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.”

Advertisements

On Being a Teacher/Learner…

Their little voices banter back and forth as I flit from desk to desk. Like a mother robin tending her young.  I duck my head in and out, gauging the activity.  Monitoring the learning.  Watching that things are progressing.  Teacher stuff. They, my little brood, are discussing something- and there seems to be a disagreement that is arising.

“So-and-so thinks he’s the teacher,” a little voice says accusingly. He waits for me to pounce on the unsuspecting little rogue. Setting paths straight which have gone awry.  The accused says nothing in his defence.


I do know what is meant here: my role is the teacher character. Their function is to be the student. This is how it works in school- someone has to be assigned the role of facilitator or learning will become haphazard.  And someone has to be on the receiving end or the endeavor will be pointless.

Won’t it? That’s certainly what is often thought.

I lean down, trying to process my thoughts quickly. On the spot. My answer: to explain that we are both teacher and learner in this classroom. Even Mrs. Gard.

How easy it is to forget this truth.  The reality is we are always learning.  And we are not always needing a teacher so as to engage that process.  And true enough: there will be times that my experience will be such that I can share in my knowledge and thus “teach” the others in my life.  This shift between teacher and learner is fluid.  It is hard, at times, to know where one begins and the other ends. Even my thesis advisor reminds me of this in her latest email: that in graduate school, I am to be simultaneously both a learner and teacher. Of course. We state this in theory, but I often wonder whether we as adults make this a concerted practice. To what extent do we truly believe that our children teach us?

In thinking about this, I have compiled  a list of some things I have learned from my students.  In no order of significance:

• The rules to the game jacks
• Sign language
• How to dance with inhibition
• How to listen
• The best way to position a cup of juice, carton of chocolate milk or a water bottle so that it will indefinitely fall to the floor and make a giant puddle
• The characters on Mario
• How cats get fixed
• That certain words must never be rhymed unless one wants to live with the consequences
• That certain words have more than one meaning, depending on your family upbringing
• How to care for children who’ve witnessed abuse
• What sand sounds like
• How not to colour inside the lines
• Why hugs are important
• That grief can be felt in the very young
• Why teachers must be, as much as is possible, a stand-in for Mom, or Dad or Grandma or any other viable guardian because kids need someone they can count on. And teachers are certainly in a great position to be all that and then some.

I am ever the learner. Some days, I feel the burden of such overwhelms me. Great is the responsibility of needing to learn. To know. To find understanding. To become more aware. And huge is the expectation to learn everything I must know. Even in compiling a list such as I have above, I am in awe of what I do not know about my Splendid Seven:

• What fears they have of starting Grade 1?
• Why children sweat so much, even at the tender age of 6?
• How come they wipe their noses on their shirts?
• What details of their morning I am missing, leading back to before they got on the bus?
• What home is really like?
• Their greatest hope in life
• Their truest thoughts about me: the good, the bad and the downright ugly
• What they feel like when they are alone
• What they wonder about growing older
• Why they pick their scabs

I am ever the learner. But I am also a teacher. Two worlds collide even as a perfect collusion is formed.

Their little voices banter back and forth as I flit from desk to desk. Like a young robin looking up from the safety of the nest. I am five again.   Curious and full of wonder.

And I am ready to fly.