we know and understand that we are loved in such ways, we have little need for these kinds of pep talks.

Because love has more than made up for whatever we thought might be missing.

Love and joy tonight, my friends!